April 26, 2021

Is Your Software’s UX an Aspirin or a Vitamin?

User Experience Analogy: With one pill you need to solve an imminent problem, while the other pill is a way of improving or maintaining your health in good condition

By definition, an Aspirin provides relief to aches and pains, or physical discomfort. While a Vitamin provides health enhancement to our body, or some parts of it, though sometimes our body can be lacking a certain vitamin or mineral producing us discomfort and when taking the proper vitamins they may act as a reliever more than an enhancer.

Anyhow, the point I’m trying to make is that with one pill you need to solve an imminent problem, while the other is a way of improving or maintaining your health in good condition. Whether you need a vitamin or not, well that is subject to your own criteria or your health expert’s but if you don’t take vitamins for a few days normally nothing bad happens. This fact makes the vitamin kind of an “optional product” , that by common sense you may think it’s nice to have but there is no urgency in getting it right away and factors as price, quantity, marketing may come into play to the purchasing decision making the product a bit harder to sell. Furthermore, people always have the alternative: “eat healthier and you can get the nutrients you need”.

But in the case of an aspirin or any pain killer for that matter, the purchasing decision is different because we all think that good health can wait, but pain...oh boy, that bugger has to go NOW! Nobody likes to live with pain, so we do almost anything to get rid of it and sometimes even pay more if a pill makes the pain go away faster; Hence, this is “a needed product”.

user experience analogy

So what do pills have to do with User Experience (UX)?

Any product or service can be (figuratively speaking) an aspirin or a vitamin, or maybe both. This analogy is common in marketing and business in general, when evaluating the viability of a company trying to answer the following:

Is the company selling a way to solve a customer’s problem? Or is it selling a way to improve certain aspects of his current situation?

It would be common sense to think that if you're selling “aspirin” then you may have the upper hand because customers “need” your product/ service. And if you're selling “vitamins” you may have to make a bit more of an effort, as vitamins many customers consider “they can live without”.

And in the field of software development your project’s objective might be about solving a problem, improving a situation or maybe both. This is crucial to know about your system, as this will dictate the way you approach your current and future users/ customers.

user experience analogy
Examples of products/ services/ SaaS in the “Aspirin” category:
  • Tylenol (go figure)
  • Microsoft Office
  • Amazon
  • Google search engine
  • Chevron (gasoline)
  • Quicken (accounting/ tax software)
  • State Farm (insurance)
  • Kraft Foods
  • Hanes (underwear)
  • Kleenex
  • Uber (transport/ delivery)

user experience analogy
Examples of products/ services/ SaaS in the “Vitamin” category:
  • Centrum vitamins (again, go figure)
  • Video games (seem like aspirins for some of us of course)
  • Starbucks (specialty coffee)
  • Netflix (movie streaming)
  • Cadillac (luxury cars)
  • Expedia (travel planning)
  • Hershey’s (chocolate)
  • Spotify (music streaming)
  • Duolingo (language learning)
  • Disneyland (resort)
  • Mac (cosmetics)

A good user experience in any case, almost always tries to make your users happy while they easily fulfill their needs, accomplish their tasks, and ultimately contribute to meet your company’s goals which may be faster, more efficient processes, more sales, more subscriptions, better productivity, etc. BUT… it is also important to have in mind that if your software/mobile app fits into the “Aspirin” category, avoid to just lay back with feet on the desk because you think your customers need your solution.

This is a mistake many small businesses make, thinking they can just treat customers as senseless robots because in the end they’ll come back for more and thus, pay little or no attention to the customer experience. Though this may be true to some extent, we live in a capitalist country where the free market encourages competition and is always lurking trying to just happily grab some of your unhappy customers.

user experience analogy

5 UX Aspects to consider for “Aspirin” class projects:

1. Solve it quickly. Remember having pain increases the perception of time, 10 seconds may seem like 2 minutes when a user is trying to solve a problem. A user experience that takes too long to process when the user ”needs'' something important to be solved is a formula for frustrated users. So strive to make your system procedures process as quick as they can be.

