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Reader UI of the Week: Clear goals make better interfaces

Mathew McCurley
Mathew McCurley|December 20, 2011 6:00 PM
Each week, WoW Insider and Mathew McCurley bring you a fresh look at reader-submitted UIs as well as Addon Spotlight, which spotlights the latest user interface addons. Have a screenshot of your own UI that you'd like to submit? Send your screenshots along with info on what mods you're using to readerui@wowinsider.com, and follow Mathew on Twitter.

Have you ever been in the situation where something that you had utterly convinced yourself was out of reach was in fact right in front of you the whole time? Sometimes people just don't know that they've got the right thing working for them when it's already working. I suspect that many people feel this way about their user interfaces and the addons that they choose to use during their play experience. One of the reasons people are in such positions is because they don't have clear goals set when they begin to tinker with their user interfaces.

Addon newcomer Curokk doesn't know how good he has it already. With a few clear-cut goals, Curokk's interface is a solid piece of simplicity and function. Primarily a 5-man dungeon type of player with Raid Finder aspirations, Curokk forged his setup in the boredom and hopelessness that is the Time Lost Proto-Drake hunt. It features nice borders, a simple layout, and a whole bunch of screen real estate left open to view all the pretty action for his shaman to experience. Let's see what Curokk has to say about his UI, whether we can help out some ... and if he actually got the Time Lost Proto-Drake during all that UI building.

Yeah, he got the drake. Keep reading anyway.

Curokk's UI: bottom-bar UI, shaman UI, forged in Time Lost hellfire.
Dear Mat,

I am kinda new to the UI/Addon game and was hoping to get some feedback or suggestions for my UI. I started using addons a couple of months ago, while grinding rep for the Netherwing drakes. I kept seeing NPCscan come up in the blogs and guides so I decided to try it out (there seemed to be some confusion as to if you could use it to find nether eggs, but I figured while out in that hell hole I'd at least nab me a rare or two). NPCscan found me all 3 rares in Shadowmoon Valley and I fell in love with it. I decided to go after some other rares and thought the Time-Lost Proto Drake sounded awesome. Right. Well, while camping for that bastard I had a lot of time on my hands and I started to get curious about what other addons there could be that I was missing. I've been playing wow for years now so I've known about addons, I was just always a little scared of them. That's were WOWinsider came in. I read WI most days, so I knew you wrote a column on addons and had made a 101 serious. I read them all. Then I read the UIs of the week and couldn't believe how great some peoples UIs looked. So I went to Curse and I went a little crazy. I know your guide said to take it slow but I couldn't help myself. I downloaded a ton of addons and went at it. And after a couple weeks of screw ups and crying, I think I have a UI I am proud of. Wow... that was long.

I play primarily PVE usually 5 mans. So a lot of Zuls. Like 100 each. Really need some new dungeons. I don't really raid much unless it's a quick pug (haha) and I use SUF as my raid bars. I'm one of those people looking forward to the raid finder. Or at least the idea of it. I also have been soloing, going for some achieves. I play a ele/resto shaman, w/ ele as primary but I do heal frequently. I wanted the following for my UI:
  • Symmetry: I like having my screen with some balance to it.
  • Bottom Bar/framed: I like the feel on how a bottom bar layout looks. Granted mine isn't straight across, but the concept is there. Combined with Titanpanel and playing almost feels like a letterbox movie.
  • Utility with my specs: I wanted to change as little as possible when switching from ele to resto. One of the reasons the party bars are still as large as they are. I played around with making them smaller, but it was hard to adjust to healing like that. I rarely raid so large healing addons weren't necessary.
  • Simplicity: I wanted as much screen space as I could to just show the game.

So my set up has Chatter on one side and my map and DPS meter equal to it on the other. My bars in the middle, with my totems front and center (I am SHAMAN). Kgpanels frame all my bottom info, but no art, just frames. My player bar is opposite my target, with both cast bars underneath. My player bar fades when out of combat and full health. Nice and simple.

Well that's my interface; let me know what you think. I love the column it's one of my new favorites.

Curokk, Shammy (Wildhammer US)

P.S. I'm looking for an addon that shows me on my target any buff that purge can dispel. Like really shows it. SUF has a setting for spell steal but it doesn't seem to show for purge. Maybe a WI reader has one?

