Autodesk has published a research paper (2008) on a ViewCube, a method for user navigation in 3 Dimensions. It is used in the software 3D Studio Max.

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When searching for viewcube, I found one patent which references from Dassault(Catia), but did not find a patent from AutoDesk. This leads me to believe others can use this design. If not, what similar navigational system is considered basic in which it has no protection.

Is this the, or a top, method for 3d navigation? What research (beyond the original article), if any, has shown this is a faster/efficient/comfortable method for 3d navigation?

  • As with all navigation, it depends a lot on what you are trying to navigate. Is it a map? A 3-d spreadsheet? A CAD file?
    – tohster
    Feb 25, 2015 at 5:57
  • @tohster 3d models, and animated 3d models. 3D in the sense of xyz spacial coordinates Feb 25, 2015 at 6:33
  • I suggest that you focus the question on 3D navigation rather than the 'ViewCube'. The title makes the question appear to be about implementation which would make it off topic.
    – JohnGB
    Feb 25, 2015 at 11:34
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    Just to make you aware: It has been patented . It is most recently marked as expired - 14 Oct 2014 - Expired due to failure to pay maintenance fee - although the effective date of that note looks like it has been paid up and the patent reinstated as of 30 Sep 2014. Feb 25, 2015 at 13:59
  • 1
    @MephistonX I never use it either. I was looking for publications that studied these types of widgets, and was wondering who else had implemented it. Basically, if there is no patent and people can use it freely, I would imagine more people writing articles on variations of it Jun 10, 2015 at 11:00

3 Answers 3


For 3D navigation in a CAD model or landscape, you are actually talking about 6 degrees of orientation, because you've got 3 degrees of translational movement (X, Y, Z) and an additional 3 degrees to describe rotational orientation of the view. If you also include zoom in and out, that's 8 degrees.

I don't really like the Autodesk widget. Problems with it:

  • A cube is too symmetrical/isomorphic. It's hard to tell what face of the cube you're looking at.

  • The control is too complicated. The user has to discern and click on tiny vertices, edges and facets to get different views, and can also drag the cube around. So the control is "overloaded" with too many features and becomes unintuitive and prone to error.

  • Patent issue.

One way to approach this is to simplify the problem. One approach is: (a) separate translation from rotation; (b) remove the "fixed" views and just allow rotation by dragging the cube around; (c) replace the cube with something which indicates orientation better.

For example:

gnome control

This accomplishes the following:

  • View orientation is very clear, because of the anthropomorphic gnome (you know which way the view is facing). BTW the gnome needs to be simplified, I just used the first stock image i could find.

  • Affordance is improved. It's clear that the gnome should be manipulated (dragged) rather than clicked on...this was one of the problems with the abstract cube shape...users aren't sure how to interact with it.

  • Control is vastly simplified. No complicated vertices or compass rose. Just drag to re-orient the view. Clicking on the 'move' icon (or keyboard shortcut: shift-drag) allows you to drag the gnome around to move the the view translatively (x, y, z movement).

  • It has a little bit of humor, which is actually a positive for UX (and potentially viral) even in a fairly serious app. Humor is underestimated in UX.


This answer is merely a proposal for the same question @user1938107 asks. Originally, I wanted to discus it with you people and then I came along this treat.

I took inspiration from the SolidWorks interface and came up with the following controls:

example of 3d controls

  • Those controls look really interesting. Could you share a video of the implemented controls? Feb 25, 2020 at 8:21
  • @GerlofLeuhof It's still available at 3d.naturalis.nl/node/23 I will make a screen recording available. (Webpages take a LOT of data, because detailed, 3d images)
    – Ideogram
    Feb 25, 2020 at 17:15

I'll answer the second question (what is the best 3d navigation method) as it's unclear to me whether you can freely/legally use Autodesk's cube.

When the main task is manipulating an object, you want to be able to control the view in terms of perspective vs. orthogonal projection, and separately zoom/rotate/slide the object in all directions. For this task the ability to grab either the object itself or a simplified model of it (i.e. the cube) is perfect for rotation, but you still need some other controls to permit zooming and sliding. Also consider the benefits of moving the view/camera with respect to some part of the 3d object you're designing (versus with respect to a fixed origin point). Google Sketchup for example allows zooming toward/away from the point under the mouse cursor.

When the main task is manipulating the camera, a different set of controls is more useful. Imagine first-person video games or flight simulators. Here you're more concerned with moving the camera in a natural-feeling way. Consider using the mouse to rotate the camera about the up/down and left/right axes, using keys to strafe and "walk" towards/away from the focal point.

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