Recently, my company signed up to improve experience of a IM application. I was roped in to conduct vision workshop with stakeholders in the initial stage. While the app had certain unique and quite sticky features, I felt that it was unresponsive in interaction. That bit could be improved easily but I kept wondering how would the target audience perceive various features and functions of the app and what would really stick them to it. Thus, started my journey of discovery.
Im already an avid user of chat applications like Telegram and WhatsApp, so I didn't have to try hard to understand them, but being a married man (and 38 years old), I was new to the world of dating (luckily, I didn't have to use an app for dating in my early days :-)
Initial efforts went into finding out the most popular dating apps and getting a sneak preview of them, before setting up my account. Needless to say, it is very hard to do this and I think app discovery is going to be the single biggest challenge going forward. My journey included reviewing dating apps on few sites and blogs (by using google search), then looking them up in the appstore, reading through their proposition and then hitting the goddamned button. There were still many unanswered questions there… for example, “will I have to provide my Facebook credentials to use it and what does it do to my Facebook account”? In contexts such as these, this question needs to be answered before installing the app.
Finally, I installed the following apps: Zoosk, Tinder, Link, Meetville, Miumeet, Ok cupid and a couple of really dark ones.
App makers go overboard trying to communicate its value in the very first few minutes of signing up. In the process, they raise your expectations that they cannot meet consistently over time. While designing User Experience, we need to empathise with users’ emotions before, while and after using the application… more often than not, we will be using digital products to accomplish something physical and that is where most of the User Experiences begin to fail.
In case of dating apps, the sign up process is somewhat stressful for the user, since, they do not most probably want to be seen looking for a hook up. In real life, do you see people walking around with a “I’m looking for a hookup” placard on them? Hence, linking Facebook account is not a good idea in my opinion (even if its a match making service). I’ve heard enough things about Facebook verification adding credibility, but I don’t buy that argument as well, as there are enough fake Facebook accounts on earth.
Also, as the app makers are hell bent upon signing up their users, they portray beautiful pictures and stories before the signing up process and the reality after signing up is going to be far from that. Really, how many beautiful “singles” we come across everyday?
I guess app makers have worked hard on making the user feel good, but that doesn’t last either (rather, cannot last). I have observed a common pattern across almost all these apps: You will be flooded with likes, messages, winks, kisses etc., in the first few hours and you will be lured into buying one of their VIP passes… so, you will receive a hidden message from quite a horny person and you are supposed to buy VIP pass in order to unlock it! As you spend more and more time, you will notice that these requests and messages drop drastically. I’m sure these features are cleverly designed to keep the user stuck to the app. After all, how long can it last?
These apps are flooded with fake profiles. I couldn't sign up as a female, so I don’t know about fake profiles of men, however, I have seen enough women who seemed from the trade here. Then, the fake pictures: A lot of women look attractive and that’s because they are not posting their own pics (I doubt if they are actually women, if their age, place they live or any other demographic is real). I think these apps are rife with fake profiles and Facebook verification doesn’t add any credibility as well. Some apps like Zoosk have added photograph verification as well, but still it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of credibility.
This is the most important bit in these apps, in my opinion. The reason is that, unlike other messaging apps, users are more discreet, they multi task a lot, they are concerned with their own information and fake information of their matches, they seek immediate gratification and they need attention… all this at the same time. I think a dating app throws much more challenges in interaction design than any other ones!
This is one single feature that’s still an achilles heel to many of these apps… the reason being, they are designed with highly twisted business models. In such a case, enough energy is already spent in resolving business and tech side of the messaging part and experience design naturally takes a back stage. Except Tinder, I didn't find any other app even remotely usable.
Interestingly, users seem to be quite hasty while on these apps and I guess they start breaking ice too soon. I don’t know any other reason why I got so many likes when I registered as a “64 year old, married male” in one of the apps! I see this as an opportunity than a problem: May be, there should be a way of visually depicting the key information, so that users’ don’t make mistakes they will regret later.
Also, chatting with multiple people at the same time is a common issue to deal with, as a User Experience designer.
Not all users are single and are righteously looking for a long term partner. Just like our experiences in the real world, we will encounter all kinds of people (and dating apps are no exception to this). Hence, it is natural to find users with specific needs such as discretion, privacy and need for mutual respect. Flagging and blocking may not be the real solutions… may be there is a need to build complex math around user rating system, based on behaviour and values.
Most of the app makers do a reasonably good job here, as this is the obvious and most cost effective part of User Experience to build. While Visual Design can create compelling first impressions, it can only take the enrolment that far. What would really take things far ahead is the aspect of solving deep rooted latent needs and problems for the user.
As the consumption of Dating apps seem to be ever increasing, the need for taking them to the next level of experience is clear, present and yet unmet. I wish to see visionary leaders bet on this and build great User Experiences around this need. I would like to see the next generation use these apps without insecurity and fear!