User Experience Design (UX design) focuses on creating meaningful and relevant (online) experiences. The goal is to provide the end-user with a product which fits their expectations and skill set.
It's easy to forget the age-old saying 'customer is king' when designing for the web. While many professions have people interact with their customers face-to-face, a web designer rarely sees the end-user of a project. This will tempt them to assume they know what people want — a big mistake.
UX design aims to rid itself of assumptions. Instead, a UX designer continually asks: 'What do users need to make this process as easy as possible?' They even go out of their way to really engage with and interview people, so guess work is taken out of the equation.
In this way, UX design is less an act — like designing a logo — and more an ongoing process. Every iteration, the UX designer works to make a product easier and more user-friendly.
That's why User Experience design is so crucial — you try to immerse yourselve in the user's perspective at every step. It makes projects less about finishing products and more about creating the best possible experience.
To do this, UX design involves various disciplines like psychology, design theory and (neuro)marketing. Through an iterative process, where new versions are continually tested by real users, a product keeps moing towards the perfect user experience. Of course, perfection is impossible — but we're here for the journey.
Difference from UI design
If you're into UX design, you've probably heard about UI (User Interface) design. And no, they're not the same. UX is about the overall experience of your users, while UI is about the visual aspect of it. In a sense, UI design is a part of UX design.
As UX designer you're responsible for every part of a user's experience. Seeing as though the user interface is part of the experience, UI also becomes part of your responsibility.
There's the famous example of the Heinz ketchup bottle, to make the difference clear. Heinz used to have a glass bottle with a narrow neck, making it hard to get the ketchup out. If we were to ask a UI designer for help, they might 'solve' the problem by adding an icon of a hand smacking the bottom of the bottle. Show them how it's done.
A UX designer, however, would take it a step further. The user has a problem with the glass bottle, so how can we help them? Using the icon is an option, but it won't make using the bottle any easir. So, let's get rid of the icon idea and throw out the bottle while we're at it. What the user needs is a new, improved bottle — that's UX.
UI design: show them how it's done. UX design: change how they're doing it.