Romance and Innovation
Published on November 25th, 2014
When a couple of RKS team members downloaded the casual dating app, Tinder, the topic of online dating and the digital search for love spread through the office like wildfire. With such enthusiasm and debate over topics such as legitimacy or efficacy, our team began questioning the current values around love and relationships. According to a recent survey by Statistic Brain, out of the 54 million singles living in the US, a staggering 75% of them have tried online dating at some point, which left us wondering how design thinking could impact something as complex and intimate as our love lives.
Through in-depth interviews of our office’s very own pool of experienced “online daters” and “rigorous” field research (*cough* dates) a few RKS strategists began to uncover various challenges that online daters face today. These observations and insights were further brainstormed, revealing three dominant themes across the field of online dating in which design thinking could further engage and impact the lives of “online daters”.
From behind the screen to "IRL"
The first theme that emerged was the challenge of self-doubt when communicating with potential matches both online and in person. The online dating platform provides ample occasions in which validation can quickly become quite addictive for users. By simply receiving a “swipe” or a “wink”, an indication that another dater is interested in your profile, users can obtain an instant confidence booster, internalizing one’s attractiveness to potential suitors. While this is initially encouraging, it doesn’t provide a long-lasting confidence for users and moving beyond this initial point of contact can be quite challenging. “It was hard to start conversations, to keep the conversation going after the initial introduction [online],” said one respondent who tried Match.com. Online it’s much easier to project an attractive persona, with the ability to add that perfect filter to your profile picture, however when users try to take the conversation out of the digital realm into the real world, they don’t have their computer screen as a security blanket anymore. During a focus group discussion, one respondent expressed that he had missed out on important learnings about dating after having been in a serious relationship for several years. Being out of the dating world for a long period of time provides a unique look into the awkwardness that some may feel when they attempt to get back into the dating game.
It would take more than a superficial confidence boost to give these online daters the tools needed to take an introduction to the next level. Current online platforms provide no support for their users that are thrown into the real world without being able to fend for oneself. So, what if daters were better equipped to transition from the digital world into the physical world? A dating toolkit could guide users in taking initial online conversations to the next level, by providing ice breakers, tips and relationship know-how from experts and peers in successful relationships. These toolkits would be versatile to apply to different personality types, and allow daters to retain their authenticity rather than trying to become someone else just for the sake of initially appealing to matches. Topics such as “how to keep the conversation going”, “ideas for first dates” and “avoiding those awkward silences” could be covered to ease the anxiety daters experience when first getting to know each other.
A Balancing Act
The world is changing at an incredibly fast-pace. Globalization, sprawl, technological advancements and economic uncertainty are just a few factors that have impacted the way we work, socialize and, yes, even manage our search for love. According to the American Center for Progress, people are working approximately 11 more hours per week now than they did in the 1970’s. Additionally, young people coming out of school are increasingly burdened by tens of thousands of dollars of student debt. This has allowed online dating to become the perfect solution for our busy lifestyles. As one respondent explained, “I could be home or studying and also be getting to know someone at the same time. It’s less of an investment in time than regular dating.” Another expressed the complication in spending too much time and money during the dating process, “Right now I need to build a career and get financial security; I want to be the best person I can [once I’m in a relationship].” Despite this pragmatism, respondents still expressed a strong desire for long-term partnerships and marriage even though they had little to no time to meet people outside of work.
What if we were able to bridge our isolated work lives with a larger community in order to increase opportunities for serendipitous meetings? The boom of co-working spaces provides an excellent platform for bringing like-minded people together in a non-threatening and casual way. These spaces created for motivated individuals to come together and share ideas and spaces, provide the perfect setting for both working and socializing that may indeed lead to a romantic collision. Joining together online dating worlds and casual work spaces would take people out of the digital realm into a space that allows the time to create a human connection, without compromising our professional obligations.
What People Say They Want (And What They Really Want)
Some dating sites, like eHarmony.com, foster self-reflection by encouraging users to answer a multitude of questions about themselves and what they are searching for in a partner. Through our interviews with online daters, some really appreciated these features as it forced them to get to know themselves better and even clarify the qualities that they are searching for, beyond appearances. “They [online dating websites] provide filtering and only send your compatible matches. You realize there are a lot of guys with the qualities you want, and you become ultra-selective,” explained one respondent. Filtering and intense algorithms provided by websites turns the selection process into more of a rational decision rather than an emotional reaction as experienced when first meeting in person. Although, we may think that being guided by reason on these important matters would provide us with a more successful way to find a partner, the fact still remains that love is elusive. Even though someone may look great on paper, our instincts when face-to-face can tell us otherwise.
Too many times we heard from our respondents that things didn’t work out because that “feeling” was missing. Being too rational and “picky” can possibly filter out someone we might be really compatible with. What we think we want can often be very different than what we really want or need. So how can we prevent online daters from making intellectual decisions on a matter than is truly an emotional one? Match.com recently introduced a new service, providing group meet-ups to gather with matches in-person. So, What if online dating services also provided “non-matches” in these meet-ups? Providing opportunities to meet people that may only share a few interests could place the user’s decision back on the emotional plane. Daters with only a few shared interests could learn about the qualities they are looking for on an intellectual level but also be guided by their “gut” reactions on matters of love, similar to those who meeting completely offline.
After our initial research was done, our team learned quickly how complicated love can be.
We know that we can’t design a human interaction, however, strategic interaction can greatly impact behaviors and values that provide the necessary conditions for romance and relationships. Ultimately, the success of relationships is left in the hands of daters themselves. So good luck lovebirds!