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Addons 101: The basics of customization


Addons 101 is a four-part series for beginners dedicated to understanding what addons are, how they enhance the gameplay experience of World of Warcraft, some popular addons in certain categories, and popular venues in which to research, download and find addons.

Finally, we reach the end of our beginner's journey. We have learned a lot so far, from what addons are and how they affect the WoW gameplay experience, to some of the categories of addons and some examples. For the final installment, Addons 101 will discuss the basics of user interface customization, where to find customization options, and some addons that can be very helpful when building your user interface. In addition, part 4 will be riddled with tips that I have found useful over the years working with my own UI.

The zen of UI

There's something really special about building your user interface that way you want. The preconceptions of what is right and wrong go out the window and you have the freedom to make the control scheme you want to, within reason. The zen of user interface customization, therefore, lies in understanding what you want, which also happens to be the hardest part.

The first step is to think about the pieces of the user interface you use the most and for what functions. Play with the default user interface first. Do some quests, run some instances and just be natural about it. Begin thinking about your experience and what you wish you could do more naturally. Do you wish to have a smaller bar for your potions above your chat channels? Are the buttons too small for you to effectively click in a hurry? Are you having trouble targeting group members because the default group frame is on the far left, as opposed to below your character to the right, where you'd like it?

The worst part about building a new user interface is not knowing what you want, much less what the user interface is capable of. To solve this problem, look for inspiration in some of the user interfaces from Reader UI of the Week, people's posted user interfaces on sites like wowinterface or Curse, and UI compilations. You don't have to use the compilation, but seeing how others set up their mods might give you a good idea or two.

Pencils out

One tip I give you many newcomers to user interface design is that drawing out what you want your user interface to look like can give you an added visual roadmap that you might not be able to pull together in your head. In a previous Reader UI of the Week column, I had shown some pictures of a sample UI drawing that I made for someone a while back. You can never go wrong with drawing out what you think you would want and then using that as the building blueprint to put addons where you want them. It could help you out in ways you didn't expect.

One at a time

The last thing you want to do as a budding UI creator is to become overwhelmed after a few minutes of tinkering around. Addons can be enabled and disabled at will without losing their settings. Use this to your advantage and only deal with one addon at a time. Pick one area of your user interface to configure and work around it.

What to expect

Let's take the chat box, for example. The chat box usually takes up a good portion of people's UI area allotment and is customarily placed in a similar spot in most user interfaces. Start with the chat box. Install your chat addon of choice and, upon starting up the game, you will notice your new chat box running. It might not be in the same position, the same size or even look the same as your old chat box. When you load in a new addon, expect there to be a bit of confusion. Some addons by default throw everything they can do on screen. Some addons are more spartan and only show a minimum amount of what they are capable of.

Your first stop should be the options pane that your addon has for its configuration. Some addons' configuration utilities can be accessed by typing in the addon's "slash command." This command is unique to the addon you are setting up. For instance, one chat mod, Chatter, makes its options available through the command /chatter, for instance. The other place to find addon options is in the interface menu on the ESC menu when in game -- click the tab named Addons.

Optional options

One of the most frequent emails that I receive from players new to addons is that they are lost after addon installation. Many people ask if there is a simple way to understand the options that many addons have as customizable. The short answer is "not really." The longer answer is that each addon is unique in its configuration and options, and the only way you truly get a handle on any addons ability is by tinkering. Tinkering takes time and patience, however, which is why we recommend doing one addon at a time. One set of variables and options is much easier to deal with than six or seven at a time.

Addons options, for the most part, are locating in the menu > interface > Addons tab while in game. Addons with a GUI (graphical user interface) option panel have their options displayed in this window. Some addons are text input only, meaning you enter all commands to control the addon through the chat box. Most addons come with an FAQ file in their folder that explains most of the options available, but it is usually best to go read the addon's page on Curse, WoWInterface or the addon's own home page if one is available.

I won't lie -- options are scary sometimes. Remember, though, that there is a cardinal rule. You aren't performing open heart surgery. If you screw up an option, you aren't going to lose the patient. You can always delete the addon and start over. I bet heart surgeons wish they had that kind of do-over available. If you do want to "nuke it from orbit," as it were, and start completely from scratch, you can do this easily by deleting the WTF and Interface folders from your WoW directory. This will get rid of all of your saved information, including button macros and keybindings, so it is only to be used in the direst of circumstances.

What's the bottom line of all of this? Here's a simple list of what you should know going into addon customization.
  • Learning how to configure your addons is easier than you think.
  • Addons can be tricky sometimes, but don't let that stop you.
  • Take your time and configure one at a time. Turning on one addon at a time saves you from scaring yourself and lets you concentrate on one interface element at a time.
  • Do not be scared of the addon's options -- you can always set an addon back to its defaults or delete the addon and start over. You aren't in danger of losing anything.
  • If things go wrong, you can always delete and try again.
Helpful addons

Here are three addons that can help you out a bunch when configuring your user interface.

eAlign Commonly referred to as Align, this addon's simple purpose is to place a non-interactive grid over your user interface to aid in spacing out addons. It works great for centering and sizing things! Use /align to activate it after you install.

Download eAlign at [Curse].

Addon Control Panel This awesome addon replicates the functionality of the addon enable/disable menu on the character select screen, but in game. This allows you to enable and disable addons by just reloading the user interface rather than heading back out to the character screen to manage your addons.

Download Addon Control Panel at [Curse].

Addon Profiler This profiling addon shows the user the CPU and memory footprint of the addons currently running in World of Warcraft. Addon Profiler is especially effective at finding problem addons that are wrecking your performance, allowing you to easily pinpoint the problem and disable the troublemaker.

Download Addon Profiler at [Curse] or [WoWInterface].

I truly hope that you have all enjoyed Addons 101. I promise that there will be more -- and for all you user interface junkies out there who have been asking for a 101 article on actually building the UI, we might have some cool stuff in the pipeline. (As long as you love addon content, of course.) Feel free to also email me any time you have some 101 questions. I hope I've demystified addons just a tiny bit for those of you hesitant to jump into the fray. Remember -- go slow, have fun and remember to always /reloadui.

Addons are what we do on Addon Spotlight. This special edition of Addon Spotlight is aimed at you newcomers out there, to learn a little bit about addons. We are so happy to have you! If you have any questions or suggestions for Addons 101, email Mat at

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