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Reader UI of the Week: A call for help from Understud

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.

One of the more difficult types of user interfaces to address is one in distress, not necessarily because of the lack of skill of the UI's creator but mostly because he or she might not know what questions to ask. When someone asks a pointed question about an addon recommendation or UI fix, there's usually a definitive answer. What can I do to fix my UI?, however, is a different beast of a question altogether. What needs fixing? What do you feel is broken? What if things just work, but you don't know how it could work better because of the lack of knowledge?

Understud's UI could use some work, which is why the short but hopeful email that was sent to me caught my eye. If this column is about anything, it is about helping people gain ideas and knowledge and what the WoW interface is capable of. Understud needs help learning and understanding, while at the same time, he seeks to benefit from the generals -- UI-building tips that span all user interfaces. Let's see if we can help him out, because if there is one thing we do here at Reader UI of the Week, it's care.

What am I working with here, Understud?
I'm new to the UI scene. Just wondering if you had any tips/suggestions.

For my UI im using:
Bartender4
Move Anything
Healbot
Mikscrollingbattletext
Omen
Quartz
SexyMap

I believe that's everything im using for my UI. I'd love to be able to use PowerAura's after the way you talk about it in the column and various comments from guildies. I just havent quite been able to figure it out...and sorry for sloppy email, not good at these things. :P

Thanks,
Understud, Maiev Alliance
Understanding and perfecting your UI is first about asking yourself "why" questions about the very thing you are yearning to understand. The user interface is all about making decisions that can improve your gameplay experience, but only in ways that you kind of get, as it were. Before you can decide on ways to improve your interface, you have to get a basic understanding of the interface elements you want to tinker with. Let's ask ourselves "why"?

Why are you center-screen dependent?

The first thing that stands out to me about Understud's UI is the centered minimap that serves as the focal point for a radial placement of interface elements. It almost feels like the rest of the UI orbits around the minimap-like sun. This approach is doable (and looks great in many instances), but I think that I'm taken aback but the action bar layout. There seem to be a lot of empty spaces, and my eyes quickly find and focus on those. You might be like me and have some spaces saved to grow with later, but those are usually off on the separate utility bars. Maybe the empty space just isn't symmetrical?

Ask yourself why you want the minimap in the center. Symmetry is a good reason, as is the need to easily see gathering nodes or even targets now with the new marker ping on the map. What seems to be happening instead is that the minimap is raising the entire bottom bar up high, as opposed to letting the minimap be the ultimate height of the addons at the bottom. It's all a balancing act over and around the minimap.

With the minimap moved out of the center and the action bars condensed into less of a splatter, you'd reduce the middle-centric dependency and can begin to build a better symmetry. There is a large area of unused UI space over on the right side of the screen, so why not shove the minimap over there and collapse the tower in the middle, hopefully making symmetry a bit more favorable?

Why are some addons bigger than they have to be?

Addons do not necessarily need to be as large as you might have them. The best way to figure out if your addon configuration might be too large is to ask yourself what you really need to show with any specific addon. Take your Omen, for example: Why are you looking at the threat of every single person in your group? Threat is one of those aspects of the game that is a personal responsibility, and you should be focused on the one threat target that matters: the tank. Really, you only need about three to four people showing on the threat meter, from highest down, to make sure that you never pull off of the tank.

Threat is not like DPS in that you just don't need all of that information at any given time, especially in boss fights where threat isn't necessarily an issue. Beth'tilac, Rhyolith, Baleroc, and Alysrazor, off the top of my head, are basically four out of seven fights in the Firelands in which threat isn't hard to deal with on the boss themselves. After you tidy up the center of the screen, you'll find yourself with a "too large" Omen, and you could pare it down to match the new action bar height.

What's with the empty space?

Empty space is not a bad thing in all instances, but unused blocks on the interface can be jarring, especially to people looking from the outside in, as I am doing. One of those spaces that jump out at me is up by your buffs and debuffs on the upper right quadrant of the screen. A simple fix would be to get an addon like Raven to tinker with your action buttons to move them closer to the edge, freeing up that area of the screen.

The second issue with empty space concerns the unit frames, including your target and your own player frame. Using the default frames is fine and has a now-classic appeal, but they feel odd and out of place without some kind of grounding around them. They float there without much guidance. The other reason for my confusion is probably the awful bouncy default font that Miks uses, cluttering and clogging up on top of the target frame. I implore you, please change that dumb font as the default. It is almost as bad as Sexymap's default blue spinny dude. (Sorry, Antiarc -- you know I still love you.)

Learning Power Auras

Power Auras are less about "learning" and more about finding out what you want from the addon. If you're brand new to an addon like Power Auras, I would not recommend starting with Power Auras. More user-friendly addons like TellMeWhen or NeedToKnow are both good choices for getting into the notification game and learning the ropes of what you want displayed, and they require less finesse. You can eventually move onto Power Auras when you have a grasp for what you want to show and track, as well as much interface experience in your arsenal.

The bottom line

Your UI is functional and has the right addons as part of the overall concept. That's step one. The next step is to start feeling around inside of your interface and begin asking questions about the way you use your addons, and go the extra step with paring things down.

At this point, you're down to personal preference in terms of what could be changed for the better. These days, it is hard to screw up the UI, since it has most of what you need to play built in. Addons these days are more about giving you a plethora of options opposed to vital game mechanics. Take your time, play how you like, and above all, don't be afraid to try things and tinker. You can always hit the reset button.


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.

Filed under: Add-Ons, Reader UI of the Week

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