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There are some people who hotkey a few abilities into their interface, relying on the number row and some macros to take care of the brunt of the work when it comes to mashing abilities. Vardelm's UI, however, has taken the notion of "hotkey crazy" to a whole new level. Completely eschewing action bars for an invisible approach to hotkeys, Vardelm makes efficient use of his keyboard while keeping the UI comprehensive and cohesive. Suffice to say, I'm impressed with the hotkeys.

There is still something frightening to me about not having action bars readily available and in plain sight. Maybe they're my safety net while I perform the delicate trapeze of raid tanking, comforting me with their visual presence. Take away the net and I could panic so hard that I'd fall harder than Dick Grayson's parents. The upside would be becoming a rich dude's ward, so I guess that isn't so bad.

Vardelm's UI: shaman, DPS, enhancement, restoration, hidden action bars

Take it away, Vardelm:

I've been around since open beta of vanilla WoW. I started using addons almost as soon as they became available, starting with GypsyMod and eventually moving to Discord Mods. Seeing what other people use has always been fascinating, and sometimes inspiring for my own UI.

Somewhere in late TBC, I decided to completely rework my UI. I started with keybinding layout and became a "roaming index finger" player, similar to the configuration in this Blood Sport article. I also decided to get most of my action bars off my screen, except for the bare minimum to show cooldowns for my main attacks. I asked myself what I absolutely HAD to have shown on my screen during combat, and removed everything else. Ever since, I've used the same general layout for all classes. I started using the design while playing a hunter, moved to a ret pally, and since Cata my main is a shaman. I was exclusively enhancement, but lately I've started playing restoration as my secondary spec. Fortunately, my UI ended up working well for me as a newbie healer.

Generally, I trend towards a minimalist approach. The less I have on my screen, the more I can pay attention to the game world. At the same time, there's some amount of information I like to have available. I like "bottom bar" layouts, although I feel like some try to cram in too much there for my taste. Like many, I try to keep the middle of my screen mostly clear, except for my TellMeWhen icons right under my character to show my main cooldowns. I've been playing with this layout for so long now it feels like an old glove. There's room for tweaks to be sure, but overall I'm pretty happy with it.

Here's the rundown on addons:

TellMeWhen - TMW is one of my favorite addons for showing short-term cooldowns for my main actions. I had a similar system with Discord Mods (oh so long ago) and switched to TellMeWhen after Discord went the way of the dodo. Having these icons show just under my character allows me to know what I have available, almost without moving my eyes at all. I wish Blizzard & other game companies would start to incorporate functionality similar to this & action bar mods like Dominos or Bartender into their standard UI.

Bartender4 - This is the action bar mod I'm currently using. I've been a long time Dominos (& Bongos) user, but I've had issues with how to manage vehicles & possession. I wanted vehicle icons just under my character, like TellMeWhen, but didn't want to assign those buttons with the hotkeys I use for vehicles. The reason is that I have my action bars hidden, but laid out to mimic my keyboard so that I can quickly drag & drop spells or macros onto them and know what key the ability will be assigned to. You can see that layout in my "hotkeys" image. I use a Logitech G11 keyboard, which gives me 18 extra keys on the right side, which you can also see in that image. The one thing I miss from Dominos is having chat commands to toggle the action bar display on & off via a macro. For now, I use an alt+ctrl state driver to show them.

Dominos - Previously my main action bar addon, I now use this just for the totem bar, which I actually prefer to other totem mods like TotemTimers.

Shadowed Unit Frames - SUF has plenty of options for customization, & yet is easy to use. My only issue is that it doesn't have settings for right justification of text & length of text frames, so long names of my targets get cut off. It's a minor thing, though. One thing I really like about SUF is the ability to show focus, main tanks, and main assists and also make their positions relative to each other. I have them "stacking" on top of each other just above my minimap on the right side.

Raven - I started using Raven simply because I needed to be able to right click buffs to get rid of them. This was mostly for dual weapons enchants on my enhancement shaman. However, I also added longer cooldown icons up next to my totem bar. I used to use SexyCooldown, but I like just straightforward icons better now.

Clique - Playing healing classes, having some manner of click-casting on unit frames is important. I had this even before I started playing restoration. I've tried Vuhdo & Healbot, and liked them, but I get what I need from Clique + SUF and it's easy to set up.

kgPanels - Pure aesthetics. I use kgPanels to set up shaded backgrounds for my windows. It makes it easier to see chat and my TellMeWhen icons against the game-world background. Also, I feel that the gradient shadow on the bottom helps tie the various frames together & "ground" them, but doesn't make a solid bottom bar that feels so heavy.

ButtonFacade (with Nefs) - ButtonFacade, with the Nefs plugin allows me to have a very clean look to all my icons, including TellMeWhen, Raven, Dominos, & Bartender.

Gnosis - I like this for castbars. I have my player castbar and mirror bar (for breath, fatigue, etc.) right by my TellMeWhen frame. I also have a large, enemy cast bar at the top of my screen to make interrupts a bit easier to manage.

