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What does the future of dating need according to Tinder? Good design

October 5, 2021, 1:44 PM UTC

Historically, the user mechanics on nine-year-old dating app Tinder were pretty simple: swipe right if you’re interested, left if you’re not. The concept has earned its own place in American vernacular and served as a generational marker for nearly all millennials in the dating world. Now, the company has leveraged its innovation arm, Z Labs, a collaborative effort between designers, engineers and product specialists, to create a more nuanced and immersive experience for its users.

The company’s newest feature, Explore—which allows users to categorize profile piles and connect based on interests, or Passions—was released in English-speaking countries September 8 and will roll out globally mid-October. Explore also houses Swipe Night, a sort of choose-your-own adventure feature first released in 2019; Vibes, Tinder’s own compatibility test; and Hot Takes, a question game to help people further narrow down potential matches. Video bios also fall under the app’s newest adds and gives Tinder a sort of TikTok bent. 

With these changes, Tinder is leaning further into its design capabilities and pushing the company’s mission on what it really means to design an app. The work the Z Team is doing at Z Labs (in incredibly close collaboration with a collection of 100 Tinder users they lean on for input, feedback, and gut checks on using the app) has landed at the heart of that question, aiming to build dialogue and ultimately create more immersive, full experiences for Tinder users. I caught up with two Z Team members, Kyle Miller, VP of Product at Tinder, and Stephanie Liang, Senior Product Designer at Tinder who leads design on the Z Team, to garner some lessons gleaned from an innovative corner of Gen Z’s life on social media.

Fortune: Tell me about the Z Team. How long has it been in place at Tinder?

Kyle Miller: We started about three years ago. It crosses a lot of different disciplines. I’m the product lead, Steph is the design lead and we have an engineer lead. We saw this emerging market in Tinder and wanted a team that could move quickly and adapt to the changes Gen Z was bringing to the dating market. We knew we had to move in a way that was nontraditional.

What changes? 

KM: Tinder comes in and out of people’s lives at different times. Maybe they are coming out of a breakup and that mindset is different versus being single for a year or two. We have to accommodate for all of these different intents: Someone who is really looking for a significant other right now and someone who just wants to hang out. There are so many reasons people come to Tinder, but they change with every second they are on Tinder. It’s not this static thing.

What’s nontraditional about your approach to that?

KM: The focus group model already existed. You see those people once; those people are strangers and it takes weeks. We needed faster touch points, but also closer-knit relationships over time. We were craving those insights that you can’t read on a PowerPoint. We needed to be there with them to understand the full picture. We began talking to our Gen Z members on a weekly basis. I’ve seen people go through breakups and get into relationships. Seeing it over a year or two, you learn a lot more than a 30-minute interaction. That model wasn’t out there. 

What kind of feedback did you get and how did it play into your design work? 

Stephanie Liang: It’s all about solving a problem. Having empathy for the user is the core of this work. The main feedback we got in Z Labs was that the users wanted us to create a space that didn’t feel overwhelming or high pressure. We paired it down and made the whole experience simpler. This was a big change for our platform and it gave us a handful of piles to start out with, to not overwhelm users. 

How often do you get input from your Gen Z users?

KM: Generally, on a weekly basis through Zoom calls or on Slack. These meetings or slacks can happen even more frequently if we’re in the midst of planning.

Wow. That’s pretty steady. What’s the process for managing that? 

KM: One example is the pandemic. When it hit, they were my first Zoom call. I was able to ask what is happening and get the story on the ground from our users. We needed to be grounded in reality. 

As you’ve gone through this process have you found it aligns with Tinder’s long time design approach or taken it in a new direction?

SL: Simple, fun and useful is always what we strive for. 

Is “simple” actually simple to design for?

KM: Tinder created the Swipe, which revolutionized online dating. At launch, the design was focused on simplicity, so people can jump into dating without spending hours building a profile. The design of Tinder has evolved to keep this core truth, but make it fun and easy to share more sides of yourself in engaging ways. Z Labs has been a great way to verify that we are bringing that brand promise to life. 

Can you think of an example? 

KM: An example: We simplified Explore to only have a handful of topics to start, about a dozen. Initially there were 20 plus and Z Labs shared that it felt overwhelming. The complexity comes from a desire to tailor Explore to specific experiences or times of day that will allow the product to feel simple, but still fun and useful for our members. Iteration is a big part of the design process, so we can create builds that we know will be the most meaningful to our members over time.

What were the main challenges in taking each iteration of Swipe Night to a new level? How has Z Labs informed its growth? 

SL: We wanted to make it feel very real, but how do you do that from a mobile phone? A lot of the feedback we got was to make it feel like it took you into this virtual world, so we added a lot of haptic touch. We also simulated push notifications from characters in the story, so it would seem like they were texting you. We added the choices you made during Swipe Night to your profile so it would speak to the type of person you are. It was all of these little design decisions that brought the last Swipe Night to the next level.

KM: I think what we learned most from Z Labs is that it felt like you as a member were part of the story. Swipe Night is a first-person point of view interactive experience. These are your friends and you have control. You have to make hard choices and you’re trying to find new sides of yourself. Z Labs’ role in that was really helping us fine tune the skill – you could be in the story and the story could be inclusive of cultural nuances. You can’t get that from other formats. 

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve taken as a team? What have you learned about your jobs that you didn’t know before you started this innovative lab set up?

KM: Building impactful products can get complicated, but Z Labs is a good reminder that listening to our members’ problems and coming up with the best way to solve them is the core of our work. Often, people approach Gen Z like they are drastically different from other generations before them. But relationships are a fundamental part of the human experience. They may be coming from a slightly different perspective, but in Gen Z we find more similarities than differences in what they need to spark new connections.


Nicole Gull McElroy

nicolegull@gmail.com

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MIT’s new innovation space

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Leveling up the C-suite

Global PR firm Edelman this month named Taj Reid the company’s Chief Experience Officer. Reid joined the company in 2019 and worked as executive design director as well as executive creative director there. In his newly created role, Reid will lead a team that sits at the confluence of code and content blending technology, design, and storytelling at the firm. He’s previously held design posts at Slalom and Microsoft. Edelman is one of the world’s largest PR firms in the world (by revenue) and has recently announced the formation of a B2B Innovation Hub and Edelman Studios to accelerate growth and fuel ideas. 

THE MUSE

Courtesy of Tinder

"Aura photography has really inspired my use of color especially when trying to create a specific mood. Color can be as powerful as language, and when used properly we can encourage intuitive interactions while communicating a desired emotion in our digital experiences." - Stephanie Liang, Senior Product Designer, Tinder.

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