UX Innovation in Modern Dating


UX Innovation in Modern Dating

Product Direction

Designing for love comes with unique challenges; like how to help users assess chemistry through a screen or how to be more transparent in dating (rather than ghost).

In this session Lindsay will talk about her experience leading design at Hinge, and how her team designs for people's emotions and a positive mindset to allow for sustainable and long-term brand growth. In this talk she will touch on:

  • Identifying an alternative dating app experience: solving common dating app problems
  • Building trust with a burnt out user base, and
  • Designing for intentionality

Hi, everyone, my name is Lindsay Norman, and I lead the design team at the hinge. And today, we're going to be talking about the unique challenges of designing for modern dating. So for those of you who are unfamiliar with hinge, we call ourselves the dating app that is designed to be deleted. And what this means is we genuinely want to get people off the app and into relationships. If you think about it, the best marketing is real couples in the world, saying that they actually met through the hinge. So we want to get people off the app on real dates. And we're really designed for intention data, so people who are looking for a real connection and don't want just a one-night stand. I want to take you back to 2013 when dating apps really first came onto the scene in a big mobile way.

You'll probably remember that at the time, most of these apps were designed with this swiping gesture in mind. So you swipe through people pretty quickly. And I think what the swiping gesture did is really optimized for volume and speed. So you could get through a ton of people fast, but you weren't always sure who you were looking at. And so when hinge knew that we really wanted to differentiate, we thought about, you know, how to improve this experience of going through people really quickly. And another thing that we did was we took a look at how users were describing themselves on these apps. And what most of the apps did was they gave users just this blank box that said about me. And it was really up to the person to figure out how to describe who they were and what they were looking for. And it was pretty intimidating at the time. Obviously, this still exists in apps today. But I think what hinge did is they looked at this and asked, you know, how can we make this an easier experience for someone to describe who they are? It's really difficult for us to put in a few sentences what we're all about. And so when hinge came onto the scene, they took the really bold move of saying we're going to move away from swiping gestures, we're going to move towards this longer profile that really ensures that someone has the time and space to describe what they're about. And so what hinge did is it said you had to upload six photos of yourself, and you had to fill out three of these prompts. Now the prompt is similar to that blank box. But instead of talking about me, we give the users hundreds of questions that they can answer.

So, in this case, I'm weirdly attracted to. And then it's the user who gets to really fill in the blank here, people who don't have social media accounts. And from a design standpoint, this was really huge. It was just one tweak to the box, where now we've given you a question to answer. And it really unlocked people. And so today, you'll hear me talk about something as simple as starting with a box and then giving users something to work with. So really guiding them to explain what they're about, or what kind of date they're looking for. Together, we could. This could also say, you know the weirdest thing about me, but then giving users that blank box that they can fill in is really powerful. And so today I'll talk a little bit about just the power of the prompt, and how you can take the same question together we could and when you start, you know, scaling it up, you now have hundreds of 1000s of answers to this question that allows the viewer to really understand how this person is different from this person? And how are the dates that they want to do going to differ? And so now as the viewer, you really start to understand the differences in these people, which is essential, you know, what is required for you to understand who to go on a date with, you really need to know one person from another to figure out if you're going to have chemistry. Another thing that prompts really allowed us to do was to stay closer to what was happening in the real world. So when COVID hit, and everyone was sort of dating from home, what we did was we introduced a lot of prompts that spoke to how are you going to date now that you're stuck at home, you know, do you want to do video dates? Do you want to go on a walk in the park with masks? There are all these new considerations for dating that people have to consider for the first time. Now a couple of years after COVID came out. Daters care a lot more about mental health. You know everyone has been at home, reflecting a lot of people starting therapy for the first time.

And so prompts allow us to sort of speak to what data is now cared about. And we just recently introduced a new prompt pack all-around self-care and mental health, and so what we did was we really created prompts to help people express who they are and what they care about. But as we were figuring out where we wanted to take profiles in the future, we started looking at these photos. And what we realized is we kind of had a similar problem with the type of photos people were uploading the hinge. It was almost like people kind of figured out the recipe to the hinge profile. And suddenly, all these profile pics started feeling the same. And so this challenge of how do you really bring out the person in a 2d profile on a screen? It was a challenge that we sort of spent a lot of time brainstorming and figuring out what it was going to take to help people get to more authentic profiles. And so what we started noticing is that a lot of people had these headshots, and that was great for the first photo and a profile, but we really wanted to nudge people towards photos of them just out in the world doing more authentic things, you know, if you're going on a date with this person, and you pull up to their house, like how are they going to feel just on a random Wednesday night.

