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Reader UI of the Week: Small screen, big ideas


Everyone has specific goals to achieve with their UI, it's one of the things I particularly like about writing this column, is seeing what people are up against, and how they've worked with their UI to adapt to that. And this week's UI is no exception. While many of us are playing the game with big monitors, with big computers, or with big budgets, there are others who aren't. This week's Reader UI comes to you from a 1280x1024 monitor, and the submitter, Thieren, has had to work around their resolution to create a UI that allows them the maximum of screen space, and visibility, so that they can be at their most effective.

As a result, the header image is oddly cropped, but fear not, Thieren sent in several screenshots for us all to look at in environments where size doesn't matter. There's a solo shot, one in a ten-man raid, one in LFR, one solo, in combat and one in a party, out of combat. Let's jump straight into Thieren's email
I've largely run with this UI since early Wrath when I sat down to reign in the mess I'd created when I began tinkering with addons during Burning Crusade. There have been alterations, but they're more quality of life stuff and replacing out-of-date addons. The most recent, and the reason for the delay, was moving my SUF bars down from the typical Blizzard position.

Anyway, I designed with four purposes in mind. The first was to account for the fact that my cheap self still plays on a monitor that only goes to 1280x1024 resolution. Space is a premium, and my primary goal is to keep my screen as open as possible. So, given that I haven't healed since Wrath and my hunter is the only character I do any significant group work things like raid frames can be small and pushed off out of the way. After all, they're really only there to tell me when I need to find a safe place to feign. That's the one thing I'd like to change. I always feel somewhat cramped in LFR, and that's not going to go away until I get a bigger monitor. It'd be worse if I ever picked up healing or tanking again, I think.

Second, I'm a hybrid clicker and keybinder. I'm left handed and I use my right hand on the keyboard, but several of my fingers on my right hand were dislocated when I was younger and are still a problem in the sense that reaching for keys with them just doesn't work. No pain, but I learned a long time ago how to use a keyboard without them. It just limits what I can bind so I bind my most important abilities and click others and longer cooldowns. That means I usually keep more buttons around, though I've stuffed them out of the way well enough, I think.

Third, I use this UI across all my characters. It's not class specific outside of the weakauras. Right now, my primary alts are a fury warrior and an affliction warlock I'm leveling. I'm including a shot of her as well.

Lastly, I am a roleplayer, and this comes back to my first point. I like to see what's going on, and UI elements in the middle of the screen can really be a distraction when you're trying to have an in character conversation. Likewise, I find having a big, clear chat box is a major plus for roleplay, particularly during events.

So, the addons visible:

Shadowed Unit Frames for the bars (My health with pet and pet target over top and my target with my focus and my focus' target above that)
Dominos for the action bars
Masque to make them pretty.
KGPanels for the dark boxes and the action bar box.
Fortress, a databroker and various plugins.
Quartz for cast bars and, on my warlock, my debuffs on the target.
WeakAuras for various warnings. I like using numbers if you couldn't tell. In a raid I even keep a visual number of my current focus right under Thiery. Most of my auras for Thieren are displayed across the various screenshots.
Chinchilla for my minimap
Skada for dps and threat meters.
Prat to make my chat box look better.
Raven for buffs.
OmniCC to track my cooldowns.
MSBT to replace the default combat text
DBM for obvious reasons.

Notable Points

Thieren's UI has very specific goals in mind, given that she is playing on what would now be considered an extremely small monitor, and has restrictions that don't allow her to use a fully keybound setup, and therefore needs more buttons on show than others might. She's also looking exclusively at a DPS UI, as she notes she hasn't healed for some time. So, as ever, we can't criticize her UI for being a suboptimal healing setup, for example, because that's simply not what it's for.

Good Things

Thieren has done a really excellent job of creating consistently textured and bordered elements. She's using what I believe to be one of the default looks available with Masque, and has gone to the lengths of creating co-ordinating kgPanels to go with them, as well as using mini-map and buff designs which complement the overall dark-bordered look of her UI design. As I mentioned already, the textures are very consistent across the unit frames, raid frames, and Skada, which all serves to tie the UI together very neatly. The consistency of the three groups of buttons is also pleasing to look at, and ties in well with the smaller buttons across both the characters shown. I'm amazed at the size of the buttons given the size of Thieren's screen and her making mention of the fact that she has to click a fair amount -- when she said that in the email I thought she would have huge buttons everywhere, but it's really not the case.

She's also done an excellent job of ensuring she has as much free space as possible to play with in the middle area of the screen. The very minimal unitframes help a great deal with this, as does their intelligent positioning above the chat pane and Skada pane. The castbar, target castbar and target of target and pet target are all clustered together very neatly, although I do wonder whether the target castbar is obvious enough to ensure timely interrupts, particularly given the focus is pulled to the center of the screen, thanks to the clever Weak Auras that encircle Thieren's character.

I also like the positioning of the bars for both debuffs, in the warlock UI, and DBM announcements, the top left corner is often abandoned in UIs with this basic layout, and it's a great out-of-the-way spot for the DBM bars to go.

The general look manages to group everything together without seeming like too solid and obtrusive a set-up because Thieren has left space between the UI elements, and not fallen prey to the temptation of having a big black bar-style viewport UI. This adds a clarity and lightness to what she's looking at. Having said that, I've always been clear that I'm not a fan of viewport UIs, so maybe others will disagree!

Not-so-good things

Having done a really sterling job with the textures and the borders, Thieren falls down a little on her font consistency. I know, I always seem to mention this, but it's a bugbear, a pet peeve if you will. I don't use Mik's Scrolling Battle Text myself, but I'm fairly convinced it's possible to get several fonts in it. There are a couple of addons that make this easier, but it's also fairly straightforward to grab the TTF files of your favorite fonts from one addon to another, and rename them, if you're really keen to use an unusual one.

Apart from that, my only very minor gripe is Mik's -- I wonder if it's too cluttered. But that's rather how Mik's works, and it's fulfilling an objective by taking up very little of Thieren's screen. And lastly, I do believe Raven allows Consolidated Buffs, so perhaps that'd be another space-saving idea!

What do you think? And do send in your UIs for us all to have a look at! Email them to, with a list of the addons you use and a short email detailing what you're aiming for with it!

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.

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