A user interface can function correctly and be pretty to look at, but when the player can't actually tell what the buttons and menus do, it is obscure. Several factors in the UI design process tend to produce obscurity, and you should be on the lookout for them:
■ Artistic overenthusiasm. Artists naturally want to make a user interface as pleasing and harmonious as they can. Unfortunately, they sometimes produce UI elements that, while attractive, convey no meaning.
■ The pressure to reduce UI screen usage. Using an icon instead of a text label on a screen button saves space, and so does using a small icon instead of a large one. But icons can't convey complicated messages as well as text can, and small, simple icons are necessarily less visually distinctive than large, complex ones.
When you reduce the amount of space required by your UI, be sure you don't do so to the point of making its functions obscure.
■ Developer familiarity with the material. You know what your icons mean and how they work—you created them. That means you're not the best judge of how clear they will be to others. Always test your UI on someone unfamiliar with your game. See whether your test subjects can figure out for themselves how things work. If it requires a lot of experimentation, your UI is too obscure.