Who doesn’t love to go out to the movies and see the latest blockbuster in 3D? The visuals are so dynamic that you don’t feel that you’re watching it; you feel that you’re actually in it! Unfortunately, what looks cool in the movies won’t actually play out the way you would’ve wanted it on your “big screen.”
According to Edward Tufte (a pioneer in data visualization), the “ratio of ink-to-data” is increased when a 2D representation is made into a 3D one. As I pointed out in my discussion on signal-to-noise ratio (principles of design part 2), extra ink should be discarded. Plus, most 3D graphs and charts have the tendency to be challenging to comprehend and may be less accurate (depending on your depth of perception).
But if it’s absolutely necessary for you to use a 3D graphic, then you must understand how your background comes into play. You should have a certain consistency of specific elements to compliment your design and make it seem “natural” for your audience to look at. An ill-designed slide will only create frustration and will decrease any chance of them absorbing your message.
To understand 3D, you first need to establish a vanishing point (the farthest point you can see). As you look into the horizon, your depth becomes narrower as opposed to 2D where everything is just flat. To set a vanishing point, just choose any point on a horizontal line (it would be best if you use a grid of thirds) and make sure that all lines end there. This is also your guide in determining the layers of your object – what ultimately makes it look 3D.
Your background should normally reflect or highlight how light affects your object. Everything is all dependent on its direction. So, don’t go defying the laws of nature by casting a shadow in front of an object when the light source is in front. Again, the key to 3D is being as realistic as you possibly can.
Remember to be consistent! Once you’ve chosen your vanishing point and lighting, stick to it. Don’t change it every other slide just because you can. After all, what’s the point of 3D if it’s not realistic as possible?
If you can’t properly manage these four elements – depth, layer, highlight, and shadow – then don’t even bother with 3D. You’ll save more time and effort using 2D anyway. Your audience may even appreciate you more by keeping everything as simple as possible and if you had to choose between the two, pick 2D.
Credits: Images used in this blog post were all taken from Nancy Duarte’s book, “slide:ology.”