Surfing the Z Axis

In her “Creating Passionate Users” weblog, Kathy Sierra blogged about a highly engaging website called It’s engaging because of its groovy, dynamic navigation method, which makes nice use of z-space (i.e. depth, at least as far as one can represent depth on a flat PC screen). Their approach is different, inspiring, and makes me want to add a z-axis to my own website!

(Luckily I don’t have the talent for that sort of thing, so you’ll be spared the half-baked, difficult-to-navigate monstrosity that would probably result).

The billyharvey site was created by these people - and their site is pretty much entirely on the z-axis. Really nicely done; and it provides food for thought about how little the z-axis is used in mainstream UI design. All those 3D graphics cards in corporate PCs are just going to waste (at least until Windows Vista is launched).

There’s a nice little goldmine of "zoomable UI" links on Edward Tufte’s website. They’re primarily talking about practical ways of overcoming the screen real-estate problem to avoid scrolling.

One of the (hypothetical) UIs discussed is Jef Raskin’s ZoomWorld (check out the actual working demo here), which Raskin described in his book The Humane Interface. I blogged about ZoomWorld a while back, and suggested that ZoomWorld should become the bold new inspiration for the ailing Project LookingGlass (an exciting but woefully under-inspired experimental 3D desktop written using Java3D). It would be a change of direction for LookingGlass, but a much-needed one.

This would fundamentally change LookingGlass from a 2D desktop with quasi-3D behaviour “bolted on” to a true Zooming User Interface (ZUI).

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.