Should the interface be 2D or 3D?

I’m at a big decision point in my thesis. I have a very primitive music browser implemented in both 2D and 3D. I want to choose the number of dimensions (2 or 3) for my main project before I move too much farther in developing the interface. I just don’t have time to develop them both.

My biggest concern: I had been pushing for a 3D interface throughout the proposal process, but I’m worried that continuing with it will force me in my remaining time to focus much more on elements of 3D interfaces (e.g. how to orient the user, how to show the overall cloud shape despite obscuration) than on elements core to my own thesis motivations (e.g. how to organize music, how to find patterns in music listening).

I think a 2D interface is currently more easy to develop than a 3D interface, and that perhaps I should focus on only two dimensions and have a better chance of making an interface that demonstrates all the things I had hoped to show (outlined in my proposal).

In the end, my thesis is not about interfaces; it is about the organizational model itself. That organizational model is the use of audio and contextual data to organize a music collection in a fuzzy manner that I think is more appropriate for this type of data, in addition to providing others with a framework to add onto it, both in terms of input features and output interface. This approach is in opposition to what we see in most music browsers (well, and data browsers in general), which limit organization to non-configurable lists and, ultimately, text labels.

So, my thesis work becomes: (1) an implementation of this organizational model, (2) made publicly-available, along with (3) demonstration(s) of an interface built on top of the model. An analog to this manner of thinking is the Echo Nest’s recent announcement of their AudioAnalysis API. Last year, they made this tool (1) available to others (2) — it gave me numbers, and I built an interface on top of it (3). In this thesis, I am the one providing the numbers, and letting others build interfaces on top.

Even though the main contribution is the model, I will demonstrate one such interface with a 2D representation of a music collection that is user-configurable and dynamically updated through RSS feeds.

Here are the main questions:

  • Am I losing something integral to the project if I move down from three dimensions to two?
  • Is this line of thinking (that my contribution is more an organizational model than an interface) too dangerous?
  • Am I contributing enough?

1 Comment »

  1. Comment by Paul

    Posted on March 5, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I remember talking to you about this very issue back in the fall. There just are not that many widely used 3D interfaces out there – so it is hard to find good examples. At the end of the day, a 3D interface does have that ‘sizzle’ factor, but it is limiting if you actually want to try to deploy something that people will really use. I suggest that you do everything in a 2D interface. It is, as you say, much easier. There are many, many examples to draw from.

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