Effective Interfacing, Part II: GUI

In Part I, we went into all sorts of detail about character controls and keybinding. I’m hoping that even the most savvy players found something, even one thing, that they could improve upon or change. From time to time, it’s good to audit our key and mouse setup. Sometimes changes in play-style will cause you think “Now why did I bind THAT there…?”.

Now that we’ve evaluated our inputs and we feel confident in our control over our character, it’s time to think visually. What good is our character control if we can’t tell what’s going on around us? It’d be like driving with the windshield fogged up. I’ve, of course, never done that before…

What’s a GUI?

GUI, besides sounding like ‘gooey’ (which is moderately amusing), stands for ‘Graphical User Interface’. The GUI is everything on your screen when you play Wow.

Parts of the GUI

Here are the aspects of the GUI that we are going to concern ourselves with:

The look, scale, and location of all these items will be completely based on your own opinion and preference. With that aside, we’re going to concern ourselves with what is arguably important to setup or have access to for your Death Knight.

Unit Frames


Somewhere I hear a solipsist shouting, “Me, me, me!”. Well in terms of the game, yes, you are the most important and special snowflake. Your personal unit frame should be around equal in prominence to that of your target.

  • Health
    Examples of Unit FramesRealistically, things get very boring and loud when you are a dead snowflake. If you’re relying on a blobby green bar with no numbers, you’re not really going to have a good handle on how much health you have at any given moment. It’s your responsibility to act quickly and keep yourself alive and as little a burden to healers as possible. Using the following example formats will be more adequately descriptive of your health situation: 

    • Full –  125,500
      Full is fine if you have the room and insist on that much detail.
    • Short Hand – 125k or 125.5k
      This is, all around, a pretty good choice. It’s accurate enough without requiring a lot of space.
    • Percentage – 99% or 99.2%
      If you have a fundamental understanding of what your actual health is, percentages are incredibly space efficient. Percentage paired with Short Hand is a also a good, comprehensive solution.
    • Deficit - -50,100k or -50k or -40%
      Ah, the perfect option for pessimists: the negative version of all the above.
  • Runic Power
    RP is delightfully simple: you always want to know the exact number. Questions such as “Can I use my RP dump power” and “Am I close to RP cap” are answered with a cursory glance at this number. RP gauges and displays are included with a lot of the more common DK mods (see also Bars – Recommend Addons).
  • Threat
    Asking the boss “U mad bro?” isn’t exactly the method we’re looking for here. The standard Blizzard UI has an optional threat warning that will highlight the unit frame of whoever has aggro. Some of the recommended Unit Frame addons also have the ability to display your aggro as a percentage. I feel like the percentage is preferable since it’s preventative rather than reactive. It gives you the opportunity to scale back your damage or let your tank know that they need to increase their threat. Anything that helps prevent you running around with your arms flailing as the boss beats your face in gets an approving nod.
  • Buffs & Debuffs
    Icons with timers suffice just fine for most folks. Your short buffs (i.e. <1 min duration, like procs) will be discussed separately a little later (see Combat Display – Timers).
  • Portrait
    3D, 2D or Rembrandt painting, none of these matter in the scheme of raiding. Seeing your character’s face is purely an aesthetic detail. Unless otherwise noted, this is the case for most frames.


As Sun Tzu said, “Know your enemy.”

  • Health
    Similar to player health, a baseless green bar isn’t going to help us gauge our progress on a boss. Since bosses have such large pools of health and because we’re only concerned with how much health is remaining, we’ll prefer these display options: 

    • Short Hand – 2.5m or 2500.5k
      Again, this should be accurate enough without requiring a lot of space.
    • Percentage – 99% or 99.2%
      Percentage often represents the benchmarks for phase changes and should be a part of the display.
  • Power (Runic Power, Mana, Energy, Focus, etc.)
    Power can also be the basis for phase benchmarks, like the Conclave of Wind fight for example.
  • CastingExamples of Castbars
    As capable interrupters, we need to make sure we have a timed bar with the effect’s name visible on it. Having the icon is optional, but may help with identification.
  • Buffs & Debuffs
    When we’re looking at a raid boss, there’s going to be a zoo of buffs and debuffs. These are generally best left collapsed, hidden, or limited in number as to not overwhelm your screen. Our applied debuffs to targets are best tracked elsewhere  (see Combat Display – Timers).
  • Portrait
    Having our personal portrait display isn’t important, but your target’s portrait may potentially be useful. If floor effects are disguising the hit box (Death and Decay, I’m looking at you) or there are several mobs in a pull, it could be helpful to see some sort of model graphic. If you’re a minimalist at heart, a portrait-less frame with the name will suffice.


Don’t forget about Timmy. His bar(s) should be a fraction the size of yours, but you need to be able to see how he’s doing.

  • Health
    Timmy has 90% passive AoE damage reduction and is immune to some raid effects but he’s not Super Zombie. Having some sort of indicator of his health will let you know if you need to have him move, huddle, or give him a Death Coil.
  • Power (Energy)
    Our pet has had a rocky track record with using his energy. You may also want to see from time to time how effectively he’s using his abilities. Like your Runic Power, the exact number will be the desired display.Example of Raid Frames


Ah, your trusted staff! (/dodges as guildmates throw cabbage) As a DPS, the party and raided groups can be incredibly small since you require only the most basic information about your cohorts.

