UX design is huge and honestly, sometimes I find it hard to explain it to people. In his article The 4 levels of UX Design, Larry Marine takes a very mundane situation to explain what UX design does or is supposed to do (he also explains a lot of other important things and if you are interested you should really go and read the whole article). Here is what he writes:
For instance, how often have you reached for a door handle when leaving a building and pulled on it only to realize the door doesn’t open that way. Then you see it, the little sign that says Push. If something as simple as a door requires instructions, then there’s something inherently wrong with that design. While technically, yes, you can push on a handle, our intuitions and expectations are so strong that we don’t even bother to read the instructions until it’s too late.
Putting a flat panel on that door invites the only correct action, to push. The user can succeed at that task without even realizing that they’ve done it. No instructions necessary.
Designing UI’s isn’t as simple as doors, but you can successfully design complex UI’s that require absolutely no instructions. If the users know their task, they can use your designs. That’s the value of including a good UX person on the design team.
The basic point is that UX is more than just putting lipstick on the pig. It’s something that must be done long before you write any code or add any graphics.
Note that the door handle created a negative user experience while the flat panel created a neutral experience. UX design isn’t always about “delighting” the users. Sometimes it’s just about avoiding any negative experiences.
A design should be intuitive, just as the flat door panel invites us to push. He correctly points out that UX design isn’t as simple as doors. Creating a great user experience requires a lot of knowlegde and work which the end user might never really see or feel. And when that happens you know you did a great job.