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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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!
- 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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.