Representing Complexity with Isometric Projections: 3 November 2015

As Artstor’s cataloging environment, Shared Shelf, continues to take shape, one of the most frequent barriers to entry for our users is the difficulty in constructing a mental model of our relational cataloging system. While schema crosswalks and data specifications provide crucial detail of fields and their relationships, sometimes it is helpful to have a 40,000-foot view of how disparate data entities interact with one another.

Traditional entity-relationship diagrams may be semantically more accurate, but from a user’s perspective, they are not the most approachable method nor do they allow for rapid reads to quickly orient the user.

Our solution was to create a reusable library of symbols drawn on an isometric grid to depict key concepts and entities within Shared Shelf.

The isometric views are not a purely stylistic decision. This type of axonometric projection allows complicated objects in our diagrams to be seen and read from three sides. In particular, the visual ambiguity of the underlying grid wonderfully allows us to flatten and draw relationship symbols like arrows in impossible situations.

The consistent use of these symbols becomes part of our branded effort to create a visual vocabulary that is both highly functional and aesthetically agreeable. Ultimately, this shared language becomes a valuable method of communication between our external facing teams and users.

Even though Shared Shelf is an enterprise-level software, we believe there is value in accommodating users with the ease-of-use and simplicity they are accustomed to in the digital consumer products they use daily. Enterprise-level should only be a moniker for robust performance and not vernacular for incorrigibly difficult software.