Most diagrams, particularly those used in software engineering, are line drawings consisting of nodes drawn as rectangles or circles, and edges drawn as lines linking them. In the present paper we review some of the literature on human perception to develop guidelines for effective diagram drawing. Particular attention is paid to structural object recognition theory. According to this theory as objects are perceived they are decomposed into 3D set of primitives called geons, together with the skeleton structure connecting them. We present a set of guidelines for drawing variations on node-link diagrams using geon-like primitives, and provide some examples. Results from three experiments are reported that evaluate 3D geon diagrams in comparison with 2D UML (Unified Modeling Language) diagrams. The first experiment measures the time and accuracy for a subject to recognize a sub-structure of a diagram represented either using geon primitives or UML primitives. The second and third experiments compare the accuracy of recalling geon vs. UML diagrams. The results of these experiments show that geon diagrams can be visually analyzed more rapidly, with fewer errors, and can be remembered better in comparison with equivalent UML diagrams.

Publication Date


Journal or Conference Title

Advanced Visual Interface (AVI)



Conference Date

May 23 - May 26, 2000

Publisher Place

Palermo, Italy

Document Type

Conference Proceeding