Best Overall User Experiences of 2010 (Top 5 picks)
The perception that User Experience design is simply an enhancement or something to think about down the line is misplaced. User Experience is really about creating products that people want to use and continue to use. Good UX design is not about decoration or graphics and visuals, it is about knowing your customer and being strategic with your product and business.
Having great User Experience is a great way to get control of your audience while satisfying user needs. It all comes down to how much importance you give to user engagement, customer satisfaction and solving process-related problems.
Since we’re coming to year-end, it only seems fitting that I identify and profile my top 5 picks of 2010 for the Best Overall User Experience.
#1: Seesmic Desktop 2
What is it: Seesmic Desktop is a cross platform social media meta-app. It specializes in social media monitoring, updating and “engaging at the speed of real time”. Seesmic Desktop 2 or SD2 was launched in Sept 2010. I was already super impressed with Seesmic Web – it has long been my social network management tool of choice – it worked beautifully in Safari and allowed me to manage multiple accounts and services simultaneously. For example, I use Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Plancast regularly and instead of logging in on separate accounts, I could simply use all those services within one seamless environment.
Seesmic Desktop 2 is a more powerful version of Seesmic Web. It does require a download, but this way I can not only access all my favorite services with one click; I can also add, remove and customize many other services I frequently use or care about! SD2’s unique plugin architecture allows us to do this and has brought with it an entire marketplace of apps (40 apps at launch).
Platform: Both Mac and PC
Why we like it: Two reasons: it continues to retain its classic UI with elegant subtle details and beautiful transitions. (Really, you must use it to know what I am talking about – its like water gently flowing across my screen). Secondly, users can easily and intuitively integrate several other services and features including Gowalla (social network), Zendesk (business application), Last.fm (music application), Klout (service ad on), Google Reader (publishing tools) and more into their environment thereby adding much more value.
Tip: You can build your own plugin or have the Seesmic team help you out with development, by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is it: Currently in Alpha, Qwiki is a visual search engine that is working on improving the way the world gets information. It has introduced a sort of curated experience, a highly interactive Wikipedia of sorts with pictures, videos, voice-overs and a much more. It serves beautifully assembled information that it gathers on the fly from a variety of sources, for millions of topics. All this is done without human intervention. Sources include Wikipedia, Google Maps, Crunchbase, LinkedIn etc.
What’s best is that it does not read/ display any one given entry from these sources – instead it summarizes the information it gathers and it presents it visually.
Why we like it: We like it most because it brings all the text and graphics together in a truly harmonious, magical sort of way. The first time I tried it, it blew my mind. I searched for Bombay, India (Mumbai) and in 10 minutes I knew everything from its history to the historical landmarks to modern day culture and politics. I didn’t have to click on multiple different links and forage between Google Search results and Wikipedia. Best of all, because I was a new user and they are still in Alpha, the first screen displayed was this. I really appreciated it and later realized that it also contributed to my great experience with Qwiki.
Tip: Doesn’t necessarily work well for complex questions or searches (yes, Google Search and the rest still have a place in the world), but it does offer amazing insight if you are looking to go backpacking in a foreign land.
What is it: A free photo-sharing application available on the iPhone, Instragram offers a fun and easy way to share your life with friends and family through a series of pictures. It allows you to take a picture with your iPhone (or select from your library), apply a filter or lens to alter the appearance and then share on Twitter, Facebook or Flickr. If you don’t want to share across any of those networks, that’s okay too – it simply uploads to the Instagram community where people can like your photo or comment on it.
Why we like it: It is a beautiful and simple way to share photos; even my technologically challenged mom can use it. It’s easy-to-use interface and simple application of 11 different filters allows everybody to feel creative.
The instant nature of the sharing allows you to be spontaneous and give people a glimpse into what you are doing, where you are, what are seeing and experiencing. Best of all, so far it has experienced no scalability issues. The app is robust, responsive and a whole lot of fun!
Tip: you can view Instagram photos inline in #newtwitter with this handy chrome extension.
What is it: Named Apple’s iPad App of the Year and one of TIME’s top 50 innovations of 2010, Flipboard is a personalized social magazine that makes it easy and beautiful to flip through the news, photos and updates your friends are sharing on various networks. It connects to your social media accounts — primarily Facebook and Twitter — and utilizes that information to create an interface that will feel familiar if you’re a magazine lover.
I tinkered with the latest version of Flipboard on a buddy’s iPad and it really is sleeker, faster and even more social than ever before. Flipboard allows you to see all your social updates in a magazine layout making it easy to scan and fun to read.
Why we like it: It is a new and vibrant way to consume content from your social media streams. It has an exquisite interface and it is entirely populated with content that is personalized to you! Its thoughtful design, elegant typography and clean layout makes it très pleasant to use.
Tip: You can cross post between Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook. Learn more.
What is it: Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited and organized by everyone who uses it. Its got a neat little voting mechanism, similar to Digg as well as follow function similar to Twitter, except that in Quora one can follow both people as well as questions (you are alerted each time your followed question is answered). It is similar to Yahoo Answers and several other niche Q&A sites but something about it has grabbed people’s attention! Even Robert Scoble has written a post asking whether Quora is the biggest blogging innovation in 10 years.
While Quora is extremely well suited to questions that do not typically perform well in search engines, especially when the question is about opinions or hypothetical scenarios or scenarios with multiple constraints; its biggest strength is the activity and support it has received from the expert tech community. It has allowed Quora to further its highly functional interface.
Why we like it: Quora’s design isn’t immediately intuitive. It is very text heavy and the pages could have easily turned out overly busy; but the well spaced columns and the interplay between the colors and text elements create a nice overall texture and presence. I really enjoy the smooth transitions between topics and questions and like how one can jump in and out of conversations of interest quite smoothly and with ease. With so much functionality packed into one single screen, it must have been a nightmare to try to fit all that in and still make it user friendly. Well Quora accomplished that; and in the end they were still able to keep our eyes on the stuff that matters.
Update: According to Google Trends, Quora is surpassing 25K daily unique visitors since the last week of Dec 2010. (yay! I’m happy others see the light too)
Tip: Check out this answer on Quora itself about why people like Quora’s user interface here.
That’s it for my top 5 of the ‘Best Overall UX picks’ for 2010. Please send me your thoughts and comments and continue to suggest what should make the list next year!