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Reader UI of the Week: Figuring out what is wrong

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.

From time to time on Reader UI of the Week, I like to take readers' user interfaces and give them a bit of a face-lift and help everyone learn from the experience of looking at their UIs with a little bit more clarity and substance. This week's fixer-upper comes to us from Essmanna, a poor, distraught mage, who just cannot figure out what to do to make her UI look the way she wants it to. Maybe we can help put this mage on the path to interface enlightenment.

Things are not hopeless for you, Essmanna. We are here to help. As a DPS class (and a mage, to boot), your UI needs are not going to be as extensive as, say, a healing priest. One of the best things you can do for yourself when first starting out changing your user interface for the better and spending the time learning the ins and outs of the whole ordeal is to start with a relatively simple and less demanding class. That's not an insult, I promise. Mages work well because they are very straightforward.

Essmanna's call for help -- mage, DPS UI, tips and tricks

Tell us what you need, Essmanna:
Dear Raider UI of the Week...

I'm a arcane mage (for now ) with many alts my favorite being a balance/resto druid.

I'm not that pleased with ui right now and would like some suggestions. I look at your Column but there's never a "perfect" ui that I would like for my own even though anything would be an improvement. Please fix my UI.

From, Essmanna
Thanks for the email, Essmanna. To be honest (and I say this all the time), the best UI is the UI that works for you. If your setup is giving you the results you want, by all means keep going about things the way you are. If raid bosses are dying and dungeons are being completed, then who am I to say what works and doesn't? However, with that said, let's take a look and give some tips and advice on making things more manageable.

What isn't working?

The first step in dealing with any problem is figure out what the problem really is. Is your UI just not pretty enough? You want your user interface to look like a gorgeous specimen from one of the Reader UI of the Week articles, but you just can't get to that point in design. Something about your gameplay just isn't syncing up, and you want answers. These are all valid reasons for criticizing your own setup, but you need to know what you want to change before you can ask why you want to change and and how it can be accomplished.

From your email, it seems that you have some sort of underlying issue with your UI but don't necessarily know where it is or what it is. I've been there. Back when I was tanking, I always felt like there were too many steps in between certain ability activations or trinket usage. Eventually I made some changes and realized some trinkets could be bound to abilities or other abilities thrown into the mix in order to make my life easier. There is no way I would have just figured all of that out without playing and making note of my frustrations.

In this case, I would keep a piece of paper and a pen next to my desk during heavy play sessions, like raiding or a night of dungeon crawls. While you are playing, make a note of these things that bug you, things that could be improved, or actions that don't feel solid or smooth. You'll know and feel them, especially if you've been playing your class for a long time.

Another trick that I like to use when writing down my UI frustrations is to run logs on a training dummy to check my DPS. There are times when I wish I had hit a cooldown or accidentally hit one button instead of the other. Make a note of it. Eventually the pieces will fall into place, and a problem that was not perfectly visible at the time will materialize into something that might have a solution.

Types of problems

There are loads of interface problems and concerns that people have, running the gamut of ideological concerns on button placement to just not being able to get your target frames working right. Is your problem a messiness issue? Do you just not have the information you need at your fingertips? What category does your problem fall under?

From the look of Essmanna's UI, it doesn't seem like things are particularly cluttered or even in bad positions. While the usage of space might throw a lot of people off, the inherent placement of the addons and layout of the UI is not flimsy. Buttons are uniform in style, not too much of the screen space is taken up with addons, and the character is easily seen and the world environment is basically unobstructed.

Sometimes you just need to make a change, for better or for worse, to see how your UI is going to act or benefit you in different situations. When I look at Essmanna's UI, I see a lot of empty space that could be filled in with addons that hug the outskirts of the monitor and view area. This could be a great place to start -- move everything down and in. Moving around addons doesn't take too much skill or finesse and is an easy first step in finding out what exactly about the setup bothers you.

Make small changes

Small changes can make or break your UI's effectiveness. For instance, on Essmanna's setup, moving the minimap into the bottom right-hand corner frees up space and gives the bottom of the screen a more defined, solid look. This forces the buttons on the minimap up and covering more of the top three sides, maybe prompting more changes. Things can cascade. Every change does not have to be planned out at once.

Once you make one change, more changes will become apparent. You'll see it and feel it. As things move, other pieces will need to move as well. Before you know it, you're making progress toward your very own UI heaven. The UI screenshot doesn't show button binds, but I am assuming many of the buttons and keys are bound to keyboard numbers or letters. If that's the case, change up the button layout to a more streamlined set versus the three-button-high stack. Change around the positioning of the buttons or action bars to line up with target and player frames or even the spell timer window.

Identify something small you want to change, and change it. As time goes on, that change can influence other changes or make readily apparent many other changes that need to happen. It's hard to diagnose and cure a problem when you don't know what the problem is, so figure out your problem first hand. Tinkering and moving pieces around will make that remarkably clear.

Was this week's Reader UI of the Week unconventional? You bet. Figuring out the problem is the first step toward the solution. Looking at other people's UIs, which is what I suspect Essmanna is doing, for ideas and potential solutions to the problems you don't know you have is a good first step. Move something around. Change something. Upset the delicate balance. You might find, in the resulting tiny chaos, your problem and solution, all wrapped up nice and neatly together.




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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