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5 of the Best New User Experiences of 2010

As part of the ongoing Mashable Awards, we’re taking a closer look at each of the nomination categories. This is “Best Website User Experience.” Be sure to nominate your favorites and join us for the Gala in Las Vegas!

When it comes to user experience, designers and developers must do much more than present their users with a “pretty face” web page.

The user experience (UX) of a site or app involves much more than looks; the UX is something that lingers on after the user has left your site. It lies in ease of use, perceived value, whether desired goals were achieved and so much more. The user interface (UI) is only part of that larger experience, but it can contribute much to a user’s impression of the app.

In writing about the best web designs of 2010, form and function each played a large role in determining our choices. But when we think about user experience, function takes absolute precedence.

What sites and apps were the most interesting, the most useful, the most innovative of the past year? In this post, we examine five groundbreaking new UX/UIs from 2010 and discuss how each one expands our expectations of the user experience.


1. Quora


One of the earlier launches this year, Quora was a buzz-heavy private beta service in 2009. As a product of some of the best design minds at FacebookFacebookFacebook, the site was almost guaranteed to have an excellent UX from the start.

We love Quora’s elegant interactions. It looks simple; it prompts instant and easy engagement; and it takes the hide-and-seek elements of a Q&A site away, leaving the user with a trove of relevant information at his or her fingertips.

We’re not the only ones who love Quora’s design. For a bit of meta navel-gazing, read this Quora Q&A on why people like Quora’s design.

Initially, another thing that made Quora’s UX so excellent was the quality of its membership. Have a question about Facebook? A Facebooker would likely answer it. Questions about venture capital? Here are some actual investors to talk to you. Marketing? Ad execs were on the site, too.


2. Hipmunk


One thing we loved about Hipmunk from the start is that it took a traditionally bad user experience — airline flight search — and made it into a good one.

This startup reimagined the most important element of online flight search: how results are displayed. It took a convoluted, multi-entry/multi-exit process and made it simple to behold and linear to walk through, creating a user experience that is far from the stress-inducing nightmare flight search once was.

The company has also hinted it will be turning its eyes toward other types of travel services soon, possibly hotel search. We can’t wait.

To get the big picture, check out the video above, and the excellent interview blogger Robert Scoble conducted with Hipmunk co-founder Steve Huffman.


3. Seesmic Desktop 2


SeesmicSeesmicSeesmic launched a new iteration of its popular desktop app just a couple months ago. Dubbed Seesmic Desktop 2, the application also included an entire marketplace of plugins, making SD2 an all-in-one social media access point — a great set of features for run-of-the-mill social media narcissists, as well as businesses that need more control and monitoring tools for their web efforts.

Seesmic’s Silverlight-built, Mac- and WindowsWindowsWindows-compatible product also came wrapped in a gorgeous and functional UI with elegant and subtle details, making it a joy to behold as well as a pleasure to use.

During some turbulent times for third-party applications, Seesmic founder Loic LeMeur proved his very salient point: If you make a great product, build in great functionality, and give users a great experience, you can still build a business on someone else’s platform.


4. Flipboard


Flipboard launched this year as one of the first iPad apps that sought to reimagine social media for a new form factor.

The tablet gave designers and developers a chance to think about lean-back, glossy, high-end design experiences. Of course, magazines had a heyday; their content is already almost a perfect fit for the iPad. But when you think about social media content — those messy, spaghetti-like, intertwining and overlapping feeds of drama, irrelevance and the occasional gem — you begin to see what a challenge the makers of Flipboard had on their hands. Could social media be both beautiful and functional on a tablet?

Flipboard integrates personalized Twitter and Facebook feeds to build a social magazine for each user. In an initial review we called it “gorgeous and a pleasure to use,” and the app has continued to rack up the platitudes from social media junkies around the web. Its core value proposition is more than just its beautiful, mag-like design; it makes the experience of reading social feeds simpler, faster and better.


5. Roku


Without a doubt, 2010 has been the first big year for InternetInternetInternet-connected living room devices. We’ve seen cool things in the past from PlayStation, Xbox and BoxeeBoxeeBoxee; however, 2010 brought something new: affordability and ease of entry.

Roku’s set-top boxes start at just $60; already priced to win. Each model also comes with built-in WiFi and they are easy to install — they practically set themselves up. They connect to some of the most popular Internet content providers, including Netflix, MLB.tv and now HuluHuluHulu, as well.

The Roku UI is simple, clean, bright and intuitive; it reminds us of the more user-friendly gaming interfaces, like that of Nintendo’s Wii. It’s a design language that says, “I’m not technical; I’m fun.” Very quickly, the design itself fades into the background and the content becomes all the user notices.

In a word, Roku’s UX is amazing because it makes something that was supposed to be complicated and scary (bringing Internet content to the living room) inexpensive, easy and a pleasure to use.

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