This time of year always gets me thinking about the nature of great products. Recently I was forwarded an article on Apple and the caption of a photo of an iPhone had this great line “Pleasure is Not the Absence of Pain.”

This resonated with me because I had just spent several days with a product team that was very busy addressing the pain in their product. In their case, as is often the case, this meant bugs and a load of usability issues.

I love usability testing and find the process incredibly productive and satisfying ­ observing user’s issues and immediately coming up with improvements ­ and very often these improvements can make a dramatic difference to the key metrics of the company. Basically we¹re removing obstacles to people transacting on your site. Always a good idea.

However, just getting the site or product to the point that there isn’t pain is only half the battle.

When users get truly excited about a product it’s not because there wasn’t much pain. It¹s because of something more. Somehow the product actually causes pleasure.

Every product manager and designer needs to be interested in the nature of this pleasure.

Sometimes it is derived from the sheer value of the product ­ it may save you or your company a ton of money, it may provide critically important data, it may simply entertain you, or it may even save or extend your life.

But very often the pleasure is derived from something less tangible. In fact it is often hard for users to put their finger on just what makes the product resonate. But in most cases I find that the effect is observable.

This is why a usability test is just the “warm up” to me. It is the dialog that immediately follows the usability test where we can learn the most about the potential to cause pleasure in our users. At this point the user is no longer guessing about what the product might be, or what might or might not be possible (unlike focus groups).

This is your chance to dig in and try to find where you have the potential to cause pleasure. You will often see the spark of something during a test. You need to determine if there¹s something there you can tap into.

Sometimes I refer to the features that are created for this purpose as the “inspiring” features. But remember that sometimes this inspiration or pleasure is not really derived from features but from the overall flavor of the product or the design.

This is why great designers and product managers know that it’s not just about designing for usability or the lack of pain. It’s also about designing for pleasure.

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