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You probably noticed the trend of making custom designed plugin/theme options UIs, especially in the commercial ones (on CodeCanyon for example - custom boxes, tabs, accordions etc).

I personally believe that UI should be unified in the first place and that is really easy in WP to achieve using some core's default HTML structure + CSS classes => following the styling guide.

However it is maybe sometimes not enough and that's why why there is that trend. Another reason could be "branding" or just some "coolness effect".

What do you think about this? Do you prefer some custom designed UIs or the default one and why?

P.S. The main reason I ask this is also because these days I started with plugin development and I trying to make this decision of which path to choose.

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I prefer using the default WP admin styles. Custom UI designs give you the impression that your plugin or theme options are unrelated to WP –  onetrickpony Apr 1 '11 at 16:13
    
Personally i'm on the fence, i don't dislike custom UIs outright, but some work and others don't. I don't think it would be correct to just say all custom(non-WP looking) UIs are bad, because let's face it, the standard WP settings pages look boring and bland, i don't mind a few bells and whistles as long as the page still looks like it's a natural part of WordPress(or simply compliments the WP look). Good question though, interesting answers thus far.. :) –  t31os Apr 2 '11 at 13:46
    
@t31os: I generally agree; the WP admin UI is a work-in-progress. My only argument for building Theme/Plugin admin UIs consistently with the core admin UI (easily enough accomplished, using the Settings API) is that doing so will help ensure that, as the core admin UI improves, so will Theme/Plugin admin UIs - and the latter will stay consistent with the former. (Consistent UI being of considerable importance, I favor this approach.) –  Chip Bennett Apr 2 '11 at 15:14
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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Custom UI is great where it improves the experience and makes the task easier. After all, a plugin extends WordPress and therefore a lot of the time is extending the user interface. This might mean a screen that is arranged completely differently to any other screen, but if it is logical and understandable then there's no cause for confusion.

Where custom styling is being used to 'brand' a plugin, it's just annoying and naff. Custom UI should respect the colour choice of the admin backend.

I much prefer plugins that could be mistaken for being part of the core, and that should pretty much be the goal.

So, respect the core UI but don't be restricted by it.

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I personally prefer the middle path. It should be 70% base Wordpress admin UI style (for easier integration). The other 30% can be advanced tabs, accordions, input fields to help keeping everything on one screen to avoid scrolling or make tasks like multiselect easier. Aside from that i wouldn't like to have a custom styled (colored/branded) admin ui - all of the reasons that have already been covered in the other answers.

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The problem with custom UIs are: They look different from plugin to plugin. If you're using a customized Themeframework with integrated plugins, this could be ok. But training a customer in using a WordPress install with many different UI-approaches is definitly not easy.

The reason of using WordPress as a CMS for me is simplicity. My customers aren't geeks in computer and they don't want to be one. So the first thing I do is reduce the role (e.g. contributer) of my customers and hide everything they don't need.

If this isn't possible and a used plugin generates a new admin panel which looks completely different than the others, I wouldn't use it.

The other reason for using the standard WordPress UI is, that you're safe on updates. Just use built-in functions to create your settings section and fields:

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I think that it is a bad idea two have considerably different interfaces stuffed together.

WP admin area is... work in progress (putting it politely). It is very far in structure and customization options from front-end, so for many (especially coming from theme side of things) it seems like a good idea to discard it and go custom.

I think that engineering interfaces to fit nicely with native parts is good experience for users and good experience for me. But it does drive you crazy at times, so it is personal choice rather than no-brainer one. At least for now, there are some movements to make admin area interfaces to make more sense and be more accessible to plugin developers.

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