The Gregory Benford Test

The Gregory Benford test is a thought experiment that can be used to evaluate whether a product or feature meets a minimum UX standard.

Well known science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke formulated three adages that have become known as Clarke’s three laws. The most famous of these is his third law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

Gregory Benford, another science fiction author, responded with what he refers to as a variation on this law:

Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.

Gregory Benford

While this may have been intended as a glib comment, it serves as a valuable guidepost for people building technology.

Far from being a criticism, this statement - that technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced - should be taken as an aspiration.

For something to be indistinguishable from magic doesn’t mean that it needs to inspire a belief in the supernatural. It simply means that the underlying mechanism for how something works is not immediately apparent. Or, better yet, that there is no underlying mechanism at all and, to borrow a phrase from Apple, it just works.

The Gregory Benford test is simple - is the product or feature distinguishable from magic? If the answer is yes, then it shows that there is an opportunity to improve your user experience.