BB#53: The Pilot's Overview

Today's topic comes from a tweet from @erlendur in a conversation he was having with a pilot about having multiple overview tabs open in separate windows:

So that is the topic this month:  The Overview.  Is it sufficient?  If not how can it be improved?  Is there some way to replace it?  Does it give too much information, or not enough?  Please be creative and specific as the overview currently is the heartbeat of the GUI.

There are already thousands and thousands of words written about the Overview and the UI in general in Eve. And, to be honest, some really good ideas floating around. But few have, in my opinion, addressed the core issue. As a designer who is often confronted with organizing and communicating complicated information into useful, readable, and also attractive formats - perhaps my perspective is a tad different.

Personally I strongly believe the core issue affecting the UI in general and the Overview specifically is one of design. While the standard "white line spreadsheet" design of the UI was probably ground-breaking a decade ago, it is really starting to get long in the tooth these days. Ten years of added pressure, of additional features, increased demand, and increased information load is starting to truly strain an already somewhat antiquated approach to disseminating information.

The best place to start looking for solutions is in mobile design. No one does a better job of packing huge amounts of information into small spaces like the mobile designer. From graphics, to text, to movement and organization, mobile has forced an entirely different sensibility upon the evolution of information delivery. And done so extremely successfully. This sensibility has already moved into web design, which is increasingly meant for a mobile platform, and into print, television and other forms of communication.

If we took a step back from the existing Eve window and looked at it from this perspective, I believe solutions start to present themselves. As a fan of Science-Fiction I already know that HUD information technology has been around for decades and there are numerous examples in fiction and film, of delivering the "look and feel" of such systems. Combine that knowledge with the "flat design" movement from mobile, and we begin to see an iconic delivery system that relies on movement triggered by the user experience forming. What that means is that information is delivered based on the experience of the User in real time.

Right now the UI is relatively static and waiting for the User to interact with it. The best example currently is in the way the Cap Circle has been updated, and the introduction of icons when targets are engaged. This system is still not a perfect one, but it has evolved nicely over the years while the rest of the UI has languished.

It would be relatively simple to reduce almost all of the information presented currently in the UI to a graphical interface. A simple reduction formatted icon-based visual communication system that responds to the User experience during game-play. That is a lot of words for some basic tenants of modern interface design. Reduce complicated information into Icon forms and allow the User to engage them for more or less detailed information.

I wish I had the time currently to mock-up some graphic examples, but sadly I do not. But I imagine the Overview specifically could easily be represented in a streamlined Iconic format that would take up SIGNIFICANTLY less space on the screen. Essentially, while I do sometimes want more information on certain targets, I do not want ALL the SAME information on everything in space. Right now, the overview presents everything as being equal. I would prefer a system that prioritizes information based on my own feedback.

A string of simple, elegantly designed icons could easily represent all the objects I've deemed worthy of knowing about in nearby space, organized by distance, or other factors that I've chosen. A simple system based on color, additional icon animations, changes, and movement could easily communicate the basics - while leaving detailed numbers and specific information to a simple rollover, or pull-out drawer.

If we transpose that kind of thinking to all the elements within the current UI, then we start to build a rather remarkable, transformative, and truly science-fiction based interface worthy of Eve Online.

Since I can't mock anything up right now, I leave you with a selection of examples:
Organized Simplicity
HUD Design
Complex Small Spaces
User engaged "drawers"
Informational Charts

None of those are presented as solutions, only as design examples.

TL;DR: The entire Eve UI is in need of updating into a more modern information delivery system based on real-time User interaction.

For more on this subject, visit the Blog Banter page.


  1. The problem is that none of the linked examples have any relation to the needs of the Overview UI, which is a list of items whose attributes must be readable at a glance. For which a table is still the ideal format. We continue to use tables for presenting lists not because of tradition, but because the format works. Even your linked examples use tables to display information.

    All of the attempts at re-designing the EVE UI have been either awesome-but-impractical, or only practical in particular situations -- such as your "HUD Design" link, which would be unusable outside of a very small scale engagement.

    It's not a matter of making a "science fiction" UI that can be described with marketing buzzwords. Any monkey can do that. It's a matter of making a UI that improves functionality, rather than sacrificing it at the altar of yesterday's greatest thing. Chasing tablet design is what gave us the Windows 8 "Metro", which is terrible for desktops because it can't multitask, and therefore is useless for most real work, even though it looks all sleek and modern.

