UI Philosophy

This page is written for patch 6.2

An update for patch 7.0 will be here soon™

It could be said that my passion for UIs is a little overhand, but that would be a lie. The user interface presents vital information and data; data which you base all your in-game decisions on. Since it’s possible to change it at your behest, it’s in your hands to sharpen your UI to an effective tool. But it’s not an easy task to achieve a visually pleasing UI, without any redundant information. It’s a never-ending project, but to which time and dedication are never wasted. Here I’ll guide you through my UI and how I think when I create an interface. I hope it aids you in your own creation!

The Philosophy of User Interfaces

What are the absolute most important things to remember when you create your UI?

The first thing you should keep in mind is that creating a UI is a process of adding elements, and then pruning them, add and prune, and so on. Even if you manage to build something spectacular, it won’t do if it doesn’t display any necessary information. That being said, not everything needs to be cut and dried; vision and creativity is a big part of it. But it needs to strike a balance to really make it sleek and sharp.

What is sleek and sharp then? Well, first let me illustrate the different parts, using the default UI.

Original UI

Here is a rendering of the core parts of the UI, shown in roughly the same size and proportions. As you can see, most elements are pushed to the edges of the screen. While it can give a lot of free space in the middle, you have to look far off in your periphery to be able to see important information when you are healing.

Compare now to my UI composition (without WeakAuras).

My UI

I have taken the most important information and drawn it into the middle. The raid frames, the most important element for a healer, is in the middle with the castbar. The player frame and target frame are close by. The reason why I’ve done this is to make it easier to look at the surroundings of my character, without having to look far off to the edges of the screen to see if anyone’s dying.

The action bars are gone! Why? Well, they were redundant. After playing Mistweaver for so long time, I’ve memorized all the abilities and all the keybinds. The only thing I need to know regarding my abilities is the cooldown of important spells. That is what I use WeakAuras for; WeakAuras can show cooldown of individual spells without locking them into a rectangular bar.

The positioning of my WeakAuras has also gone through a couple of edits. All of my WeakAuras present important information, but it ranges from “kind of important”, “moderately important” to “very important” (there is a forth level I’ll go into later). The more acute the information is, the closer the center of the screen. I have a hierarchy of different spells, and it took a long time to figure it out. Because when you think about it, what does “important” actually means in this context? Is Revival the most important spell, and therefor should be in the middle? Or is it something else?

Let’s have a look at my WeakAuras in Serpent stance.

Serpent UI

This is how I’ve set up my WeakAuras in the current UI. As you can see, there are three levels of importance, plus a very special level (dead centre) that I will explain in a moment. But let’s talk about them in turn. I’ll pull out each WeakAura and explain what they do, and why I’ve positioned them as I’ve done.

Kind of Important

Kind of Important - Serpent

These auras you can find in the outer rim, the “kind of important” section. As you’ve probably already guessed, they are all stance indicators. The corners show a green color when in Serpent stance, and the Serpent icon lights up. To give you some perspective, here’s how it looks in Crane stance.

Kind of Important - Crane

I have more auras that switch color when I stance dance, but these are in the outer rim because they serve no other purpose than to indicate stance. They are classified as “kind of important”, because I must always know which stance I’m in, but it doesn’t require more than a glance to see if my stance switch was successful. In fact, I can see it in my periphery. The colors are very decorative, but it has a purpose, although a minor one.

Moderately Important

Moderately Important

What you see is my mana (the yin yang), my stacks of mana tea (the circles around my yin yang), and a host of cooldowns and timers for different spells. Left side is Revival, tier 6 talents (RJW), Roll, Detox, another aura for Mana tea, Fortifying Brew and lastly tier 5 (Diffuse Magic). Right side is Touch of Death, Vital Mist stacks, RSK debuff timer, Crane’s Zeal timer, Tiger Power timer, Spear Hand Strike and lastly tier 4 talent (Charging Ox Wave).

These are spells and cooldowns I look at, but not very often. As you can see, I’ve placed Revival in this section, our strongest cooldown. Why is it so far out from the centre? Well, that is because I don’t need to look at Revival so often, since it has a 3 minute cooldown. It’s incredibly important for my rotation, but I don’t need constant feedback of its timer.

The same principle applies to my mana and Mana Tea stacks. I only glance at it every so often to decide if I need to channel Mana Tea or not. Otherwise, I don’t need to look at it too often.

