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UI Surgery: Downsizing your UI for a smaller screen or resolution


Sometimes players find themselves in the position where they have to downsize. It happens to us all now and then, for whatever reason, you're heading to someone else's house and need to play on their computer, your monitor explodes and you find yourself using that little one you had in the attic to make your raid happen, your desktop decides enough is enough and you're stuck with a laptop, your good laptop goes back to Asus to be repaired for the third time and you've got to use the little laptop with the lower resolution. And your UI's a mess.

We've actually had a few emails about exactly these sorts of issues, asking how to rework or resize a UI for a smaller screen, what's good and what's bad, and what works the best for form and function over both different sizes and on a small screen. Last week's Reader UI of the Week, from Thieren, made an excellent job of this. Thieren plays on a 1280x1024 monitor, and, thanks to her preferred in-game activities, requires both large chat panes and a lot of screen space, something that isn't often available on a smaller monitor, but makes great use of what she has to play with.

Small-screen UI changes

I'd love, as ever, to hear what our readers do with their UIs, especially those who play on smaller screens. My approach, when my gaming machine breaks down and is yet again packed off to Asus for repairs, and I'm banished to a smaller resolution, is to make some key changes to various UI elements.

Raid Frame Changes

Raid frames are the first to be downsized. I usually use the full-size Blizzard-style ElvUI options, but on a smaller screen they take up entirely too much space. As someone who heals, I am mostly interested in the overall player health, and whether I have HoTs or shields on players, which, in ElvUI, is indicated by tiny icons in the corners of the panel. I have my frames set up to run left-right, so decrease them in height rather than in width. Running frames horizontally, so that when players take damage or drop health the bar decreases to the side, rather than vertically like addons such as Grid are set to by default, allows for better space economy. Why? Because you can see both the player's name, often abbreviated, and their health in a smaller space. Vertical text is harder to understand!

Another good idea which someone sent me via twitter in response to Thieren's UI is ensuring that whatever raid frames you use display class colors. If you're in a regular raid team where you know players well, and know who plays what, and in a dungeon run, class colors make it far easier to discern who's who on small frames. If you're healing, you'll also know which classes you're looking after, and be able to call for cooldowns, if applicable.

Buff and Debuff Changes

These are another key area to pare down. Particularly if you're a DoT class, using a debuff addon, they will often display your debuffs as bars, which show very little regard for your small screen as they increase in size and number. If you are possessed of exceptionally excellent eyes, you can pull their size down, or simply change them to work as icons instead of bars if that will work for you. WoW Insider recently covered several debuff addons, most of which work for buffs as well, and one of which, Raven, offers, like several other buff addons, a display referred to as a timeline, which uses moving icons on a bar. For those players who are short on space, this is one of the very best ways to display buffs and debuffs, without requiring you to read very small text on icons to ascertain which DoTs are expiring, or which cooldowns are about to come up.

UI scaling

Scaling is a built in function of the WoW UI that can be a quick fix if you're just in need of slightly more space but don't want to resize individual elements. Hit escape to bring up the in-game menu, then go to System, then to Graphics, and you'll see a UI Scale slider at the bottom of the list of items.

UI Surgery Downsizing your UI for a smaller screen
If you're using the standard UI, or one with just a few elements replaced, this will do a great job in freeing up your screen, and giving you a clearer view. It works by maintaining the size of every element relative to one another, and as such also takes down the size of your text. This may make it harder to read things like the chat pane, but fear not, that text can also be manually resized to compensate.

A word of warning, though, regarding UI scaling and full UI replacements, such as my preferred ElvUI -- these will often independently scale your entire UI to their parameters. Overwriting that scaling with this slider will cause weird things to happen, like text overlapping boxes and such. These UIs can usually be scaled from within their configuration menu, or individual elements can be resized.

What's more, if you, like one commenter on last week's article, struggle with imperfect vision, and play on a very low resolution to make the UI elements bigger, scaling the UI up at a higher resolution can do wonders for visibility.

Action Bars

Almost nobody who's into UI modification has the standard action bars. They're so 2008. But if you're one of the few still using them this is a great step towards freeing up some more space. Nobody really needs those gryphons at either end, for example, and while UI scaling will pull down action bar size, the ability to independently scale action bars is a very useful asset. They don't need to all be the same size, some buttons need to be bigger than others, some can be hidden and keybound, out of sight and not taking up valuable screen space. If you're into RP, and the like, they can be set to hide completely out of combat, allowing for greater immersion.

What's more, they can be rearranged into more useful groups than the one long line across the screen style, so if you prefer a clustered group, then that's what you can have! Addons like Dominos or Bartender allow all this to work, and as was recently pointed out to me, Dominos can be easily turned on and off without losing your standard UI's keybinding, unlike Bartender. This is a profoundly useful feature, especially if you're moving from one screen size to another on a regular basis.

Changing Resolutions

If you're moving regularly from one screen size to another, you need a UI that is capable of self-scaling, or being manually scaled, to different resolutions.
UI Surgery Downsizing your UI for a smaller screen or resolution
One thing you definitely want to avoid, as per the above, is a UI which appears totally differently on different monitor resolutions. Quite apart from the obvious inconvenience and impediment to your play, this take a lot of time to repair, which, if you're looking at doing this sort of thing regularly, is time you could better spend doing something else. Daily quests, for example.

What's the solution? It's often tricky to rescale individual elements manually so that they fit into your changing screen size, as well as time consuming, as we mentioned earlier. There are a couple of options, one being a full UI replacement such as ElvUI, Tukui, and so on. There are several of them out there, so choose one you like the look of. The other option is, of course, to stick to the basic Blizzard UI. It, like these replacements, self-scales, and keeping a sort of backup copy, if you will, of the Blizzard UI, is always a good plan.

What are your top UI tips for small screens, or for changing resolutions?

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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