This headshot is obviously everyone's sort of best self, most polished self, but we wanted people to feel really comfortable expressing them in their sort of authentic nature. And so this idea of using the prompt to sort of nudge people towards that more authentic profile, we applied it to photos. And so that same girl from before, this is her out in the wild, which is a prompt that we have that sort of helps to make people feel comfortable sharing what their weekends look like, you know, if you're dating Julia, on a Saturday, she might be dancing in Bush wick. And that's going to be a much more accurate representation of what she's going to be like in person. And the cool thing is that same prompted me in the wild. If you look at my friend, Chris is going to look very different. You know, Chris is someone who loves to be in museums and is super artistic. So you can see how just applying a prompt to a photo allows people to sort of permission to be who they are, and not just upload the fancy headshots, but instead feel empowered to share what really makes them. And so we were really excited about this progress, but we continued to ask what was going to be next. So profile photos are great. But we really wanted to nudge people towards richer, richer, accurate representations of who they were. So we did what any design team does best. And we rooted ourselves in what are our user's biggest pain points. And at the time, we knew from a couple of years of research that people's biggest challenges on hinge could be broken down into these four things. The first was efficiency. And this is a problem with all dating apps, but you spend so much time going through profiles looking at different people's answers. And then so few of those matches will actually turn into a date. And so it's a bit of a slow process. There's also a signal problem. And this is the problem I've been kind of talking about so far, which is that it's really hard to know what someone's personality is like through a few photos and a few prompts. We also knew no, and this is still an issue today, that responsiveness is a huge problem. So you know, people spend all the time matching only to end up in a chat with someone where no one is saying anything. This is a huge problem for a lot of dating apps. And finally, people telling us I'm just unhappy with the dating pool, that people I see and discover. They're not people that I feel like I'm going to connect with or have a lot of chemistry with.

And we really honed in on this specific insight, which is that 75% of our user base, which is such a huge number, said it was really hard to gauge chemistry. And so they were on the app looking at people, but they really didn't know if they were going to enjoy someone on the actual date. So in order for our team to figure out how to do this better on our app, we actually had to stop and figure out what chemistry between two people looks like in real life as well as in a dating app context. So our amazing research team doubled down on this question of what chemistry comes down to, and they figured out that chemistry really related to three different things. It was about having positive experiences together. It was about having similarities. And I think a lot of apps think of similarities in terms of, you know, we have similar hobbies. Maybe we have the same taste and music. It turns out that it does not relate to long-term compatibility. If anything, sometimes those similarities can be a distraction right now. Just because someone doesn't like your music taste doesn't mean that you guys can't be really amazing partners. But the third thing that we learned was that it was this idea of synchronicity that really builds chemistry and makes two people feel chemistry. And so this idea of hearing someone, you know, maybe how you react to them laughing, those things were really, really exciting to us. And I think we saw this as the biggest challenge for our team. If we can do a better job incorporating this idea of synchronicity into our app, maybe two people would feel that chemistry and be inspired to actually go on that date.

So at the time, and this was about a year and a half ago, we really felt like we had two paths forward. We could either double down on video as the next frontier for dating apps, or we could play around with this idea of voice. And I think through our initial research, what we realized was that video felt like a really high bar for people not being used to having videos on dating apps. I think people really felt like, video, you can't really hide from a video, you know, it's, it's what you look like, it's who you are. And people are really used to, you know, uploading their best pictures on dating apps and really being able to curate what that image is. So I think we felt early on that video might not be the thing to go for quite yet might be something that comes a bit later. So we were excited to pursue our voices. So as the design team, we got together, and we were trying to figure out what's the right way to package voice. I think, early on, we thought maybe the voice was just going to be about introducing yourself on your profile. So saying, hi, my name is Lindsay, and welcome to my profile, we quickly realized that a lot of those ideas were just going to be awkward for people. And that if the voice was going to work, we really needed to give people something clear to say and something that they could work with.

