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May 10, 2011

To Each His Own: UI Design

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Written by: Vixsin
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Like the art you hang on your walls, the furniture you buy, or how you arrange your desk, your UI is as much a reflection of your thought process as it is an effort at self-expression (although arguably sometimes more of the latter and less of the former).  I’ve had a number of UI set ups over the years, as I progressed from dps, to a new shaman healer, to someone who’s raided on every healing class. But interestingly enough, as I’ve developed and leveled characters over the years, my UIs have become less about finding a boilerplate template which fits all of my toons, and more about developing custom UIs for each one of them. So, today I wanted to walk you through the UIs of the two toons that I’m currently raiding on—Vixsin and Mynks.


Spotlight On: Vixsin

My main, and the character that I’ve been raiding on consistently for the past 3 years, Vixsin has a UI that has progressively evolved over the years (sometimes by leaps and bounds, other times at a snail’s pace). If you were one of the 10 or so readers I had a year ago and maybe stumbled across this post, then you’ll recognize that not much has changed in terms of my UI over the past year. I’ve stuck with the same basic layout and mods, and although I’ve made some minor tweaks and replaced one addon for another, the organization of information has endured:

Now, if you were looking carefully, you might notice a couple of potential oddities about my UI:

  1. I cannot see buffs and debuffs on a target –This is one of those bits of information that I discovered really doesn’t matter all that much to me as a healer, and it was a freeing day indeed when I hid the rows of tiny icons from above my target frame. If it’s important that I know about it, I’ll add it to PowerAuras. Otherwise, I don’t care that there’s a FF on the boss or that Curse of Elements is missing.
  2. I have no micro- or bag- menu – I have learned to embrace hotkeys for crap that takes up screen space for no good reason. While I tried to do this with my minimap for a while, some of the fights this tier actually required dynamic positioning, so I went back to having my map displayed at all times.
  3. Some spells are not bound (like Bloodlust and ELW) – I have a very rational fear of hitting Bloodlust at the wrong time during an encounter, or say, before we even pull (not that … *ahem* that’s ever happened to me), so I stick it way out of the way and leave it unbound. No, it’s not optimal, but in this case, I simply don’t care. It gets clicked, each and every time.
  4. My bars have almost no healing spells on them – I’ve been a big fan of Clique since my original Resto Shaman yoda introduced me to it all those years ago. So all of my healing spells are bound to mouse-click combinations. I also have a number of additional spells and macros bound to my mouse (which is why you’ll see odd binds to things like “F-“ keys).
  5. I use keys 1 through = – I made the switch to a Razer Gamepad a couple months ago and have been absolutely loving it because it allows me to have a ton of keys all within easy reach of my left hand (in addition to navigation and additional action buttons). Because I was never a CS or FPS player prior to my WoW-days, I have pretty poor conditioning for keyboard layouts, so switching to a gamepad allowed me to expand my binds and maintain my sanity!
  6. I use Decursive and I have 5 bound to Cleanse – Ah the joys of looking after Wrack on Sinestra, where dispel management extends beyond the typical “dispel immediately” mindset. “5” has been a wildcard bind for me for a while now, so when we started into Sinestra attempts and I needed a way to dispel at different intervals of time, I switched to a mouse-over dispel macro and sidelined Decursive.

One of the additional improvements that I made to my UI at the start of Cataclysm actually isn’t something you’d notice unless you sat in on a number of my kills—I created pseudo heads-up display with Power Auras icons and effects, and streamlined my display so that warnings about good buffs will always display to the left of my character, and warnings about bad buffs will always display to the right of my character. This way, if I’m ever in the heart of battle and see an effect pop up, even out of my peripheral vision I’ll be able to see whether it’s good or bad and start to react accordingly. I also tied several major Power Auras alerts to audio cues (since I play with game sound on)—a squeaky toy tells me MT is off CD, a Raid Warning tells me that I’m at 60% mana (time to drop Tide!), and a siren will warn me when I hit 30% mana. These audio warnings are just another way of keeping a handle on my resources when my eyes are elsewhere.


