Reader UI of the Week: 2011 user interface review

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, and follow Mathew on Twitter.

For me, 2011 was a great year in terms of getting to know you guys and writing about your user interfaces. People sent in a variety of different types of UI, great tips, tricks, and cool new tweaks to a game that's pushing eight years old. As WoW grows the UI community that has sprouted up around it has grown as well, showing the drive to create and be a part of the whole WoW phenomenon is still very much alive. Mists of Pandaria will only serve to fuel more fire.

I wanted to thank you all for your submissions last year, as well as issue a preemptive thank-you for all the great UIs that you have sent in over the year. Now, as we are knee-deep in Cataclysm's final patch, we all have time enough to hang out, sit back, and watch The Destroyed explode into sparkles while we tinker with our UIs getting ready for panda time. Here's a little taste of last year's highlights and my thoughts about 52 Reader UI of the Weeks.

UI trends of 2011

2011 was the year of addon ditching. While many players were adding to their interface folders with brand new features and replacing long-gone staples, Blizzard was working hard in its laboratories, cooking up some new additions to the WoW UI. Players looked to the new Raid Profiles as a herald of the era, Cataclysm finally admitting to the world that the Grid style of raid frames was truly, honestly the new way MMOs would do raid frames for the foreseeable future.

So as the year went on and people became more accustomed to the new raid profile built in to the game, the addons that brought about this very innovation began to disappear from people's machines. New players hitting raids for the first time were now just using what was provided to them. On the one hand, that's an amazing development for the WoW UI team, as it managed to catch up to the so-called competition and then build the feature directly into the game. The raid profiles were good enough, so people used them, and all was well. Addons began to come about that worked on the raid profiles, giving them even more Grid-like features, closing the addon feature disparity gap even more.

Finally, I've seen a trend this year in moving more of our interfaces to the sides of our UIs. MMO UIs have always been sort of bottom-bar-focused, and the sides of the UI were usually as verboten as the middle of the screen itself. There are a few explanations as to why people are getting to be more secure with using the sides of the interface. The Old Republic's UI makes somewhat heavy use of the sides of the screen, so maybe the beta players and beta usage of that game all through 2011 changed some peoples' minds? Was it Blizzard's own additions to the UI, most importantly the new PlayerPowerAltBar that would use parts of the center of the screen, forcing players to the sides? The world may never know.

What we got

As for advancements to the user interface, Blizzard was not shy in the least about handing down updates from on high. Bag search was a big win for the interface, finally allowing players to search through their bags, bank, and void storage in order to find items more easily. Previously, any of a number of bag and inventory addons allowed you to do this search of your inventories, and it was wonderful. Blizzard finally added bag search in patch 4.3, most likely because void storage necessitated some serious bag searching. Next, Blizzard needs to get the inventory system working without bags themselves. One-bag inventories have been the most popular, easiest to expand upon, and proliferating type of bag inventory in games today. I predict the inventory getting an upgrade in Mists of Pandaria; we just don't know about it yet.

Bag mods are still doing the inventory better than Blizzard, so while bag search is a great addition and moves things in favor of Blizzard a little bit, if you want anything more than the absolute basic, you'll still do better with an addon.

Speaking of addons and bags, AdiBags became my addon of the year, practically. Who would have thought that an inventory addon would become my darling of 2011? I was certainly surprised, that's for sure. AdiBags is everything I want in an addon -- no customization need, works out of the box, has lots of customization options if I am so inclined, and looks great. AdiBags, my favorite addon of 2011.

New raiding interface elements

New raiding elements were added to the interface for Cataclysm, but it wasn't until 2011 that the ExtraButton hit the scene to make this year the dawn of Raiding UI Complexity as a new layer to the raid game. What do I mean? Let me explain.

WoW boss and raid encounters have become more and more complex over time. They have to be different, and there are only so many times your playerbase wants to fight and kill a dragon that has a tail whip, a flame breath, and a plus-one gimmick. Things always need to become more complex.

With the addition of two new elements to the raiding UI, Blizzard has essentially added another layer of clicking to raiding. Now, players are not only responsible for hitting their own keys but also interacting with the UI. The Ultraxion encounter comes to mind, where all players are responsible to press their own button that appears on their screen. Magtheridon was the beginning of this concept, but not everyone was responsible for hitting those cubes, which definitely represented a different skill level for an old-guard generation.

New dressing room and UI revamps

The new dressing room features sort of flew under the radar for many people, since it was kind of hard to miss. When you try on clothing and gear on your avatar, there are new controls that allow you to pan around, spin your character, zoom in and out, reposition your avatar on the character screen, and more. Ctrl-click on a piece of gear to see it on your character and check out the new controls. A very welcome feature.

Another awesome addition was the new Reforge UI, finally removing the ugly and difficult drop-down menu-style interface. I much prefer the radial menus and full information display of the new interface, making choosing new stats on my gear a beautiful thing.

What's coming

We've got a 64-bit client on the way in 2012, which is going to be a huge boon for players with beefier computers. More RAM and better, more efficient processing has the potential to really change the game for some people. I'm really excited about the 64-bit client because I specifically got way too much RAM when building my current PC a while back to make some good use of 64-bit applications. WoW is finally heading in that direction.

This is going to be an interesting year, to say the least.

2012 needs your submissions!

This year, things are going to be changing in huge ways for World of Warcraft, especially with the impending, predicted launch of Mists of Pandaria. Who knows what new UI changes are coming? We still need you, however. Here's a recap of what you should be ready to send in if you'd like to submit your UI for Reader UI of the Week. Email all submissions to

  • Use big screenshots. The bigger, the better.

  • Tell us about it! The best Reader UI submissions come from great explanations. Why did you put your Recount meter where you put it? What's the reasoning for your action bars' being off to the right? We love explanation. Don't be afraid to be too wordy or verbose; I can always clean that up.

  • Guides help. People love seeing what addons go where. Even if it's not a visual guide, telling people (and me) what addons you use is helpful when people want to go and look for what you've used.

  • It's all about ideas. We want your ideas and the pieces of knowledge you want to share. Pretend like you get to be substitute teacher for a day, and you get to tell the class about your favorite UI element.


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.