I've been in the design industry for close to 18 years. I've done coding, web design, print design, Flash design and for the last 10 years it's been User Experience (UX) design. I've been a partner in my own small design agency. I've contracted directly with clients. I've worked in other peoples agencies and I currently work in a large corporate setting. The following is what I've learned during my time at all those places and projects.
User Experience has three parts
User – A person
Task – What the person needs to do
Solution – A way the person can do the task
That simply means:
User Experience is how the person feels about doing the task using the solution.
Design is simply problem solving.
In order to complete a design you need to go through three steps.
Who are the people we are designing for (who will use it)?
What are the things they need to do?
Ask, observe and communicate with those people.
Who are the stakeholders (who will pay for it)?
Is this a brand new solution or rebuilding something that exists?
Every question you can ask, you ask.
(With the understanding that new questions will always come up later)
What if we did it this way?
what if we did it that way?
What if we took part of this and part of that?
Draw, sketch, wireframe, mime. This is about ideas not final designs.
Every way you can try it, you try it.
(With the understanding that a solution is never perfect and you are usually choosing a direction to move in)
Build it in pieces
Build the whole thing at once
Build it out of pixels, bricks, wool ...
Build it however you need to.
(With the understanding you will have to go back to 'Understand' and start again once you're done.)
No design, solution or product is ever finished. Simply choose a direction and keep going until it doesn't work anymore.
Almost every project will have decision makers between the Designer and the User
Unless you are designing something for yourself (just for the fun of designing something) you are going to have to work with other people who will have input into that design. It is very likely that these people will never actually use what you are designing but they are usually the people who are paying for the solution. These people are called stakeholders.
Here is a presentation I created on how to make sure the stakeholders are included in the process to prevent your project from getting stuck in revision after revision after new idea after new idea so that it feels like you will never finish, a lot like this sentence, and you don't even know what the hell you are designing anymore anyway ...