Time to dive into a topic that has been on my mind lately — the UI of WOW. WOW’s default UI is not optimal, but we can get around this due to it’s extensibility. There are a plethora of addons created by the community to enhance or replace it.
IRL, I am a software developer and have a bit of a fascination with UI design, useability, etc. I know quite a few people who actually went to grad school specfically for HCI (human computer interaction). It’s a neat subject, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is, for someone interested in that kind of stuff I have been absolute fail at designing my own UI properly in WOW.
Until a few weeks ago I had a mishmash of addons strewn across my screen. Odd things ocurred while in combat like my class timers covering up my target’s cast bar. I stubbornly used the default unit frames and action bar. Every time I discovered a new addon I would try to cram it in somewhere. When playing my eyes zigzagged across the screen in an endless, frenetic dance to keep aware of everything that was going on. It was an inefficient, unattractive mess.
I finally sat down and had an intervention with myself. “Self,” I admonished, “you really need to clean this up. You know better than this.” I began pondering what I needed to do. I took some inspiration from some principles that UI designers generally follow, such as these, and thought about them in the context of WOW.
Here’s my criteria for a “good” WOW UI, in no particular order.
- Maximize visible screen real estate. You want to be able to see the boss, the nasty stuff on the floor, and be wholly aware of the situation around you. If your UI hides this from you then it is very bad. Its a bit like a puzzle sometimes, it’s worthwhile to keep your screen as clear as possible — utilize your sides and corners efficiently.
- Group similar things together. If everything you need to see while in combat is all in one portion of the screen, the less your eyes have to travel and the less likely you are to miss something. This also means grouping elements that serve specific tasks near each other. An example of this is keeping your buffs and debuffs next to each other. As a mutilate rogue you might want to see your Hunger For Blood buff, Slice and Dice, etc. near where you see the Deadly Poison debuff on the target (and Rupture in the old days).
- Minimize distraction. Don’t clutter your screen up with things you don’t need. This works hand in hand with #1. The important things should be big, obvious and easy to see — everything else should be out of the way or just not there at all. Do you really need your QuestTracker out while in combat? Think about the Google search page – it is incredibly minimal and everything serves a specific purpose. <angry_rant>Except when they clutter it up by putting an annoying little box telling me to switch to Chrome. </angry_rant>
- Provide good feedback. This one is a little more vague. What I mean is that it should tell you when you’re doing something good, when you’re doing something bad, and when you should do a specific task. So, is that any clearer? No, I doubt it. Oook… so I guess we’ll go with the examples. Your UI should do things like: tell you when an ability is off cooldown, make you aware that you’re standing in nasty stuff, let you know when something procs, let you see debuffs that you can remove, alert you when your self-shield has dropped (like water shield, or inner fire), tell you when you can’t cast something, etc. Your UI should help contribute to your awareness of the situation. Some people are good at picking up on subtle clues, but why make things harder on yourself (unless that is what you enjoy). These shouldn’t be things you have to hunt for – they should be obvious and prominent.
- Aesthetics. You’re going to be staring at it a lot – it should be pleasing on the eyes. If you’re OCD about that bar not lining up with the other one then you should probably fix it — you don’t want to be distracted in a raid by that thought crossing your mind. If you have a big flashing block in the middle of your screen saying “You forgot your poisons dummy” will it’s ugliness bother you? Perhaps there is a more tasteful but still obvious way to indicate this, such as with a Power Aura. Another thing to think about is maintaining a theme or color scheme across your addons. Some people strive for clean lines, and a minimalistic look-and-feel. Others want to maintain the “style” of the original UI like this guy.
For those of you who have lots of alts, another key thing is consistency. You don’t want to spend hours fiddling with your UI on each character, so think of something that will work across the board. Think about the roles you play — how are they different, and how are they similar? Keeping addons and UI elements consistent across your characters will help form habits and make things comfortable as you switch back and forth. This is why many altoholics tend to keybind “similar” abilities to the same key on each character.
There are thousands of addons out there that can help you create a fantastic UI. Often the difficult part is choosing which ones to use. The only advice I can really offer is to experiment. Think about what purpose you want an addon to serve and try a few that meet that need. Look at what is most popular — there is probably a good reason for it. Some addons are difficult to configure, while others behave exactly how you want out of the box. It’s a huge community, and one that is quite fun to explore. Don’t be afraid to try something new, as you can always just delete it and start over. I don’t think I’ll ever be perfectly satisfied with my UI. I know there are always things I can improve upon, so I just keep trying.
There is another issue that you may face when using various addons — your available resources. Not everyone’s computer can handle having fifty billion addons installed. Sometimes it pays to choose addons based on low CPU usage, low memory usage, or the fact that a single addon might serve several needs rather than having three separate ones installed.
Creating your own UI is a fun task for some, and an ardous one for others. It’s not a terrible thing to run with the default UI — you can still play the game — just not as efficiently or effectively as someone who has put some thought and effort into customizing it. This isn’t a priority for everyone, especially a casual player who has no interest in min-maxing. For me, it is all part of the “metagame”.
I was going to include a breakdown of my UI in this post but then realized I’d blathered on long enough. That will come in one or two more posts later this week.