PlentyofFish and Unusability

In an early 2009 profile of Markus Frind–the founder and CEO of the online dating website PlentyofFishInc. briefly touched on the topic of the site’s famously bad user interface, with Frind explaining why he believes that, sometimes, user experience should take a back seat as a better experience isn’t always linked to greater profits.

Plenty of Fish is a designer’s nightmare; at once minimalist and inelegant, it looks like something your nephew could have made in an afternoon. There’s the color scheme that seems cribbed from a high school yearbook and the curious fondness for bold text and CAPITAL LETTERS. When searching for a prospective mate, one is inundated with pictures that are not cropped or properly resized. Instead, headshots are either comically squished or creepily elongated, a carnivalesque effect that makes it difficult to quickly size up potential mates.

Frind is aware of his site’s flaws but isn’t eager to fix them. “There’s no point in making trivial adjustments,” he says. Frind’s approach — and the reason he spends so little time actually working — is to do no harm. This has two virtues: First, you can’t waste money if you are not doing anything. And second, on a site this big and this complex, it is impossible to predict how even the smallest changes might affect the bottom line. Fixing the wonky images, for instance, might actually hurt Plenty of Fish. Right now, users are compelled to click on people’s profiles in order to get to the next screen and view proper headshots. That causes people to view more profiles and allows Frind, who gets paid by the page view, to serve more ads.

This wonky rationalisation reminds me of Andrew Chen’s insightful reponse to the Quora question, How did MySpace, with a smart team of people, do such a bad UI/UX job with the new design?