3d Diagrams: Good/Bad

3d Diagrams: Good/Bad
Posted by on November 2, 2012
Posted in: construction, DetailViz, graphic design, projects

What makes a good 3d diagram? Well, let’s back up and talk about what exactly a diagram is in the first place.

A diagram is a graphic that explains rather than represents. For example, a floor plan is an abstract drawing (diagram) used to explain spatial information about a building, while a photograph is a literal representation (not a diagram) of everything in view of a camera lens. A good diagram takes complicated information and expresses patterns and relationships in a simple and elegant form.

There are many specific types of diagrams, from the common Venn diagram to more exotic species such as polar area charts, Sankey diagrams, and cartograms. Each type of diagram has unique advantages and is suitable for representing certain kinds of information. Most often, the purpose(s) of a diagram can be quite well served by two dimensions only.

In many cases, adding a third dimension to a diagram or chart only detracts from its effectiveness. For example:

Sources: 1, 2, 3

  • 1. Classic PowerPoint-lessness: why (among other things) is this graph 3d?
  • 2. Making the pie 3d distorts the relationships among the pieces.
  • 3. Wow: redundancy, optical illusion and confusion all in one 3d diagram!

However, there are cases in which a diagram is greatly enhanced by drawing it in 3d. Another set of data can be represented, spatial relationships can be explained, objects can be comprehensively described, and impacts on the built environment can be convincingly illustrated.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

  • 1. An elegant cutaway diagram of a fish ladder clearly shows spatial relationships.
  • 2. The z-axis gives us another layer of information.
  • 3. A 3d Sankey diagram both illustrates the process of energy transfer and emphasizes the point: that 90% of energy extracted from the ground is lost before it can be used.
  • 4. 3d diagrams can be fun and approachable.

3d diagrams can be particularly effective in reaching a general audience who isn’t accustomed to decoding the kind of abstract 2d drawings that are common in many technical fields. At FPS, we use 3d diagrams primarily to show how things are put together, model spatial relationships and explain construction logistics.

  • An exploded view of a Beamer bicycle light, including batteries and mounting bracket.
  • This diagram shows how the parts of a coaster brake fit together and how they interface with the bicycle wheel and chain.
  • A cutaway diagram gives a visual description of how this roof is constructed.
  • A 3d site plan that shows the relationship of new and existing buildings in a proposed wastewater treatment facility expansion.
  • This 3d diagram was created with the help of witnesses who identified the locations of people in a pool during a drowning incident.
  • A logistics diagrams shows crane placement and site access on a project in NE Portland.
  • Color-coding, arrows and notes work together to show a comprehensive project approach.
  • Construction zones and utility placement shown on a full terrain model of the Oregon Zoo.

About Ady

Adrienne Leverette is lead illustrator at Fat Pencil Studio. Read more