3D SPACE: Using Depth and Movement for Selection Tasks

This paper is the result of a research made by Dr. Dale Patterson on how users utilize and interact with content in a 3D space. More specifically he presents two new three dimensional interface components (The Flow and Circulatory system) that use the depth provided by 3D computer graphics to present complex information in a natural three dimensional form for user interaction. Last but not least, Dr. Dale Patterson introduces the concept of “active 3D interfaces”, a new style of interface that presents its data to the user rather than statically waiting for the user to interact with it. The paper can be obtained through the ACM website.

Active Components
The concept behind the Active Components is to use the natural human understanding of 3D space and the motion of objects in that space. The key principles used in the conception of the components are the use of depth and of motion through depth. The use of depth is to facilitate the presentation of large sets of complex information in an easier to understand and more natural form. While the use of motion through depth is due to the fact that the world is alive with motion and activity, so makes it a key aspect in the presentation of data in a 3D space. In essence, active interfaces are not simply statically waiting for the user to interact but are actively presenting their information through the motion and animation of items in the 3D space.

Flow Component
The Flow Component represents a new interface (or interaction technique) designed for presenting large sets of unstructured data. An example of this kind of data would be the results obtained from a web search for a particular topic. The common approach used in modern GUI interfaces is to provide the user with a large two dimensional list of results, which then he has to manually scroll through to locate the desired item. The flow component looks at this data in a different way.  Rather than treating the result set as a static two dimensional item (in the form of a large textual page) that the user needs to  move through, the flow component looks at the result data as a  flow of three dimensional items. That is, have the results flow out at the user from the depths of the screen. The use of depth to display the set of items allows a larger set of items to be displayed at any one time than would be possible in any 2D arrangement. At the same time, the use of movement through 3D space over time is used to enable the set of items to flow past the user, allowing him to see all the items in detail as they pass by without having to make any interaction.

Circulatory System
The circulatory system interface/component represents an extension of the principles established by the Flow component. Unlike the Flow (which presents unstructured data sets) it presents a new method for the presentation of large structured sets of data (e.g. selecting or locating a movie from within a large collection or library of movies). Extending from the basic flow concept, the Circulatory System takes the idea of a flow and creates a flowing loop (much like the human circulatory system). The items would loop past the user showing all options over time, without the user needing to navigate through the structure. Of course that more complexity can be introduced by creating more complex forms of loops and sub loops, allowing the user to have some control in their ability to choose which branches to take.

Experimental Results
To establish the effectiveness of the new 3D components, Dr. Dale Patterson made a series of test to a group of 14 trial users. All the experiments consisted in the user completing a task with the relevant 3D component and also completing that same task with a number of other interface versions (i.e. some 2D systems, others simply variants of the primary 3D component). After the trials it was possible to conclude that 3D computer graphics demonstrate potential in a range of common interaction tasks, being in many cases more effective than current systems. The active interfaces proved particularly effective in tasks such as browsing large structured and unstructured sets. In simple terms the addition of motion (active interfaces) and depth (3D space) has demonstrated potential to be an effective method for improving the human computer interface in these common real world tasks.