Mr White

Painkiller or vitamin — is a false dichotomy! At least, in product management, it is something you should be very conscious about.

What is "Painkiller vs Vitamin"?

"Painkiller or vitamin" — is a mental model in the startup world that forces an assumption that if your product solves some acute customer's pain, then the customers will stick to your product and pay loads of money, as opposed to vitamins that are, allegedly, meh and not so acutely interesting. There is also a "candy" which is just a distraction, so it's even worse.

Why do we need another model?

Using models makes us better thinkers, saves us time and effort, and helps us make better decisions. Models are simplifications of real-world objects, processes and events that allow us to focus and analyze a particular subset of characteristics and causal links in those objects, processes and events, and cut through the noise, so to speak.

Another example of the dichotomy model is "There are two types of people" — it's great to have fun and laugh over the fact that you can't stand when your friend pours ketchup all over fries while you have it on the side.

Limitations that are obvious. In hindsight.

However, models have limitations — they are not always universally applicable. If applied incorrectly or under the wrong circumstances and conditions, they can harm more than help. Using the "there are two types of people" model with the "fries and ketchup" context to decide whether to stay friends with that person — is probably not very wise, and is an excessive commitment to the ideals of fries purity (seriously, in this case, you need help — but not vitamins or painkillers).

The same is with the "Painkiller or vitamin" model — it can help you discover an important insight. Or to come to funny conclusions like "in some cases, vitamins — are painkillers". Or that we have to augment the scope and realize that both vitamins and painkillers are pills, and what you've been working on is a therapy, a change of lifestyle. Or that the same thing is a painkiller for one person but is a vitamin in a form of broccoli (yuck) for another.

Beyond model. Beyond function.

"Painkiller or vitamin" focuses on function. But building products is beyond building a logical system that performs a function. Human motivation is extremely complex. Humans have various illogical, non-functional needs — to feel, experience and share.

I like to experience beautiful products. So do you. I often judge a software product by its user interface. So do you. I may not even discover all the functional perfection if it's hidden behind an ugly UI. But I will tolerate functional issues in a product with a beautiful, handcrafted from-scratch UI — it tells me that the product team cares, and they will fix the bug. I like when people care. It makes me trust them.

This neglected factor in user acquisition and retention.

I would argue, that when it comes to Product — the aesthetical pleasance of your product is a faster way to earn the first points of trust from your customers than the functional richness. Don't listen to anyone who diminishes or outright disregards the role of beauty and aesthetics in products because "it's just an MVP"© or "our customers are serious enterprise people"©.

And yes, it's not a painkiller. Nor a vitamin. It's not a pill — it's a healthy lifestyle.