3d Diagrams: Good/Bad

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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):

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)

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 relationshipsand explain construction logistics.

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Adrienne Leverette is a principal at Fat Pencil Studio.