We are increasingly opting to conduct tasks within a 2D world rather than 3D. It used to be that the only way to transfer money into a bank account was to visit a building made of bricks and mortar, turn the door handle, enter, and conduct a transaction with another human being.
Now I can login at the click of a button on a flat screen, and within a few more clicks my task is complete. The rise of the digital age has provided us with quick, convenient services, greater functionality and limitless opportunities. But what are the pitfalls of abandoning the traditional 3D environment and entrusting 2D with such important tasks?
As a species we possess highly sophisticated systems of perception, evolved through a long history of interactions within 3D environments. The ability for our brains to organise the mess of visual stimuli and perceive order has helped to keep us alive for millions of years. Whether it’s learning to stay away from dangerous snakes, or remembering to eat the right coloured berries, our brains have learned to recognise important visual patterns in the environment and recall vital information relating to such patterns.
3D environments have an advantage by providing rich visual stimulus and natural affordance for actions and feedback to the user. However, 2D environments cannot generate anywhere near the same complexity of information - unable to inform touch, smell, or the ability to examine objects from different angles – and designers have had to rely on abstract symbolism and metaphors as a way of linking digital concepts to our mental model of the real world.
Our brains possess self-organising tendencies – or laws of visual perception – that can help us to make better sense of such 2D objects.
Gestalt psychology began in the 1920s, Germany, and is the study of such laws of visual perception. Since the 2D interface is the only platform of communication between designer and user, so its importance should not be underestimated or overlooked.
Just like a scientist or engineer should understand the law of gravity in order to build a space shuttle and send it to the moon, a designer should also understand the laws of Gestalt before building an intuitive user interface.