writing tips, design principles, world creation, world building
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The 3 Dimensions of Design

written by Thomas Mühlematter on Sat May 23 2020 11:56:19

Any world, object, vehicle, character or object you create can be broken down into three different dimensions. And this applies to any form of art. Whether you are writing books or designing characters for a video game, the same principles stand. This is especially important to structure what we create and give a captivating expression of the object we are creating. Thinking along these dimensions also allows you to have a clear direction about your design choices.

Core and Soul


Everything we design must have a purpose, a reason of being in our world. If you are designing a character, why do you need this particular character? Why do you need that building or that location? Nothing must be left to chance or for aesthetics purpose. When something is created just to create emotions or to look interesting, we intuitively feel something is missing and it feels hollow. At this level, you focus on the theme and do not think about the judgements or emotions your concept expresses. If we take the example of creating a character, let’s assume your character must express something related to space exploration. At this level, you do not say yet what your character is thinking or feeling about space exploration. You just know that this is a topic that your want your character to explore and express. Neither do you care yet about what your character looks like.

Thoughts and Emotions


Once we have established what is the theme that a concept explores, we can focus on the next level which is about thoughts and emotions. This is where judgments about a theme are expressed. We decide whether something is good or bad and what kind of emotions we want to evoke. The importance of this step is that the emotions that the concept expresses will be the emotions that the audience experiences. And the thoughts and judgments expressed will be what the audience will either agree with or reject.If we go back to our example, we have to now decide on what our character thinks about space exploration. Does she think it is useful or useless? What does she think about the dangers of space exploration? Did she have her father killed in the explosion of a supernova? Is she excited about finally being able to leave her family staying on Mars and having adventures of her own? Or maybe her brother was lost in a research mission and she will do everything she can to save him?

Body and Physical World


The last aspect is the one that people are the most familiar with and the one that is often focused on at the expense of the two others. The last dimension is about how things look, how would they feel if we were to touch them, how things would taste, smell and what would be our physical reaction to them.This is where we can decide what our space exploring girl looks like. Before disappearing, her brother left her with a small bracelet that she wears and she often finds herself toying with it when she is thinking about him. She could have bright red hair to signal to everybody she is independent and does not care what other people think about her unconventional life choices. She is also probably fit because space exploration often requires crews to do heavy maintenance on the ships when something breaks down and to do tough extravehicular repairs.The mistake often made by world builders and designers is to disregard the importance of what is the reason of being for a concept and about the judgments and emotions that it is there to express. This separation also renders the creation process much easier and less painful. Each aspect can be thought of separately and brought into harmony with the others but also making sure concepts are harmonious with each other and give a compelling message.When done well, a concept (whether a movie, a book, a particular character) will make us feel a deep connection with it and will captivate us on every level. We will understand why it exists and what it is exploring. We will also experience deep thoughts and feelings about the concept and it will be looking grounded in the physical world and make us feel it is real and full of life.


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