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Welcome to the ever-relocating home of Carlee Potter's online stuff. Updated very irregularly, but nonetheless enthusiastically (the content that is, not the design).

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Saturday, 21 January 2012

eHarmony Usability: Rather Inharmonious

For a web-based product that does a very impressive job of attracting and attaining new users, it's a surprise eHarmony has invested so little in user-centered design.

eHarmony holds a reputation as one of the world's most comprehensive matchmaking services in terms of personality compatibility and preference matching (eg. smoking is acceptable, Christians are not). They've also been hugely successful in building their brand, thanks to big wins with:

Public Relations: Word of mouth and positive PR generated by happy customers (users who met and married).

Strategic Marketing: Focus on a specific target audience (women seeking marriage) and deliver a product they want (soul mate searching instead of scanning strangers for a date).

Advertising: But not just any advertising, we're talking a TVC directed by Academy Award-winning documentarian Errol Morris whose “Love Begins Here” campaign creates the desired emotional imprint on the hearts and minds of consumers.

Sealing the Deal

To set up a user profile you must answer 436 questions which "measure 29 dimensions of compatibility". Regardless of what this means, it's an excellent example of direct-response marketing. It takes an average 45 minutes to complete the questionnaire (I've even heard reports of 48-72 hours) which creates emotional investment.
Testimonials strategically placed in the top-right of the screen keep you pushing through page after page when you wanna give up, and a reward at the end (a free personality report based on your answers) builds reciprocity. It's nice to learn something about yourself you didn't know, and receiving a gift greases the wheel a little so you're more inclined to give back (your credit card details).

The Search Begins

The dashboard of soul mate searching is the My Matches tab. Here, 3 sub-tabs separate potential love matches based on stages of communication:
  • New = fresh finds generated by eHarmony's "Compatibility Matching System".
  • Communicating = matches you're in stage 1-4 of communication with.
  • Archived = matches you've viewed, and decided to "put aside" for now.
Screengrab 1: The soul mate searching dashboard. 


You can interact with matches through "guided communication" or, if you see something you really like, ditch the e-chaperone and jump straight to 'Stage 4' (emailing each other about whatever you like).
Screengrab 2: "4 stages of guided communication" 


Guided communication is apparently one of eHarmony's biggest selling points. It's a nice feature, but a huge contributor to confusion when managing matches. Below, are 3 profile names from my New matches tab:
Screengrab 3: Gets a tick for clean interface design.


From a design aspect only, it scores well as a user interface...

Links: The anchor text (Dave, Nick, James) is blue and underlined, and therefore universally recognisable as a hyperlink. They probably shouldn't have used blue font for the middle-column text because, despite no underline, it implies a relationship; that it's clickable (it's not).

Chunking: As you scroll down the page the column headers: 'Match Details', 'Communication Stage' and 'Next Steps' [see screengrab no.1] disappear out of view. But "chunking" structures what you're seeing by breaking like kinds (same colour, same shape) of information into manageable "chunks". White space also helps by separating the chunks.

Colour: Besides black and white only 2 colours are used; good because fewer is better. Orange is also a great pick because it's a warm colour; inspires happy, sunny feelings. Only red would stand out more but, used on a clickable button, it's more likely to convey danger or emergency, than passion.

Mixed Messages

The last thing you want on the dating scene are mixed messages, which screengrab no.3 [see above] is littered with [see below]. Despite the clean, well-structured visual design, confusion arises when you try to make use of the information displayed.


Screengrab 4: Mixed messages.


1. The word "New" in bold orange clearly informs me that Dave is a new match.

2. The word "Introduction" falls under the 'Communication Stage' column; further confirmation that Dave and I have not interacted yet.

3. The big orange button labelled "View Match Details" tells me I haven't viewed Dave's profile yet.

4. The speech bubble next to Nick is a familiar icon. I don't need to think, it clearly indicates I have a message. So far, so good...

5. The next message: "Get to know each other" also falls under the 'Communication Stage' column, indicating I'm further ahead with Nick than I am with Dave.
As explained in screengrab no.2, 'Stage 1' is where matches "exchange 5 questions" so the speech bubble must be notification that I have questions waiting (except I've received no email alert, as per my account settings, and Nick is nowhere to be found in my Communicating tab...?)

6. Another tiny message: "last communication: N/A" supports my findings (or lack thereof) that the five "stage 1" questions from Nick do not exist. Now I don't know what the speech bubble is trying to tell me. Furthermore, James (the match under Nick) also displays the message: "last communication: N/A". The only difference between Nick and James is that I've viewed James' profile. Clearly, this is why the big orange button next to James is labelled: "Send him a Message". I've looked at him, so I'm being prompted to initiate 'Stage 1'.
But according to the 'Communication Stage' (middle) column, we're already at 'Stage 1'! Does James know about this? Is he seeing a speech bubble next to my name and wondering where my 5 questions for him are?


How Usability Could Be Improved

1. Messages and Meanings
There are too many messages on display, leading to misinterpretation of their meanings. Since we're looking at a list of New matches, the only description applicable to the 'Communication Stage' column is "Introduction".

Design change solution = Remove the middle column entirely.

Screengrab 5: Areas for improvement.
2. Navigational Design
Hyperlinks are the signposts of website navigation, telling us where we are, where we've been, and where we can go. If the anchor text for "James" were purple, I'd know I've clicked on that link to view his profile. A different colour for visited links would also:
  • remove the need for additional display messages, like "last communication: N/A". This message serves zero purpose in the New tab because, if 2-way communication had taken place, the matches profile would be located in the Communicating tab [see screengrab no.1].
  • create a fall-back for change blindness related to the words on the orange button switching from "View Match Details" to "Send him a Message".


Irrelevant Icons Cause Confusion

After three weeks of occasional interaction with eHarmony I accidentally discovered the speech bubble is clickable! Although it passes the icon intuitiveness test (speech bubbles = messages) its relevance is buried by so many other mixed-meaning messages.

Screengrab 6: Surprise! It's a pop-up message.
To make matters worse, the speech bubble is notification of yet another option for initiating contact know as an "icebreaker".

The jury is still out as to whether or not a 3rd means of flirtation - existing of pre-written introductions like "Love your smile!" and "Wink!" - are a useful addition to weeding out the wankers from the Mr. Wonderfuls.