The 3D pattern features maps that provide appealing, realistic views that are great for complex landscapes and vertical information. They provide a real-world view that can be easier to interpret.


Throughout history, 2D maps have been the main way to depict geography, from drawings on animal skin, papyrus, and paper to digital maps on computer screens. The disadvantage of any 2D map is that it requires a high level of geographic literacy to be interpreted well. 3D maps, on the other hand, have been around for less time and are mostly limited to hand-drawn, artistic renderings of cities or landscapes from a bird’s-eye view. Their main advantage is that people can intuitively understand them because they are realistic representations of the world as they know it. For instance, it’s easy to identify landmarks on a 3D map or see that an area is a lake and not a forest.

With the advent of 3D information models and faster computing power to render them, 3D maps are now a viable alternative to 2D maps. It’s easy to control camera tilt, angle of view, and even lighting. 3D maps have a higher positive appeal because of their realistic representation of area surroundings. This helps users orient themselves and find objects of interest more quickly.


Use 3D maps to illustrate a more naturalistic picture of complex landscapes or when the third dimension is an important factor, such as in construction, real estate, or landscape planning. 3D maps are especially useful in situations in which users need to quickly orient themselves, such as tourist maps or virtual tours. Use 3D to provide a common operational picture — for instance, when business operations need to know where things are and how they are connected or analysts and planners need to understand the complete scenario. Overall, 3D maps add realism and are helpful in instilling confidence that things are what they appear to be.


Start the app with a 3D map or provide a way to toggle from a 2D map to a 3D map, such as a button labeled 3D next to the zoom navigation. A good default 3D perspective is north facing and greater than 60 degrees. If applicable, use a 3D marker to indicate the user’s current location. Points of interest can be labeled with perspective markers, so-called billboards, or callouts. Always try to declutter the view by reducing the size of items that are farther away or removing them completely.

Clicking in the map should identify and highlight the first thing that is “hit,” in the same way as an arrow that is shot at a target. Two ways to visualize the selected item are (a) additive highlighting that changes the identified object’s color so that it stands out from the rest and (b) subtractive highlighting that dims the environment around the object. Location finder should add a 3D marker, and search should highlight the feature, such as a building or office, through either additive or subtractive highlighting. Consider adjusting the perspective so that the view of the highlighted feature isn’t obstructed.

Be aware of the following pitfalls when working with 3D maps:

  • Sea of walls: 3D objects such as buildings, landscapes, or extruded objects can conceal other objects, and indoor spaces are especially prone to that. Try to simplify walls, remove them if possible, or show schematic walls that are only knee-high so users can still see “inside.”
  • Easy to get lost: Users can easily lose orientation as they zoom in and change angle and perspective. Add a north arrow button to reset the perspective, and add signage to help users get oriented. Consider disabling orientation or angle change to avoid this situation.
  • Right perspective: Seeing an object from the right angle often involves additional navigation to find the right perspective. Consider generating placemarks that include predefined camera settings.
  • Unfamiliar navigation mechanism: 3D maps should follow common keyboard shortcuts and mouse controls. It’s also helpful to explain navigation controls to the user either up front or through a help menu. Remember that editing and placing objects in 3D are difficult tasks.


Kemayoran is an international trade center in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. It is the center of activity for international-scale commercial, service, and residential business. The Jakarta 3D Urban Regeneration–Kemayoran app uses a 3D map to visualize projects, plans, and indicators within Kemayoran. Users can search for projects, apply attribute filters, and select a project to show its details. The details view follows the focus on the subject pattern to switch from the overview to the project. In this view, to highlight the buildings that belong to that project, their façades are rendered using detailed 3D models, whereas the other buildings are stylized in simple gray shapes. An info panel describes the project in more detail. Users can navigate back to the main view of the whole area by clicking the back arrow on the top.

Jakarta 3D Urban Regeneration app lets users explore urban planning projects in the Kemayoran area of the city.
Jakarta 3D Urban Regeneration app lets users explore urban planning projects in the Kemayoran area of the city.


Immerse in a photo-realistic city environment
Immerse in a photo-realistic city environment
See satellites orbiting earth
See satellites orbiting earth

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