TidyPlates - For a long time, I didn't use name plates at all. The later versions of TidyPlates allow you to show ONLY your current target, which I feel is great as a dps class. I still have the same as a healer, and might start playing around with showing friendly nameplates.

TipTac - I use this to locate my tooltip at my mouse cursor, plus get rid of the standard border that feels "heavy".

Chatter - This removes the UI elements I don't need, and also shows the names of mains for guildies.

Adibags - Great bag addon! I tried ArkInventory for a while. This gives me a 1-window inventory plus categories without tons of setup.

Chinchilla - Gives me a simple, square minimap and removes the border, icons, etc. I've used SexyMap as well. Chinchilla gives me the options I need and seems to be a bit more stable for me.

DBM - Does anyone not use this? :-)

Recount - Great for showing dps, healing, etc. I have a macro set up to toggle the display on and off at will, so most of the time I don't have it up, even in groups.

Omen - Like Recount, I have a macro to toggle the display.

I have a few other minor addons (such as ColorPickerPlus) to make things more convenient, but I could easily do without those. The addons above are really what drive my UI and make interacting with the game world a pleasure rather than a chore.



Thanks for the email and the submission, Vardelm. While the action bars will be the focus of the discussion, there is plenty to love about Vardelm's UI. We've got a healthy mix of simplicity and function.

Invisible action bars

Take a look at Vardelm's keybinds. His action bars are laid out in a facsimile of his keyboard, using the actual bind keys to show where on the keyboard everything will be bound. I have discussed the wonders of assembling your action bars in the shape of your keyboard, mostly to gain familiarity with where your binds will eventually go. Vardelm has a ton of bindings, so having quick familiarity is crucial, especially in panic situations.

Also notice that Vardelm eschews the traditional use of the F keys for more crucial keybinds for DPS. Usually people save the F keys for fast party selection, but as a DPS, the need for selecting party members is lessened to a degree. If you're a rogue looking to Tricks of the Trade or a hunter Misdirecting an ally, you probably already have these abilities set to a macro of some kind, so selecting a party member probably isn't at the top of your priority list.

It is worth discussing non-traditional key use. Many of the keys on the keyboard are already bound and used by WoW's user interface, opening various UI elements including the character pane: spellbook, bags, reputations, and more. All of these UI elements, however, can be accessed via the mini menu or even rebound to new keys to free up a large amount of bind-able keys on the "main" keyboard area. Addons even exist to make the mini menu more of a convenience than the, in my opinion, large and unnecessary version of the thing now.

The other interesting thing to notice is that not every button is filled in, allowing for some expansion in case specs change, more buttons and binds are needed, or if the flow of button presses just doesn't feel right. Keeping expansion in mind is a UI safeguard, in case the design you've created just doesn't feel right when you actually have to use the damn thing. Being able to move things around and tinker is paramount, and having "margins" matters.

Solid buff/debuff management

Another incredibly important aspect of the UI that Vardelm handles well is solid buff and debuff management. Raven is a great choice for buffs and debuffs (I've recommended the damn thing enough this year), and the area carved out for them is symmetrical and easy to see. By keeping buffs and debuffs right on top of each side's target frames, Vardelm could easily look left or right and know at-a-glance what he's dealing with. The key buffs for enhancement shaman, such as Maelstrom Weapon, sit in the middle, as well as utility and main DPS abilities.

Think in quadrants. By bisecting the UI, Vardelm has given himself two directions to look for basic buff and debuff information. Straight ahead is key cooldowns. The left side shows target debuffs. The right side is all about personal buffs and debuffs. I'd definitely recommend the bisect plan to most players, especially if you like your buffs and debuffs growing vertically up from your unit frames.

My only concern

As someone who has grown terribly attached to OmniCC, hiding my action bars is something I just can't do anymore. If you're someone that is used to seeing your cooldowns on the actual action button, you might have trouble transitioning to an action bar free UI. TellMeWhen is a great way to fix that, of course, and Vardelm uses this addon to excellent ends, downgrading that concern for me to a mild interference. Again, that's a personal preference.

Borders versus backgrounds

The subtle use of kgPanels to give each addon a slight background works well for Vardelm's UI. It gives the entire setup an "on the edge" look. Every addon sort of grows into transparency as they get closer and closer to the center, keeping most of the center free for crucial cooldowns and notifications. You can make these simple kgPanels boxes for your addons by following my little tutorial on black boxes and creating a gradient transparency. Tinker around in the options -- it's not as hard as you think.

Going with backgrounds versus borders for your addons creates a different atmosphere. Borders are all about hard spaces with strict guidelines. Gradient transparencies give the UI less of a strict feeling, making it softer. Easing into the large free spaces makes addon elements feel a little more natural over the game world; tonally less of a solid interface.

Great job with the set up, Vardelm. You've got the dwarf enhancement shaman thing down pretty well. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go augment my own shaman with some of this UI ...

Interested in getting the most out of your user interface? Come back once a week for more examples of reader UIs. For more details on individual addons, check out Addon Spotlight, or visit Addons 101 for help getting started.

This article was originally published on WoW Insider.

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