P.P.S. yea that last pic is me with the TLPD. Yea.

Thanks for the submission and the email, Curokk, and congratulations on your Time Lost Proto-Drake. He's haunted my mind for a long time, but I have since given up on ever seeing that inept, time-traveling jerk soaring through the Storm Peaks. Next time, I hope that fool gets lost in End Time. That place is awfully barren.

Goals are good

Curokk's four interface goals, as outlined in his email and submission, are the beginnings to great user interfaces. The best productions begin with a good producer, and the best interfaces begin with a good foundation of what you want to accomplish. Let's take a look at Curokk's rules and goals.

Symmetry The human body is mostly symmetrical, including our brains and bones. That's a lot of innate symmetry that we as creatures experience from our first moments. Therefore, it is easy to see why we have an affinity for symmetry. Some aspects of symmetry are weird and unnerving, like those pictures of people with symmetrical faces. Don't look them up. It's weird.

We like symmetry because it also represents some kind of order. Order is good because we are in control. Curokk's symmetry isn't perfect symmetry, but it works astoundingly well given the addons he has chosen for the bottom bar. As Curokk puts it, balance is very important to a user interface because we are depending on this construct to give us the information we want when we want it, in a clean and understandable manner.

Curokk has created segments for each of his bottom bar areas -- chat, buttons, map, and meters. While the DPS meter is a little large for my taste, I understand that it is in such a place to fill gaps. The minimap's being off-corner and off-center was also weird at first, but after a minute or two, it made more sense. Notice also that the symmetry is kept up through the height of the bottom bar, never letting addons breach up past a certain point. Good symmetry is about limits. Limiting how far up your addons reach is a great way to begin crafting something similar.

Framing the play space Curokk's second goal was to frame his WoW experience like a letterboxed movie, using the bottom bar addons and the top Titan Panel to contain the game world in the middle. I like this train of thought and subscribe to it myself. Free-floating pieces in the middle of the screen are at a minimum, and the interface world of WoW lives in very specific places.

Curokk accomplishes this framing with a staggered bottom bar that fills in with in-combat addons and features while being rudimentary during the off-hours. Just remember that if you want to frame your WoW game with addons but don't want to use an addon that changes your game's resolution or put it in a box, think long and hard about transparency and whether you want your addons to bleed the world behind them through. You will want to copy a little of what Curokk did and very thoughtfully border your addons so they stand out from the world around them.

Simplicity The final goal of Curokk's user interface was simplicity. Simplicity doesn't always mean Spartan, however. Simple UIs can be UIs that don't use a lot of macros, UIs that don't have a ton of addons, UIs that only use a certain amount of screen space, UIs that keep things relatively small, or a million other examples. The opposite of simple is complex or complicated, and you are hard-pressed to make an extremely complicated UI in WoW -- you just don't need it these days.

So how do you achieve simplicity while living in a world where there are a million addons for everything and you just want it all? Simplicity is simple -- don't use what you don't need. The first step in simplifying your UI life is to just disable the pieces you don't need. Don't delete stuff right away. Just disable addons that either take up too much room, size them down, or start thinking critically about the things you use certain addons for. Do you really need both Skada and Recount? Does your minimap really need to have all of those notification markers on it? Is your game experience any better with two raid encounter addons? Believe me, there are people with more than two.

Get your hands dirty

Following simple rules and setting goals for yourself are two of the biggest themes of Reader UI of the Week. This column and UI design in general are about getting your hands dirty and learning a thing or two about the mechanics behind the game you play and how to tweak them.

It's very weird for me playing Star Wars: The Old Republic right now because of the complete lack of interface modding available besides what is in game right now. I wish you could see the sheets of paper I have at my desk as I draw out new interfaces for my Jedi Knight. The most interesting part of the interfaces that I draw out for WoW is that I can actually create them right now.

You've got a great setup, Curokk, and a good set of rules and goals to follow and strive for. Just for kicks and the happy moment and all, here is the final screen shot I got from Curokk, happily astride his well-earned Time Lost Proto-Drake. Good job!


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.