So we took a lot of ideas to research, and we had people break down what was confusing and what they didn't like. We got a lot of good feedback early on. And I really want to highlight that, you know, throughout this entire research process, which went on probably half a year, over and over, people told us I am not comfortable with the sound of my own voice. I think a lot of us can relate to that. But what they did say was they gave us this, you know, a positive, positive affirmation that they would love to hear in someone else's profile. They just weren't going to be comfortable doing it themselves. And that's a really unique design challenge when people are telling you, yes. I'd love to view it on profiles. That would be really interesting. But I myself won't do it. And so I think us as a team really understood that. In order for this to work, what we're going to need to do is make the voice seem super approachable and use designed to lower the barrier as much as we can to people trying this once. And a lot of people told us similar things to this, you know, you have to be so vulnerable online putting up photos. Also, no other app has made me add voice. So why would I do it? And I feel like as a designer when you keep hearing this question, why would I do it? Why would I do it? You know that something has to change in the design because that value prop has to be immediately clear for people. And especially in the context of dating, where people are already coming with so much fear and insecurity, you need to make this thing feel worth their time because no one's quite willing to put themselves out there if they're not sure what they're going to get in return.

So I love to talk about just this quick anecdote, which is that as we were exploring voices, we got to the point where the designs were done, you know, as a design team, we were, we were finished with our end, I think we had the flow all sped out. And I'll never forget my designer and I sitting in that engineering handoff with one of our great engineers. And we were ready to just hand it over, you know, we've thought of everything it's done. And what we had presented at the time was this idea of let's just take the prompts that exist today. And for the first time, give people the opportunity to record their answers rather than type them out. And so what users were going to have to do is they were going to take one of their prompts they've already written, and we're going to nudge them to try to record it for the first time. And we thought this was a good solution, you know, just adding that optionality. But as our engineers started poking and poking on the designs, what we realized was actually going to be quite confusing for users because now they sort of had to make a choice whether they wanted to delete a written answer and record it for the first time. And it created a lot of complications with things. Do you delete your previously written recording? What happens if you don't like the sound of your recording? And what we realized as designers was that we had actually presented too many decisions for the user to make. It just wasn't simple enough.

So we ended up telling our engineer, you're absolutely right. We didn't think of a lot of this. Let's pause and go back to Sigma. Try and work some of these issues out. And so where we ended up was, rather than kind of combining these things all together, we made the decision to really pull out voice prompts into their own section, which made the designs much more clear and intuitive for users. And they even enabled us to come up with voice-specific prompts, things like my best impressions or guests to this tune. And so, separating it out sort of allowed us to create this own little world for voice, where we could fully explain the value prop and not overcomplicate the system. Again, another fun little story is that one of the hardest parts of the design, I think, is often those conversations around what's going to go in the MVP. And we all know the crazy debates that happen about what's important and what's not important. And we were sort of down to the last minute. The MVP was going to ship. And at the last minute, the design team felt like we really needed a sample answer. We needed someone to hear just a normal person doing a voice prompt so that everyone else could feel like you don't need to sound like a news anchor. You don't need to sound sexy. You just need to have your normal voice and answer a question. And so, this was something that was not going to make it into the MVP. But the design team and I felt strongly enough that I ran over to one of my engineer's houses, and I ended up recording like 10 of these in his room. It was quite awkward, but I didn't come up with anything great. But I came up with something, and we got it in the MVP. And I'm really glad we did because it was one of those things where after we did a bunch of research once we went out with this, people told us that sample answer really made me feel comfortable doing this for the first time because I realized, you just want us to record our voice doesn't have to be anything fancy. So I'm glad we squeezed that in at the last minute.

So then came the day when we introduced voice prompts, and it was really exciting to get together and figure out how we wanted to package this for the first time. I know we workshopped every single word. We talked a lot about what that CTA is going to be. We ended up with something really non-committal: check it out. Sometimes, those non-committal CTAs are really helpful, especially when you're trying to get people to do something that's going to be a bit scary. So you probably wouldn't want to say record now or something that feels like they may not be ready at that moment to do. So we went out, and I think God bless our PR team did a great job getting the word out. And I think it’s fun to note that we had no idea how people were going to react to this new frontier of voice. But we're really excited that we had some publishers say that we had cracked audio. And I think what was especially exciting as people understood why we were doing the voice, this idea of synchronicity, and you are just not really getting a feel for someone through a static profile, and how voice can really bring someone to life and give you the idea of what it would be like to sit in a room with them. And it was something that I think a lot of apps wanted to do. But the system of prompts is the thing that really allowed us to break into voice.