Spotlight on: Mynks

My second level 85, and the character I raid on in alt runs (and when raid stacking requires it), my Resto Druid’s UI is actually one that I started out with on my Prot/Holy Pally in Wrath. At the time, Mynks was a feral kitty, trying to earn her way in a world where feral dps was, arguably, not the best. She had Bad Kitty front and center, a custom IceHUD setup and raid frames which were decidedly not conducive to healing (ie: gtfo raid frames, I’m dps and I care about one thing … DEEPS). So at the start of Cataclysm, when I made the decision to make her my second toon to 85 (leveling as a resto/boomkin), I swapped out her dps-focused UI into one a little more healing-centric.

Now, as to what makes her UI unique from Vixsin’s:

  1. First, my raid frame, my target and my target’s target are all front and center (a throwback from my tanking days). Because Mynks has run as a dual-spec dps/healer all through Cata, having a UI which was set up to accommodate both raid roles was more of a priority. As a dps, especially one with dots, target frames and tracking are an important part of my performance, so being able to swap to boomchicken (and then back to hippie tree) without losing a step, meant that I needed to design in more flexibility than Vixsin’s UI offered.
  2. Timers –  Like I mentioned above, since playing a druid involves a good amount of hot/dot tracking, I needed a setup that was more conducive to timers. So whereas on Vixsin I only track Riptide on Grid, on Mynks my Lifebloom, Rejuv, Insect Swarm, Faerie Fire, and Moonfire trackers are all positioned centrally in my layout. (I also use SideIcons in Grid to help me chase WG applications with Rejuv, and since 4.1, watch the spread of my Efflorescence).
  3. Threat meter – although I have it disabled for when I run as resto, when I dusted off my ranged dps skills I realized it might, just maybe, be a good idea to know I was about to pull before I put boomkin tanking to the test. (For the record, a boomkin in my first-ever guild was famous for tanking Kara runs as a feathered fowl, and it was awesome).
  4. More centralized buttons – whereas on Vixsin, my keybinds, totems and macros are spread across 3 different locations on my screen (based on frequency of use), my druid has a 1-stop shop for all buffs, binds and actions.


Designing Your Own UI

Ultimately, and as I said before, a player’s UI is a very personal thing. What works for me in terms of organization, information, and tracking, might not be spot-on for another player. But, I do think there are some common elements that players should keep in mind when they set out to create their own custom UI, whether it’s just a step away from the pure Blizzard setup or hardly identifiable as a WoW UI at all:

  1. Information Redundancy – while redundancy can sometimes be a good thing, when it comes to your UI, I think it’s important to cut down on the number of ways that you get information. For example, showing a curse in grid, with a PowerAuras alert, and a side warning in Decursive, simply overloads the player with information and can quickly clog a UI. Pick one location to show an alert and stick to it. That way, when it does go off, you’ve a clear indication of what’s going on.
  2. Center what’s important to you – For healers, this means your raid frames. For DPS, this might be your dot tracker. For tanks, boss and focus frames. Whatever your raid role, what’s in the near-middle of your screen should be the most important thing to you so that your eyes never have to travel too far to keep apprised of the situation.
  3. Don’t block the view – I think this one goes without saying, but in today’s boss fights, you really do need to be able to see the landscape. So push your non-essentials to the side, move grid a little bit farther away from your character’s feet, and take time to watch the encounter instead of all the things meant to distract you from what you’re actually doing! Believe you me, that row of buff timers going across the top of your screen or down the side, isn’t doing anything but getting in your way.
  4. Keep it simple – The best UI’s, at least in my mind, are the ones that give necessary information in the simplest way possible. So while flashy mods, floating and flashing combat text and every sort of timer known to man may make you feel like you’ve got a handle on things, chances are, they’re only hampering your performance. At one point, being the nerd I am, I had Recount’s raid HPS and DPS graphs open consistently on my screen until I realized—there was no way I was going to look at them in the middle of a fight and determine anything useful. So out they went and –presto!- more screen space opened up.
  5. Lastly, remember that everything you put in, you’ll need to update on patch day! (And if you ever raid on the PTR or on Beta, you rarely have working mods at all!) So choose wisely, because you’ll be sweating over those same choices later.


