2D vs. 3D Diagrams

In our daily lives we make use of a lot of diagrams. Whether it’s a free-hand map that you sketch to explain a friend the way to your house, a flow chart used to show a company’s business plan or a concept map that you use to demonstrate the brain-storming ideas for a writing class –diagrams are all around us, and they are pretty useful.

Theoretically speaking, a diagram is a 2D representation of any data or information. The information is typically displayed using geometric symbols through an effective visualization technique. The modern technology and computer programming has made it very easy to display diagrams in a 3D form.

Diagrams are effective because they convey the intent or meaning to a person very clearly. Illustrations, technical drawings, flow charts, graphs, Venn diagrams, infographics etc are all different types of diagrams. Each type of diagram is specific for a certain use, and an appropriate selection is imperative for good communication. Just as different forms of diagrams have different uses and implications, the two different visualization approaches -2D and 3D visualization –have certain effects and implications as well. This is why most diagram editors provide both options to enable the user to make his choice.

However how should one decide whether a 2D approach is better or a 3D one? This article will explore some of the differences and advantages of these two visualization techniques.

2D Diagrams

2D Diagrams are diagrams or images are built upon the Cartesian plane.  This means only the X and Y axis are used to sketch the image. Because of this, 2d shapes have a certain flat appearance. While this may seem like a drawback, flatness is required in certain types of illustrations. Some of the activities which may need 2D diagrams instead of 3D visualization are:

  • Paper-cut out nets
  • Diagrams of machine parts which need to be made from metal sheets
  • Logos
  • Font or shape stencils etc

Flow charts representing a decision process or diagrams displaying lists also do well with 2D diagrams.

3D Diagrams

3D diagrams utilize the three dimensional plane for making images. This means that instead of the Cartesian plane with only X and Y axis, the plane with X, Y and Z axis is used. This is why these diagrams and images have a depth and volume to them. They appear more realistic. Sometimes 2D visualization in the perspective view can also give the illusion of a 3D diagram; however that is also a form of 2D visualization.

3D diagrams are good for the demonstration of technical information. For example networking diagrams which need to display a complex arrangement of servers, connectors, and other networking elements are best realized in the 3D format. Similarly scientific diagrams displaying the arrangement of molecules or other such structures are also better presented in the 3D.

Other than that, even simple flow charts, bar graphs, pie charts and processes may be displayed in 3D diagrams using the 3D diagram editor. While they can be displayed in the 2D version equally well, sometimes having them in 3D can add fun and internet to the presentation.

May 07, 2015 by Vladimir Baranek
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