How dating apps UX design is selling you short

If you walk into a retail store, even if there’s no name on it or any product in place, you can tell if it’s a cheap store or a luxury brand just by looking at the space. And when products are perfectly arranged, the effect is even stronger. You don’t need to know the brand, you just know it.

Reality Lab for Issey Miyake by Tokujin Yoshioka, Tokio 2013

The boom of Space Design

There’s some amazing retail store design for luxury brands. And some think that’s because they have the money for it. And the amount of space they use and its design is not cheap. But they don’t spend that money because they want to please you. They do because they want your money. If you have it.

Everything is crafted to offer you a unique experience. Walking into a luxury store may be intimidating from the outside, but on the inside, it feels great. Products are carefully placed. Environment is nice and welcoming, but also beautiful and exciting. People at the store are nice and smiling, and you have their full attention because there’s no line, no waiting, no other people. Lighting is adequate to savor the colors and fabrics. Even smell is delightfully enhanced. It feels so good that you’re happy to let them take your money. That’s what luxury is about, not to have expensive goods but to be happy to spend your money on them.

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It’s not that retail store design for a luxury brand or a cheap store are different. There’s no possible comparison. Like they’re talking different languages.

On a cheap store you have a lot of options, so it doesn’t matter if you’re not excited about anything, because you’ll find something to like. On a luxury store, you have a small selection of proposals that you can love, even if you’re not willing to buy.

On a cheap store you have all possible colors for a given item, all possible fabrics, all possible sizes, and several copies of each, just in case there’s an imperfection on one of them. On a luxury store you have a beautifully crafted unique piece in a single fabric and color, and most likely not in all sizes.

On a cheap store you are given tons of options at once, and you must follow an elimination process in order to find something that may suit your needs. On a luxury store you discover some exclusive items, one at a time, and if any of them is remotely close to be a good suit, it ignites your desire.

Shopping on a dating app

What of these two examples you think is more similar to the way to find people on a dating app?

On any dating app description you’ll find a number of people using the app. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions. They give you all these people all at once. You start using the app and you find hundreds of new faces around you, a dozen at a time, and you must follow an elimination process in order to find something that may suit your needs. And that creates two problems.

Choosing by elimination

Is there an accepted cultural convention that to find your soulmate you have to fail several times before, usually known as “kissing frogs to find prince”. But it’s not about leaving corpses in your path, but about putting yourself out there to give love a chance, and being able to learn from experience.

Elimination process on a dating app is very different. It’s about some general rules or numbers. No one shorter or taller than me, no fat people, no jobless people, no older or younger than me. And these kind of rules, that follow a programming logic — you take all data and apply filters — shouldn’t be applicable to humans. Even sensible topics like race are taken lightly — like eliminating every single person of a given race, or everyone of a race different from the user.

Reducing the value of an individual

When you have eliminated ninety nine percent of the people on a dating app, you still have some dozens — or hundreds depending of the popularity of the app in your area — to choose from. And having eliminated thousands, it’s easier for you to keep eliminating for any stupid reason. Like “there’s something in this person’s face on this picture that I don’t like, even if I’m not even sure of what is it and I haven’t seen anything similar in the rest of pictures in the profile”.

People become disposable. And the user becomes rude. “Why should I give you any reason? Go talk someone else, there’s plenty of people here”. Suddenly it’s ok to leave in the middle of a conversation, not to answer a message, or give straight insults to someone that just said “Hello” to you.

Luxury people

I have no magic answer to solve all those problems right away. But there’s some things dating apps UX designers could learn from space designers in order to give value to people instead of selling them short.

Use discovering

Don’t just stack people like boxes. Let the user discover any individual with time to appreciate who is and the value of that person unique set of features. Make it a finding process instead of an elimination one. Let the user desire to know people.

Adequate the environment

No profile is a good match for everyone. Some people is open and willing to share details or experiences of their lives with everyone, and some people are more confortable with some mystery around. Some people are willing to let everyone see their physical appearance right away, and some people prefer to start a conversation first. For some people the most important aspect of their lives is their job, for some people is their family, or their pets, or their friends, or their cars.

You have to let people express their uniqueness beyond leaving parts of their profiles blank. Let them choose the way people get to know them, to appreciate them. To love them.

Be nice and smiling

Let people know there’s other people behind the app, that you care and you’re there for them. Using moderation on text and pics and just deleting them without any further explanation doesn’t help anyone. Answer their questions, be available and help them live a positive experience.