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I read an article about 3D capabilities increasing but UIs getting flatter. Also something similar is suggested here. I am not talking in terms of any particular company , OS or platform, but in general.

For a good UI, I considered a good blend of these to be present:

  1. Usability
  2. Performance
  3. Look and Feel

I used to give equal importance to each. I really liked what Windows did with Metro styled UI on phones.

Q. With even more powerful platform coming in, why is there a paradigm shift now, as the article suggest ?

Q. Do these factors actually deserve equal importance, or there is an ordering in them ?

Q. Did we wrongly considered 2D to 3D as evolution ? Is , 'simpler', the actual evolution in UIs ?

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@Downvoter Can you please give the reason for a down vote ? – Amit Tomar Jun 6 '13 at 9:29
While the question I provided this answer to is different, you might find it relevant to your question – Charles Wesley Jun 6 '13 at 15:52
That's a confusing article (which is par for the course, IMHO, as I find FastCo Design more link bait than insightful). 3D interfaces, to me, are 3D virtual spaces...not drop shadows and shading (which, really doesn't have a huge impact on performance). – DA01 Jun 6 '13 at 17:52
Actually, Dan's answer sums up the issue well. WHat are we talking about here? Are we talking about 'different styles on 2D interfaces (flat vs. shadows and such)' or are we talking about '3D interfaces vs. 2D interfaces (3D modeling vs. every tradition OS currently out there)'? – DA01 Jun 6 '13 at 17:54
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The article confuses real 3D with superficial 3D effects.

Windows 7 is not really "3D" in any meaningful sense. Rather, it is a 2D interface with some superficial styling cues that appear 3D. Windows 8 removes these 3D-looking elements. This is what is meant when they talk about "getting flatter"--switching from one style to another. It is purely a style preference, not a step backward. One is not better or more advanced than the other, any more than a blue interface would be "better" than a green one.

This trend has nothing to do with actual 3D interfaces like the Leap Motion. The article's attempt to make some sort of point by comparing them is contrived.

Update: What about the broader question, is 3D the future of UI's?

Well, good 3D rendering on computers has been commonplace for well over a decade. The idea of a 3D interface has been around even longer (remember the "Unix system" on Jurassic Park?). Yet it hasn't made its way into desktop interfaces. Why not? Probably because there is no compelling advantage to a 3D interface. It may look cool, but what does it actually gain you? Information is displayed most logically and most simply in two dimensions--especially when your output device is a 2D screen.

Maybe gesture interfaces or 3D displays will change this in the future. But if they do, it will be because they allow us to use computers more effectively, not because 3D looks impressive.

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I'm sure there's more research on 3D interfaces; I remember a passing discussion in an HCI course on why 3D interfaces (much like 3D charts) were generally worse for usability, generally because there was no need for it, it's just extra complication for no benefit. – Ben Brocka Jun 6 '13 at 18:36

For starters, the article seems to be mashing up 3 concepts:

  • 3D effects vs. no effects (iOS's 'bubbles and drop shadows' vs. Win8's 'flat everywhere' aesthetics)
  • 2D vs. 3D interfaces (Your standard computer OS UI vs. your favorite 3D FPS)
  • 2D vs. 3D screens (iPhone vs. Nintendo 3DS)

All interesting topics, but they are all really separate topics and not mutually exclusive. That said...

Q. With even more powerful platform coming in, why is there a paradigm shift now, as the article suggest ?

In terms of styling (first bullet point) it's really just an aesthetic trend. Flat is 'in' right now.

In terms of true 3D (be it virtual 3D or the screen itself) there is no real paradigm shift. We've always used 2D interfaces for the most part. We've played with 3D off and on (VRML, 3DS, Xbox Kinect) and they all work to some degree for specific tasks, but, in general, no one 'wants' a 3D interface to work on a Word Doc or read StackExchange.

Q. Do these factors actually deserve equal importance, or there is an ordering in them ?

I'd say Performance and Look and Feel are merely aspects of Usability in general. So they are all equally important.

Q. Did we wrongly considered 2D to 3D as evolution ? Is , 'simpler', the actual evolution in UIs ?

Again, we've played with true 3D interfaces but I don't think we've found them to add anything of worth to the overall experience most of the time. For gaming, sure (Halo!). For movies, of course (Iron Man!), but for most general day-to-day tasks that users have to perform on their digital device, true 3D is likely going to get in the way more often than it will help.

As for the aesthetic styling of 2D interfaces to look more 3D (what some people like to call skeuomorphism--though I'd argue that's not the proper use of the term)--such as drop shadows, subtle gradients, light effects, etc--those are basic tools in any UI designer's tool box. They've always been there, and always will, but stylistic trends will dictate to what extent they are being used at any given time. The past decade was XP and OSX embracing bubbles, gradients, reflections, and shadows. The current decade appears to be heading in the Win8/Google direction of flat colors, no shadows, etc.

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