Minimalism.


Hello. I don't know if this is noticeable from the rest of this blog, but I like minimalism and centralization of information. It's my opinion that a good UI must have those two things, and I'd like to talk a bit about why that is.


First, what do I mean by "a good UI"? Isn't that a subjective thing? Well, it depends. In this post I'd like to define a good UI as one that helps you maximize your performance as much as possible, and going by that things get a bit more complicated. There are some things that are subjective, sure—like, whether you want to use Calibri or Helvetica for your chat text*—but not all of them are. If you want to maximize your performance, then there are compelling arguments for doing certain things in certain ways.

As an easy example of this, say that you're a healer. You spend most of your time in raids looking at your raid frames, because you need to be able to react quickly when people need to be healed. Now, you also have a bunch of different abilities you use to heal, and some of them have cooldowns that you need to keep track of, so you also have some kind of cooldown tracker somewhere on your screen. Where do you put it? The compelling argument in this case is this: You can't focus on your whole screen at once. If your raid frames and your cooldown tracker are too far away from each other, then you will only be able to pay any attention to one of those things at a time, and then you will make more mistakes than you otherwise would have.

Of course, this applies just as well to everyone, if you generalize it a little—you can't focus on your whole screen at once, so centralize your important information. Also, there is one particular source of information that is important to everyone and that (viewports aside) you can't move around: your character. You need to be keeping an eye on the center of your screen because that's where the fire you have to move out of is, and that makes it an obvious choice to put your other important information near the center of your screen as well.

How to arrange your UI elements is not the only thing you have to consider, though; there's also the question of what UI elements should be there in the first place—and the answer is minimalism. From Wikipedia:
Minimalism is any design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect.
Now, that means different things in different situations. For example, for me as a raiding Shadow Priest minimalism means not displaying my Mind Blast crits, because my cast rotation is determined by the average damage of the spell, which I already know, and seeing that I got a crit or how much damage the crit did is never going to prompt me to change what I'm doing in the middle of a raid encounter. It would be nothing but clutter, and clutter will at best make no difference to my performance and quite possibly even make it worse.

At least as far as anything that's near the center of your screen goes, ask yourself this: "Can this thing prompt me to change what I'm doing in the middle of an encounter**?" If the answer is no, then it shouldn't be there, because it will either just be useless or hurt you.

I would also like to point out that there's more than one kind of clutter. The useless spammy floating combat text I mentioned above is a classic (and very commonly seen) example, along with elaborate art panels and SexyMap and so on, but there are also some more subtle things. In my screenshots on this blog, you (hopefully) won't see me using more than two or three different fonts or bar textures in the same UI, but you also won't see me using the same font for everything—and that's very much a deliberate choice, because if two pieces of text use different fonts then your brain is going to process them as two different types of text (I usually use one for chat text and one for information text), and if you're using too many different fonts then that's going to get confusing. The same applies to bar textures, borders, and so on.

Well, OK, great. So what? What is the point of going through all this trouble to optimize your UI when tons of people do just fine, and better than that, with UIs that I would call absolutely awful? Well, it depends on your mindset. Having a good UI doesn't stop you from being bad, and it doesn't automatically and directly improve your DPS or HPS or whatever, but here is what it does do: it raises your skill ceiling***. The best that you could possibly do with a UI like mine is better than the best that you could possibly do with the default UI. I don't know if it's by a huge amount, but I do know that it's more than nothing, and that's all I for one need. I can tell you this for sure: I do well in raids. When learning content I often notice little things about mechanics before others do, and when I have learned content you're never going to see me standing in fire or not doing good DPS for my gear level—and I really do think that that's in some part due to my UI making it as easy as possible for me to focus on what matters.

That's pretty much all I've got.

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* You should definitely use one of those instead of something like Impact, though, because they're easier to read quickly.
** Or in the middle of an arena match, or while flying around looking for nodes, or whatever your UI is supposed to help you be good at.
*** Also it's less ugly, but I'm no aestheticologist so whatever.

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