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The first computer-assisted design software was developed in the 1980s, and flourished in the fields of cinema (VFX) and video games. Ever since, 3-D modeling technologies have occupied an increasingly prominent place in graphic design productions. Today they are more accessible than ever, due in part to their increased processing capacities, the widespread use of free, open-source software such as Blender (1994), and the advent of “real-time” creative environments like the game engines Unreal Engine (1998) and Unity (2005).

In terms of photorealistic performance, 3-D is often limited to an imitation of reality, as witnessed in the phenomenon of skeuomorphic interfaces. More recently, designers have frequently opted for 3D to “enrich” a 2-D medium—poster, website, etc.—making use of the formal vocabulary of rendering engines (wireframe, normal maps, sliding textures, stereotypical lighting, reflections, transparency effects), or by inventing their own specific and interactive languages.

Generally considered to be more “immersive” than 2D because of its added dimension—an assertion that deserves to be questioned—3D is the basis of contemporary environments like metaverses, virtual reality (VR), or augmented reality (AR) interfaces. In tandem with the mainstreaming of head-mounted displays, the emergence of “real-time” 3-D technologies on webpages (WebGL) have put the accent on graphical objects that associate reading onscreen, specific typography, textures and CGI, all of which run counter to the traditional paradigm: windows, menus, vertical scrolling, and hypertext links. Consequently, we set out to explore the effects of 3D in terms of culture, cognition and sensibility. What is the rapport between image and text in a simulated environment, whether figurative or abstract? In what ways can we explore and lend perspective to these techniques in the wider context of the history of graphic design?