  1. Why decursive and a raid frame? It seems kind of redundant to have two sets of frames. Why not bind cleanse to a mouseover macro in clicque on your primary frames instead? Decursive was one of the first things I gratefully got rid of when I moved to VuhDo.

    Not a criticism, necessarily, but I really don’t get it and would love to hear your reasoning.
    Rhii´s last post ..In my other guild- we…

    • No worries; it’s a question I get quite frequently. ^_^

      The simplest answer is–Decursive enables me to quickly ans easily see that there’s something to dispel without having to dial my focus into my raid frames. With everything that I have displaying in Grid (eg: tank CD’s, debuffs, buffs, Riptide hots, shields, etc.) and the action of an encounter, it’s easy for an affliction to get missed amidst it all. So having Decursive light up is akin to a nice big warning that I can easily catch in my peripheral vision. The other feature of Decursive (which I actually fell in love with while on Kalecgos) is that I can easily see how long someone has been afflicted. So it means that I can make a decision to a) not dispel because the effect is almost over, b) dispel immediately, or c) as was the case in Kalecgos and is the case in Sinestra, manage the dispel timing appropriately (or jump in as a backup dispeller because I can see that my teammate is getting behind).

      It definitely is redundant information, but I’ve found that the clarity I gain from the separation is worth the overlap.

      • That’s a fair point. I’ve never used Decursive because I have dispellable debuffs set up to pop an icon into the middle of the grid frame, and that grabs my attention pretty quick, but depending on the amount of incoming information you have, that might not work for everyone. I know I tend to keep the alerts in grid to a bare minimum, mostly things that have anything to do with me and my healing, so I don’t get overloaded or miss something, and with Pallies, that means there’s relatively little – one debuff to track from using CDs, beacon, inc heals, threat, debuffs I can dispell, debuffs I can’t dispell. If all was up at once, that’s four dots around the edge, a border glow, and an icon in the middle, and compared to some healers with more things to track, that’s pretty easy to keep track of.

        Of course, as a pally I also have always gotten tank healing duty outside of 5-mans, so it’s always been a matter of only one or two bars to really track closely.
        Apple´s last post ..The Patch Day Run

  2. Sekul

    Interesting ideas, some I think I’ll try out. I believe I may be a person that has too much information delivered and I immediately thought of at least two ways to minimize while reading this post.

    I’ve never liked the HUD in my UI, I found that it made bad stuff more difficult to see around my toon. I use an addon called Tell Me When for CD timers and such and have had good success with it but as you said in the title “To each his own”.

    One thing I am curious about with your UI is I don’t see any boss timers. Are you using a boss mod and/or how do you have it setup. I use Raidwatch2 and I have timer bars on my screen almost the entirety of an encounter.

    • I do use bosstimers, but unfortunately (in the picture of Vixsin’s UI) managed to grab a shot at the beginning of an encounter when they weren’t all that noticable. You can see the Berserk timer on the right side of the screen (above my meters). I also have Quartz cast bars which appear directly beneath my character’s feet.

      I confess, I am horrid when it comes to action shots >.<

  3. Earthbender

    Can you post your Power Auras configs (or at least the ones useful for resto shaman) I love Power Auras but struggle getting them setup and useful.

  4. parishealton

    ^^ I would also love the shammies power aura exports if at all possible.

  5. Manzotina

    Thank you Vixsin. I had some really big problem after i did restart play from lvl 70 where i did stop some years ago. But with you help and your tips i find every day better and better back with my shaman into the resto job.

  6. Shad

    Vixsin, can you tell me how you handle your riptide? In fights i have to many times a problem that riptide is not on CD. i keep track of riptide on my grid with a purple sqaure in the right bothem corner. But i also miss that and also resulting in spamming a lot of riptides on a person that already have riptide up. any sugestions for that?

    Atm i’m using shaman friend to keep track of my ES/weapon ench en water shield. when it runs out it gives a sound i miss during fights. In the future i’m going to check out power auras for that, because shaman friends isnt that flexible to config.

    Also, can i ask for a screenshot more in the fight (or another fight)?

