As a developer who has moved more and more into the UX (User Experience) side of things and a person who's followed the development of UX in the software development industry during the last few years, I'd like to offer my take on the topic of what UX really is and what it's not.
What UX is not
During my years in the software industry, there are some misconceptions that keep coming back when people talk about or "do" UX in projects.
UX != visual design
Many companies and people are stuck in the mind-set that UX is simply how something looks. While the visual design definitly plays a large part, it is far from everything and not even the most important bit in my opinion. However visually beautiful something is, if the performance is really slow or the users can't figure out how to use it, people won't use it!
Something that can be "slapped on" at the end
Another common mistake I see, is when projects just have a 2 week period at the end of the project named "UX" or I've even come across "Make it look good".
This comes back to the previous point, people don't understand that UX is more than the visual design.
The UX work needs to be part of the whole project, from start to finish.
Something to create and "throw over the wall"
Just like UX can't be slapped on at the end of a project, neither can it be created by a design team at the start of a project and then just handed over to the development team (a.k.a "throwing it over the wall").
Again we are back to the thinking that UX is just a design, which can be created by a designer who then move on from the project once they've handed it over to the developer. This often leads to developers, without any design or usability knowledge, having to make UX related decisions. Which in it's turn results in usability problems and that the final product doesn't look like what the client signed off on.
What is UX
So we've looked a bit at what UX is not, but what is it then??
Well it's really quite simple, it's even spelled out in the name "User Experience". UX is about the users experience of, whatever the product is!
Hence, UX is everything from marketing, to visual design, to packaging, to usability, to performance, to testing (both of usability and performance), to pricing and finally but not least, customer support!
But wait, what!? All of that? Yes, all of that!
And now you can easily see why UX is something which has to be part of the whole project life cycle!
However looking at UX this way, it can easily get a bit overwhelming and hard to reason about.
So to distil it down, it’s all about the users.
We need to keep the users in mind and try to look at things from their point of view when we work on our project. We need to remember that ultimately, it’s to solve their problems and needs, we do what we do!
If we can just do this, many of the UX related things in a project will fall into place by themselves!