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Creative 3-D Display and Interaction Interfaces: A Trans-Disciplinary Approach

by Barry G. Blundell and Adam J. Schwarz
John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey, U.S.A., 2005
371 pp., illus. Trade, $94.95
Published simultaneously in Canada
ISBN: 0-471-48271-4.

Reviewed by Paul Hertz
The Collaboratory Project, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois


While graphical user interfaces have clearly replaced command-line interfaces, 3D interfaces, once hailed as the next generation beyond "2.5-D" desktop GUIs, have not had a similar success. Pondering this situation, the authors of 3-D Display and Interaction Interfaces state in their introduction that the issue probably has more to do with the complexities of interface design than with the potential usefulness of 3D displays and interfaces. Blundell and Schwarz pull together most of the diverse fields that converge in interface design to create a trans-disciplinary approach to 3D interfaces that, given the brevity of the text, serves more to point the reader in some useful directions than to fully educate her. Computer technology, cognitive science, and some of the mathematics involved in both fields form the core of the book, which also ventures into art history and visual design. Current research in testing human-computer interfaces appears interspersed through key chapters. Suggested projects close each chapter. Appendices, a bibliography, an extensive list of references, and a full index make up for the "survey" approach and the cursory treatment of some topics. Thanks to these thoughtful additions, the book functions as it was intended: as an introductory text for researchers or graduate level courses. The authors demonstrate a sophisticated knowledge of art history and the interchanges between art and technology as they pertain to the representation of three dimensions, but largely confine their discussion to the past, bypassing a wealth of contemporary theory on representation and visual codes. This is unfortunate, as some of the contemporary critiques of representation are pertinent to interface design. Nevertheless, digital artists fascinated by the technical aspects of their instruments or the human perceptual apparatus will find this a valuable book.

From the beginning the authors propose a design process based on constraints and affordances, where hardware and software capabilities accommodate human cognitive capabilities through iterative research, prototyping, and testing. The text covers not just visual interfaces, but auditory and haptic interfaces that function in three dimensions, and discusses the issues raised by coupling diverse sensory input and interaction systems. Above all, the authors want readers to reflect on the potential of 3D interaction and display interfaces to convey information or enable task execution. They argue that some domains of data exploration, communication, and task execution can be accomplished optimally by 3D systems. If the reader, along with the authors, is left wondering what these domains and interfaces might be, it may be due to the difficulty of the testing phase of design. Measuring interface effectiveness is difficult in two dimensions, let alone in three. The authors are very candid about the difficulties of creating 3D interfaces that can be as effective as current 2D GUIs, and supply several references in the text and bibliography on interface testing. One comes away from this book with the sense that 3D interfaces and displays are in their infancy. They have not fulfilled the hype of "virtual reality," but what could? Artificial intelligence in its original and newsworthy formulation seems also to have been illusory, and yet its critique and recasting into smaller problem areas such as robotics and computer vision has been extremely productive. With its mix of candor and enthusiasm, this book makes a strong case for the future development of 3D display and interaction systems. Artists and researchers in the field may have cause for optimism–at the very least Creative 3-D Display and Interaction Interfaces offers them a well-grounded point of departure.



Updated 1st October 2006

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