It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since Tinder launched, and “swipe right/left” entered our dating vernacular. While the app has been criticized for normalizing a superficial, quantity over quality dating standard, the simplicity of its swipe-driven interface has been duplicated by countless other dating apps, and it still ranks highest in popularity, with 75 million monthly active users and 6.2 million monthly subscribers.
But with Gen Z shifting user demographics, there’s a new UI trend that’s focusing less on swiping, and more on experimenting with new modes for connection, like removing profile photos as the first point of interaction between potential matches.
This “love is blind” concept centers around finding a romantic connection that’s not based on looks—much like the Netflix show—and is the foundation for a slew of apps that have launched over the past several years. Jigsaw and S’more, for instance, both gradually reveal profile photos after users chat with one another. Other personality-first apps, like Schmooze, match people based on memes a compared to photos, while NUiT and So Synced find compatible matches through astrological charts and the Myers Briggs Personality test, respectively. Lex, a text-centered social app for queer women and non-binary people implements a lo-fi interface consisting of short and sweet (and often funny) personal ads which highlight the authenticity of its users without relying on profile pictures or extensive bios and personality questionnaires (we’re looking at you OkCupid).
Images 1-2 courtesy Jigsaw. Image 3 courtesy Blindlee.
Since the swipe method has dominated the dating landscape for so long, it’s only within the last few years that there’s been an increase in new approaches to matching. Blindlee forgoes swiping in favor of a three minute video call that blurs both users' faces until they mutually decide to reveal themselves and chat further. Like dating app heavyweight Bumble, Blindlee puts women in control of the conversation—this time by allowing women to adjust the amount of blur filter during the call as an added measure of safety. Co-founder and CEO Sacha Nasan says, “a simple right swipe can lead to a match, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to a meaningful conversation.”
Blindlee launched in 2019 and currently has 53,000 registered users, so the pool of potential matches is still small compared to Tinder, Badoo, or Hinge, owned by dating app giant Match Group, and whose global average monthly downloads range from about 600,000 to 5.8 million. In an article with Tech Crunch, Nasan explained that focusing on blind dating makes them more niche and is, “‘definitely a new, untried concept to the dating world,’ he argues. ‘However the good thing about dating apps is that they are not substitutes but complements.’”
One thing all dating apps have in common is their reliance on algorithms to match users based on their preferences. Iris leverages the AI angle, using a feature it calls “AttractionDNA”, which applies machine learning to pre-select matches you might find attractive based on datasets of stock photos. When asked about the viability of blind dating UI, interface designer and former Tinder employee Freddie Iboy says, “while it might be that users are getting tired of swiping, I'm not sure that the appeal of looking at somebody and deciding yes or no will ever go away. It's too powerful. It's such a simple mechanic.”
Iboy, who worked at Tinder between 2016 and 2018, explains that the app became so successful because swiping shortened the amount of time between someone's desire to talk to another person and taking action by eliminating lengthy compatibility tests found on earlier dating platforms. “If you remove friction from a process, it just explodes exponentially,” Iboy says.
However, the same UI patterns that make an app popular can start to feel stale after a while; even less relevant. And Tinder is definitely aware of the sea change. For the past year it’s been experimenting with different interactive games and prompts in its Explore tab that cater to a Gen Z age group, including the new “Blind Date” feature, which, according to a recent company press release, “gives the daters of today a low-pressure way to put their personality first and find a match they truly vibe with.” The experience taps into the current ‘90s nostalgia trend and aims to capture the feeling of dating in a pre-smartphone world, or at least the feeling of anonymously entering a chat room on AOL in 1999.
Iboy says whether or not a conversation begins with a blurred video or hidden profile photo, “every dating app just boils down to talking to another person. You’re just there to flirt.” He’s curious to see how technology continues to shape the concept of flirting as AR and VR become more integrated into daily life. Traditional face-to-face interaction has already changed, with Zoom dates serving as virtual alternatives to IRL dates, and avatar-based dating platforms like Nevermet being designed for the Metaverse, so the future of dating could mean that everything from meet cute to meetup will exist as in-app experience.