And it didn't help or sorry. It did help. That tick-tock really got the word out there. And we had kind of a viral moment with tick-tock where unexpected people started recording the funniest voice prompts that they heard. Of course, these were really extreme examples of people making ridiculous impressions. But it was super helpful for us that, you know, it caught on, and people thought it was really entertaining. I think we're all excited to see people say they were going to come back to hinge just to listen to these. And so we saw a huge uptick in registrations. And we noticed that Gen Z especially was really taking on the idea of voice and really understood the value. And now I'm going to quickly play voice prompts. You can hear it live.

Awesome. So a couple of things that I think really helped bring voice to life and make it a successful feature for us. The first was thinking about how we're going to introduce this feature and Budget and get it in front of people. Obviously, with apps. You know, a lot of times, there are competing things you're trying to get users to do, so we were pretty ambitious with the badging and nudging people to add voice or try voice prompts. We also made the decision that if you were someone who was going to add a voice prompt to your profile that it would be above the fold, and it would be that second slot in your profile, right after the headshot, to make sure that people didn't miss it. And we're really highlighting this new feature. And the last thing is we use things like half sheets to meet the user where they were. So you know, rather than nudge people to go into Edit, profile, and take them all crazy places in the app, we decided to come to the user in discovery and say, hey, just do this thing really quickly. And I think the nice thing about half sheets is that they make something that seems pretty intimidating and feel a lot more light and quick. And so, this half sheet was hugely successful in getting people to add a voice prompt for the first time. And so, I think one of the most exciting things that we realized after launching was that when we looked at those key user pain points, we realized that in many ways, voice prompts were touching on all of them. It was just making it more efficient to understand who someone was. It was giving you more signal. It was helping with responsiveness. And it was also making people feel like maybe that person they weren't immediately tracked, attracted to just based on a photo was now going to be a really fun time because the voice prompt featured their sense of humor, or, you know, how genuine they were for the first time. And I want to double down on this idea of responsiveness. So if you think about the problem of people not chatting, we actually spent a ton of time before really diving into voice prompts in the world of chat. And we knew that people weren't really having conversations. So we tried to really get people to engage by designing things in the chat.

So you know, topics of conversation or, you know, Hey, are you feeling stuck, you can talk about these things. And what we realized is that if we actually started at the top of the funnel, if we started with interesting profiles, then that was actually going to have hopefully an impact on what people were going to talk about in chat. So if you're feeling really excited by someone because of their profile, we hoped you'd be more likely to have that conversation. And so, we were actually writing about this hypothesis. So people who added a voice prompt to their profile were 17% more likely to get to a full conversation. And they also even got more likes from their profile. So I think it's a good lesson that sometimes you get really honed in on the area where the problem is obvious. But starting at the top of the funnel and just focusing on profiles really helped more people have better combos. And those conversations are the things that get people on those dates. And so, you know, as I mentioned at the beginning of the talk, our North Star is we want to get people off the app out in the world meeting. And so, I think the voice was the thing that was engaging enough to really spark people's interest and get them on those dates. And so a key takeaway here is that power, the prompt, that was something that as a brand we fully owned, and it got people to go from that scary about me where no one could describe themselves to being able to better articulate who they were and what they cared about. We also applied a prompt to photos to get people to share more authentic versions of who they were. So how they spend time, what their friend group looks like, moving people away from just a static headshot to something that feels more real. And then, we used prompts and applied them to voice to get people to be more comfortable with something that they weren't comfortable with before.

Again, many people told us I was not comfortable with my voice. I won't do it. But we took this system of prompts that felt very familiar and paired it with something that was unfamiliar. And this really lowered the bar for people and got them to try it for the first time. And so this was a hugely successful feature with us. For us. We're really excited to figure out how to apply the same process and keep pushing dating. But I wanted to tell the story of how we did this for voice because I think it was a really key moment for us breaking into a new frontier. And that's what I have today. So I'd love to connect with you guys through email or Instagram and hear what you have to say. Just grow my design network and friends and meet more people in the community. So I hope this talk was helpful and interesting, and thank you so much for the time.

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