We tend to think of 3-D as being a large display affair—movie screens, or more recently, widescreen televisions. But last week Nintendo revealed the 3DS at E3. This next-generation handheld gaming device will feature a 3.53" 3-D display that does not require the use of viewing glasses.
At first glance, handheld devices might seem inferior for displaying 3-D visuals compared to their large-screen counterparts. But there are limitations to large, fixed displays that don't constrain handhelds. In fact, ergonomically speaking, smaller devices may be the superior platform for 3-D content.
For example, handled or mobile devices are intended to be viewed by a single person at a time, so the user can position the screen for optimal viewing. This isn't feasible when there are a lot of people at various positions around a TV—they can't all be in the "sweet spot."
Similarly, the most effective interaction with 3-D content may be by having the display accessible at one's fingertips. Keep in mind that small devices are indeed mobile, not just in their portability, but in their maneuverability. A viewer can change the orientation of the device as a means of navigating 3-D imagery and viewing it from different angles and perspectives, even putting the device down and moving around it 360 degrees. A natural fit for 3-D handheld applications would be augmented reality applications that superimpose location-specific information on real-world visual scenes.
3-D arguably provides greater benefits on a smaller display device because it is a means to get beyond the limited real estate of the screen. Instead of the horizontal and vertical screen dimensions, thoughtfully designed interfaces could allow users to navigate and review information in layers.
But herein lies the challenge of the small screen—the ability to expand into an entirely new visual dimension brings with it a whole new dimension of poor design and information overload. Designers who have mastered information architecture in two dimensions will now need to expand their vocabulary to the third (3-D banner ads, anyone?). This may seem like a natural step, after all, we navigate everyday in the 3-D world. But as with the design of gestural and natural interfaces, we must sufficiently understand human perception and behavior to make best use of these exciting technologies.
Rob Tannen is an expert in designing products, interfaces and systems that accommodate the complexities of human behavior and capabilities. He has researched cockpit interfaces for the U.S. Air Force, designed trading floor order systems for the New York Stock Exchange, and created touch screen applications for consumer appliances. Rob is Director of User Research and Interaction Design at the product development firm Bresslergroup. He also has a PhD in human factors and is a Certified Professional Ergonomist.