3-D design is currently the province of experts, with skills in MAYA or CAD; it takes years to become proficient at these programs. A simple, fast and intuitive means for 3-D design is long overdue. But how would it work?
Jinha Lee and Hiroshi Ishii, two graduate students at the MIT Media Lab, created an interface with that very question in mind. "Beyond" comprises a glass table backed by a digital projector, and a hand-held drawing stylus. Pushing on the stylus extends the drawing tip into virtual space—thus, you could draw a diagonal pushing into 3-D by simply pushing gradually harder on the stylus. Check out the video for more clarity:
Obviously, Lee and Ishii's project is a conceptual prototype. Whether it could develop into a full-blown interface for 3-D design remains to be seen. One problem might be the limits of human intuition. All day, we're surrounded by flat images that we've learned to recognize as simulacra of 3-D—that's what our brains naturally do. It's no wonder then that you don't often hear designers complain about how intuitive it is to draw in 3-D on a computer—all it basically requires is spinning a flat object around in virtual space, and then adding depth. It works.
But something like Beyond would probably require an entire new understanding—combined with the motor skills to recognize that pushing on a pen gets you into 3-D. Brilliant as that concept is, it may not be something easy to cultivate or to learn.