  • Health
    Unlike you and your target, your party/raid’s health is only of general interest. You need to know when things are going south and when an ally has died (raise ally), but that’s about it. If you wanted to make their health as simple as a small visual with no numbers, you won’t be missing out on much.
  • Power (Runic Power, Mana, Energy, Focus, etc.)
    Again, it’s of less consequence to have accurate reads on your cohorts’ energy levels since that is their responsibility. If you have some curiosity regarding your healers’ mana then you can opt for these bars.

Recommended Addons


Pitbull Details
X-Perl Details
Tidy Plates Details
VuhDo Details
IceHud Details
Grid Details
ElvUI Details
Castbars Details
SatrinaBuffFrame Details
Elkano’s Buff Bars Details

Combat Display

  • Examples of Combat TextDamage Dealt
    Whether your combat text scrolls or pops into view, seeing our damage in association with our target(s) is one of our best assurances that we are doing our job correctly (the other is meters, discussed in Combat Display – Meters). For example, if we see ‘Parry’ flash on the screen that we need to, if at all possible, circle around the boss more or to stand further back from the hit box so we’re considered behind them.
  • Damage Received
    This is the “Oh god, it burns” quotient of damage. When Cataclysm was released, the developers made it abundantly clear that the world and raids became a lot more deadly to those with poor situational awareness. When damage comes to us by way of direct strikes, AoE, cones, floor/environmental hazards, and all manners of nasty things, we need to know the second we are being hit so we can react.

Example of Healing Done


“I got betta…”. We’re not going to be as concerned as a tank about every iota of our health, but we still like to know whether someone has our back andwhen we need to use damage reduction or healing items/abilities. How often and how much healing we receive will be a barometer for our survival strategy.

Examples of Alerts

  • Encounter Specific
    Blizzard’s UI includes both text and audio warnings for raid effects. Some of the recommended addons will also include bars, animations, and other display elements. Raid alerts tend to be of a critical and time sensitive nature and should have prominence on your screen.Ability Notifier
  • Procs & Abilities
    Alerts aren’t *all* bad. Our characters have their own personal alerts for special abilities and procs that are ready. Blizzard has given us some default graphical auras and mods have the capability to add custom visuals as well.

  • Examples of DiseasesDoTs
    By default, diseases are a little hard to see and keep track of. Really and truly, it needs to be very easy and plain to see. There are a plethora of addons, some DK specific (see Bars – Runes and DK-Specifc Bars ) and others more general, that handle DoT tracking exceptionally well. Whatever option you choose, ensure you can see each of your diseases and the seconds it has remaining.
  • Temp Buffs, Stacks, and ShieldsExamples of Short Term Effects
    Unholy Death Knights have some extra tracking needs similar to diseases. Timmy’s stacks of Shadow Infusion and Dark Transformation deserve accurate monitoring too. Anti-Magic Shell, Icebound Fortitude, Unholy Frenzy, Pillar of Frost, Bloodlust, and Time Warp can also be handled effectively with timer bars too.

Example Damage Meter


The hallmark of a good Death Knight is someone who is vigilant and critical about the performance. Tracking damage, healing, interrupts, and other raid data will indicate your contribution to the raid.

Recommended Addons


Deadly Boss Mods Details
Recount Details
MikScrollingBattleText Details
NeedtoKnow Details
TellMeWhen Details
Power Auras Classic Details


Example Button Cooldowns


Part I of Effective Interfacing went into a lot of detail regarding an example key layout. Now, in this article, we evaluate the general activity on the bars like the GCD and extended cooldowns. By default, the cooldown of each button animates like a ‘clock’. The icon is dimmed until the animation has made its little clockwise cycle (depending on the length of cooldown). If you want to take this a step further and increase the precision of timing ability use, you can add cooldown timers with special flashes.


The permanent ghoul has his own mini action bar with his attacks, commands, and aggressiveness. As we discussed in Part I, Unholy DK’s will have hotkeys mapped to this bar so it should be visually similar to your other action bars.


These 3 buttons will be seldom used, but certain scenarios will dictate that they still be readily available.

Example of Runes

Runes and DK-Specific Bars

We require a bar to show us what runes are available, which are converted to death runes, and what runes are cooling down. Custom rune bars are often paired with other DK specific visuals such as diseases and runic power.

Recommended Addons


Bartender4 Details
Cooldowns Details
Dominos Details
Button Fascade Details
DDR – Docs Debug Runes Details
Magic Runes Details
Acherus Runes Details
CLCDK Details


Examples of Maps


While it’s seldom that you’ll need the mini-map during raid encounters, it’s a familiar part of the GUI and generally helpful in navigation.


Whether or not you use Ventrilo or other speech servers, you want to have clear written communication available too. Your chosen size, font, background, and formatting will all affect legibility.

Examples of Viewport Art


And lastly, we come to the ‘fancy pants’ section. If you’re an aesthetic minded person who wants visuals just for the pure enjoyment of it, you can theme your layout in just about any style you can imagine.

Recommended Addons


SexyMap Details
Prat Details
Sunn – Viewport Art Details

These aren’t the only options and addons worth researching so I encourage you to test a variety of mods to achieve the setup that works best for you.

If any fellow Death Knights have mods they would like to recommend, please feel free to share in the comments!

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