I like to think of UX as (literally) creating a feeling. And I envision it in 3 tiers like that:
3. Bad UX
Physical: ineffective; barely or does not accomplish advertised function in a way the user expects it to
Emotional: leaves user feeling frustrated
2. Good UX
Physical: effective; elegantly accomplishes advertised function exactly the way user expects it to
Emotional: zero point, invisible to user
1. Awesome UX
Physical: delightful features that surprise while accomplishing function
There’s a sliding door to a hotel near my office that I can think of as an example of bad UX. For one, it’s made to look like an average automatic door so my first encounter with it would be confusion as to why it is not sensing my presence in front of it. Then, I notice the 2 long rectangular plastic buttons that say “Push” and realize I have to push one of the buttons. So I tap the button at the “Push” word a few times to no avail. Finally, I slam the whole button with my palm and now it opens. I realize the button sensor is in the middle of the long rectangular piece even though the word “Push” is printed at the top corners. I’ve seen many people fumble with this door this way.
Good UX – a whole range of things fall into this category and it’s difficult to single them out because they disappear so well. They remind me of Bette Midler’s Wind beneath my wings. So for example, Whatsapp. I use this everyday to communicate, send pictures, group conference and I never really have to think about it. Most of it is pretty intuitive.
Awesome UX is something else. When my friend first held the iPad, he claimed he experienced nirvana and these were his words, “It’s like I am IN the webpage.”
Just the other day, as an example of great UX, another friend told me about his experience at Robuchon, Hong Kong – how he watched his food from being little raw bits to the cooked perfection under his nose, how the beef was sliced under a heater so that when it entered his mouth, it was the intended temperature, everything from the height of the chair, to the temperature of the room, to the lighting was faultless. And when he left the place, a tear formed in his eye.
I can’t decide how much of it is hyperbole, but that’s kind of what I’m getting at. When UX is done right, a geek might weep over its pure genius.