    • I track Riptide on Grid, but I also use a Powa alert to let me know when RT has come off of CD. As far as avoiding overlapping RT hots, I don’t really have a strategy other than visually recognizing that my target already has the hot on him.

      Here’s another screenshot from a couple months back: It shows boss timers as well as the placement of my Quartz and Powa alerts.

    • Shad I had a similar problem for RT, UW and HR on CD.

      So I now use TellmeWhen.

      I have three squares that are fairly large that sit in my frame of vision just above the action bars that ONLY appear when they are off CD.

      I also use Healbot over Grid as I hate grid….HB allows me to see the count down on the RT that are ticking on targets which is useful.

      My UI is NOT a apretty as Vix’s… fact totally the opposite, but it allows me to do exactly what I need it to do and know exactly what I need to know when I need it.

      Tellmewhen is a great addon if you want something that does not flash in the centre of your screen like PA.


  7. Tolimar

    I like the layout. I’ve been playing for 3 yrs now and have kept the original WoW interface with just a few extra addons. I was curious on how you got rid of the normal interface action bars at the bottom the of the screen? Also do you have a post on how to make mouse over macros? Since i’ve started healing I’ve always used healbot which has worked for me, but was thinking about trying something else. Any help would be great. Thanks.

  8. Aegle

    I just have to tell everyone about this great UI addon – I feel I’m doing you all an injustice if you can’t even look for it. It’s called TukUI (, and it’s easily editable. Most of the popular edits have their own subforums, and you can download the edit that fits your style, and continue to adjust from there if necessary.

    It has raid frames, and they work with Clique. In my screenshot, you’ll see colored boxes in the corners of the raid frames – these are telling me which hots I have on and how long they have left. You can click and drag to move every frame where you would like, as well.

    There’s something funky going on with my boss timers for DBM that I need to investigate, but TukUI is gorgeous. (I’m using Asphyxia’s edit.)

  9. Turtle

    Target frames without buffs and debuffs. It is clear you raid with skilled player’s, cause I find it useful to check things like, Righteous Fury is up on the tank …sigh … FML

  10. Nayruu

    which addon is it, that makes these nice “boxes” around chat, grid etc. Is it kgPanels?

  11. Liz

    I think YMMV on target buffs. In my 10 man, I sometimes need to purge, so it’s important to see if the target has a magic buff. But I love being a utility shaman, casting interrupts, dropping helpful totems, purging, etc. I also use Grid’s Center Icon for debuffs so I notice them quickly.

    And hurray for power auras! I use it for riptide also. And I have one to remind me that my weapon enchant has fallen off. For those wondering, you can make a PA for any spec in the temporary weapon enchant category — just put “.” (no quotes) as the . is a wildcard.

  12. Setybrats

    Hi Vixsin,

    Long time reader, first time poster. Thank you for what must be the most well thought out Resto Shammy blog on the net.

    I have a very similar UI layout, but found the biggest issue is missing crucial elements of the fight because of green-bar blindness. The issue being, that the bars are at the bottom of the screen, and the action is in the middle. I rectified this by moving my raid frame much nearer the action, just below and to the right of centre stage. It doesn’t look pretty, but it significantly improved my performance in busy fights.

    I have also started using the GTFO alerts, nothing wakes you up to the trouble quite like that siren.



    • Healer tunnel vision is deadly, to be sure. It’s why you’ll often see me mention things like audio alerts, playing with game sound on, or even the importance of being able to see things out of my peripheral vision–I try to spend the majority of my time with my eyes on the action not on my raid frames. It’s also why I don’t use many of Grid’s indicators (aside from center icons), because I found it encouraged me to focus more on those little boxes and less on what was going on in the encounter.

      And thanks very much for the compliment. ^_^ It’s very much appreciated.

  13. Hey Vixsin! Hope all is well. This post may be old, but I was wondering what spells do you have bound to “clique”. I’ve been shaman healing for about two years now, and the way I’ve been doing it is clicking the unit frames of the player and then using my keyboard to launch the abilites (hope that makes sense). I just wanted to see if that was optimal or if I should make the change to clique. Thanks for all your hard work and effort!

    – Peace

  14. rofl i see myself in that pic 😀

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