Very Important

Very Important

Here you can see my auras that fall into the category “very important”. At first glance, most of them look like spells of minor importance in your rotation. Expel Harm and Chi Burst may be used from time to time, but don’t amount to much healing at whole. Renewing Mist is important, but the rest?

The fact is that all of these spells are supposed to be kept at cooldown, in other words, used whenever you have the opportunity. Most have short cooldown, which means you cast them very often. I have the left-hand and right-hand cooldowns on each side of my raid frames, so that they constantly give me feedback when to use them. The Renewing Mist and Extend Life (T18) count is in a different place, but important nonetheless. I need to know how many ReMs and ELs I have active at any given moment. When I switch to Crane stance, ReM and EL will be changed to Tiger Strikes timer, Rising Sun Kick stack count and multistrike chance (so I know when to spam RSK to exploit Jade Mist procs).

Since I need to look at these spell very often, they should be close at hand.

? – The Centre Section

Oh hella important

Now, this mysterious piece of art I’m sure you’re all wondering about. It just weird runes and images, what do they even mean? And why are they almost on top of my character?

Pandaren LanguageLet’s start with what they are. These are all custom made auras that I have created in Photoshop, and then imported to WeakAuras. The runes are actually pandaren script, as you might recollect.

I haven’t chosen the runes for a specific purpose, I took random runes and created weakauras out of them. But it looks good! I’ve also added the Serpent and Crane rune, which can be seen in various pandaren scrolls and monuments.

But what do they mean in-game? Well, I’ve programmed these to appear when a certain spell is ready, more specifically, the ones that should be kept at cooldown. They have been programmed to different things in their time, one used to be T17 set bonus at one point. Here is what they currently are programmed to show:

Runes

So whenever I have 3 stacks of ReM, Expel Harm off cooldown, TFT off cooldown, Chi Burst (or any tier 2 talent) off cooldown, Life Cocoon, Revival or Touch of Death off cooldown, these pandaren runes show up. The four green spheres represent Chi, and the two blue below represent how many stacks of Chi Brew I have.

What is the purpose with having the runes in the centre then? The purpose is twofold: I’ve noticed that I often look at my character when I’m moving or dodging mechanics, and some cases I have to do it in extended periods of time. I need to have some markers to show important spells close to the centre when I’m dodging the environment, without having them obscuring my sight. The small runes function as icon auras, but they don’t take as much important space.

The second reason is quite paradoxical to the first one. While I don’t want the runes to take up too much space, I want them to be in the way of my line of sight. Not so much that I can’t see where I’m going; just enough to make me be slightly bit annoyed with them. It’s a psychological trick to make me want to get rid of them, which I can only do in one way: cast the spells the runes represent. If Expel Harm is off cooldown, its rune will light up, and the only way to get rid of the rune is to cast Expel Harm. This way I am more or less forcing myself to cast spells I would otherwise easily forget to cast.

The runes will of course change meaning when I switch stance. Then they represent spells such as Tiger Strikes, Crane’s Zeal, Tiger Power, Rising Sun Kick Debuff, etc.

Building Your Own UI

Now that I’ve explained how my UI works, and all the reasons behind my decisions, it’s time to give some thought for your own UI. It doesn’t have to look anything remotely like my own, since everyone prioritizes spells and such differently. Maybe you are a person who have a habit of looking around on the screen – then maybe you don’t have to have all your spells towards the middle, but to the sides. It’s a matter of personal preference. What I want you to remember is the logic behind my decisions. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when you create your UI:

  • How important are your Action Bars? Can you remember all the spells and keybinds without? If so, reconsider using WA instead.
  • Which spells are most important and in what hierarchy? From most used spells to least, or from strongest to weakest?
  • Where do your eyes focus mostly? The centre (character), unit frames, or anywhere else?
  • How relevant is each UI element? Try to prune everything that is redundant.
  • Do you really use Combat Scrolling Text? Really? Really?!

Try to map it out where you want to place each element. When you have done so, it’s testing time! A lot of the time I try new ideas only to have to reconsider after some testing, because it wasn’t working out as I had intended. That is part of the process. Just remember that if you do radical changes to your UI, it is going to take some time to readjust and getting used to. It’s a cyclical process, and the more you do it, the more sleek and sharp it becomes. Keep at it!



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