There was an interesting design point at Casual Game Design blog
Let’s suppose your player has three minutes to solve the current level. How do you tell her how much time she has left? Oh, I know, we’ll put a nice digital clock on screen. No? How about an analogue one, then.
Still no, I’m afraid. The nicest solution I have seen is in Wik and the Fable of Souls. Instead of a clock, the game has a creature that walks from the left side of the screen to the right side. If it reaches the right side, you were too slow: try again. You can even drop honey in front of the creature to slow him down; the equivalent of a time bonus.
The reason I like this approach so much, is that it is completely integrated into the game. How would you do the same thing with the player’s health bar? Or with the number of lives he has left?
You could change the “happy running” animation to “crippled walking” in case of “health”. What comes to “lives” – maybe the player model could have some elements hanging at him? Like maybe a necklace with 5 red hearts… 4 hearts… 3h earts… and the necklace would be animating as you move. Would that be something?
I like this kind of approach – it’s not possible always, but it would reduce the number of elements in the graphical user interface. And it would be visually more attractive (at least to my eye ;))