    I would absolutely love to see a mockup for the EVE overview which both improves usability AND looks less like a spreadsheet, but so far no-one has been able to come up with such a thing.

    1. I've become rather good at doing impossible things over the last thirty years and have made a rather successful, professional career out of it. Personally I take some insult to being called "a monkey" for laying out a strategy and vision for where I believe the UI could evolve.

      Just because someone hasn't done it, or it might be hard, doesn't make it something not worthy of achieving. Your mentality is the same trap unimaginative people fall into all the time. Tables work, everything is a table, so we should seriously stick to tables.

      I once worked with a team of super-intelligent people that worked on the cutting-edge of wireless technology, their entire job was thinking ahead of the industry. They worked globally in multi-million dollar white rooms on technology no one had ever heard of. Each one a genius in their own right. On the eve of Apple's announcement of the iPhone I asked them point blank what they thought. They sounded a lot like you as they told me the iPhone would never work, the technology was horrible, the price to high and that Blackberry would continue to rule the smart phone world for the next several decades.

      They were wrong too. It is easy to miss the forest for the trees, my job has always boiled down to ignoring the trees.

    2. Apologies for causing offense; that wasn't the intention, although can see how that happened. I was not calling you personally, or people in your field in general, a monkey. The specific sentence in question: "Any monkey can [make a "science fiction" UI that can be described with marketing buzzwords]." By which I meant: just about anyone can make a futuristic-looking UI, although a professional will almost always produce a much better product than a visionless hack such as myself. But it is much more difficult to make a good-looking UI which can present a lot of information in a clear and concise manner, which the user can intuitively read at a glance, and which contains items with which the user can easily interact.

      I agree with your vision; probably every person who has ever played EVE will agree with you. It would be nice to have a highly-customizable and responsive adaptive UI -- a UI which can learn from and adapt to user feedback and a continuously-changing situation. And a UI which also looks futuristic without sacrificing functionality. That would be the holy grail of EVE UI design, so to speak.

      But the devil, as the saying goes, is in the details. Reducing overview information to icons and colors sounds great, but how would it work in practice? Would color codes for range be based on the pilot's weapon range, or ship class, or the object's weapon range or ship class? Would the user have to remember to change the color code ranges whenever swapping weapon systems? The overview is already color-coded based on a target's derived standings relative to the pilot or to Concord; would adding extra colors hinder valid target identification? Do we keep the tabular overview format, or come up with something else? How often would on-hover information be useful? This is why I would love to see an overview mockup, especially for a complete overview overhaul.

    3. I don't think the Eve UI needs to turn into a rainbow of confusing colors. Any color combinations should maintain the general current standards. As for the organization and priority of information, I believe that should be a combination of two primary factors - 1. User Choice, and 2. Feedback from Live Game-Play. For example, If given an actual choice in the matter there is a tremendous amount of information currently being displayed "for me" by the overview that I have no interest in seeing all the time. But because I am interested in that information for some items, I must have it for all items. This one factor results in a lot of needless clutter.

      Just one example is Station Names. Because of the way the overview is organized currently all station names are displayed within the table because I need that information for ships. But given my day-to-day playstyle I really don't need Station Names. And that is just one example of the type of information I should be able to choose a priority for. Just a simple change like that could de-clutter my own overview tremendously.

      Once these kinds of decisions are made, the organization of an icon based delivery system becomes much more viable. I do also believe that any system, no matter how streamlined, would keep a table based function as a bottom level choice. There will be those that prefer information delivery in that manner.

      I'm not saying that such a major and fundamental change wouldn't be difficult. It would be. But I also believe that it would be worth it and help to make Eve a much more dynamic and interesting place to play with spaceships.

  2. I'd love to see the information currently separated from the game engine and presented in the god-mode dev tool we call the overview reintegrated into the game. As Homer says above, a table is the ideal format to display the information, but then the ideal combat ship is a dev Polaris ship. It doesn't make for good gameplay.

    If the info display in the overview cannot be integrated into gameplay, it shouldn't be available at all.

    Sadly, it already is and folk have built their hobby experience around it, so the spreadsheet is here to stay methinks.

    I'd love to see an alternative though. Even if it is only viable for small gang or non-combat pursuits. Big fleet tools don't need to be forced on everyone.