2. Help and Documentation is part of the relief. Your solution may be great for someone who knows perfectly how to use it, but there are those who will be stuck at some point. Be sure to provide abundant and clear information about using your system, and troubleshooting issues, and if possible some sort of quick customer support.

3. Analyze the underlying problem. Frequently we focus on alieving the symptom and never pay attention to the underlying cause, much like an aspirin provides relief from pain but that’s not necessarily a cure for the problem. For example, let’s take the previous tip “Help and Documentation”, if you’re providing a customer support medium that is getting swarmed with customers asking about something, and your attending to that perfectly with your support staff, you might just want to take a step back and think…”maybe my documentation is not so good or my system’s UI is not so intuitive, otherwise customers wouldn’t be asking this so often”. Many times if we address the underlying problem, the symptoms disappear.

4. Avoid providing relief by giving another ache. When our solution is unique or has a high demand we may focus more on solving the main problem, and disregard some undesired details that come with the solution. For example when cough syrup was invented, it tasted horrible but sick people coped with the flavor because it was a side undesired experience that came with the relief. Cough syrup still tastes like medicine but at least now comes in flavors. Or which pill would you rather take for a headache, the big rough and bitter tasting one, or the tasteless softgel? Think about what parts of your solution are giving side-effects that may be undesirable but users are coping with there a smoother way?

5. Assume you’re not the only aspirin. Yes your system may provide a needed solution, but even if you have no close competitor, always assume someone may be on the lookout for weak spots in your solution, that can be improved to make a better system. If you consider this you’ll surely always pursue improvements in your system which will reflect in a better user experience.

user experience analogy

5 UX Aspects to consider for “Vitamin” class projects:

1. Create the need. Much like with vitamins, people don’t really think they need vitamins until they learn they’re good for you and can make you feel great. That is because there’s no apparent symptom or ache to relieve pushing them to find a solution. Until someone talks about them and explains all the good stuff that comes with them, then their mind will be thinking they want those benefits too. The UX for these kinds of apps is no different. Not only should your life enhancement software provide improvement, but the user experience itself has to be pleasant in a way that users will settle for nothing less once they try your solution. (Think iPad, Starbucks, Netflix)

2. Emphasize on benefits. Remember there is no pain to relieve, users are fine the way they are. So emphasize on either encouraging them to make them feel even greater, or offering a way to sustain their wellness by preventing “pain” and consequences. (Think anti-viruses, VPN software, backup software, anti-glare glasses)

3. Gamification. Entertainment can be a handy strategy to keep users engaged with your solution depending on the nature of the software of course. Competition minigames or bragging accomplishment badges would be improper in a medical or insurance app for example.

4. Compatibility opens bridges. File formats, reporting, exporting, importing, sharing, printing, displaying, all of those features that make your solution compatible with others is a must. The more compatible you are the more probable will user adoption be.

5. UI/UX is a must to stand out. Flavor sells better than nutrients, and nice packaging many times sells better than vitamins in an ugly bottle. Software is not the exception. Most humans are attracted to better looking interfaces, and smoother running processes and all those bells and whistles that make you smile. That’s one of the reasons Apple users keep spending way more than PC users.

user experience analogy


Your project may be a problem solver, a status enhancer, or maybe somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless your system’s UX should always be quick, smooth, with the least friction and halts possible. And should those occur, think that troubleshooting glitches and helping your users feel more comfortable using your software is both an aspirin that gives relief and a vitamin that enhances your users’ well being.

To learn about our UX solutions click here.

Case Study from Arkusnexus
Walter González
Walter is in the Digital Commerce team as a UI/UX designer. He's always thinking about being in the user's shoes and cares a lot about service. He's a Star Wars fan and likes strategy boardgames and videogames. Golf, boxing, and NFL are his favorite sports.
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