In this series, I’ll be posting a weekly analysis of app designs to see how they shape the context that we make decisions within and how they evoke certain human tendencies. Last week we talked about Tinder, how they create addictive use, and how they encourage snap decisions to increase your quantity of matches. This week I’m looking at a newer dating app, The League, who have a different goal of creating quality matches.
The League aims to create power couples, not hookups, among an exclusive community of pre-approved members. When you download the app, you create an account that gets put on a waitlist for your city to get reviewed. If your application is accepted, then you are shown a small batch of prospects every day at 5:00 PM (“happy hour”) to like or pass on.
On a social app, your user experience is more than just the design. It’s how other users act towards you, and how you act towards them. The League masterfully influences your beliefs about the app, other users, and yourself. They motivate you through the product’s design to do whatever they want, and what they want improves everyone’s dating experience.
What does The League want?
Common UX wisdom says that you shouldn’t tell your users how to use the app, but The League flips that on its head and generally tells you what behaviors they want from you. They want you to have a completed profile, make thoughtful decisions about who you match with, and actually message each other. Additionally, while not explicitly stated, they want to create habitual use as many apps do.
It all starts with setting expectations
In an experiment conducted at MIT, researchers gave participants a blind taste test of two beers, one with a few drops of balsamic vinegar in it and the other without. Telling people about the vinegar only changed which beer they preferred if they told them about it before they tasted the beer.
This tells us that what we expect shapes how we perceive value. If we expect The League to be a curated community of only the most eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, then that shapes the way that we judge other users.
During your account creation process, you’re constantly being told by your personal “concierge,” an employee who’s there to ensure your success on the app and answer your questions, about how awesome and accomplished their user base is. It’s not just the concierge that tells us that The League is awesome. All of the other people on the waitlist do. When we don’t know what to believe or do, we use social proof to get a better idea. This makes it so when you look for matches, you start off on the right foot with them due to your expectations. You’ll be subject to a confirmation bias, focusing more on the information that makes a prospect look good than that which doesn’t.
It’s important to note that they can’t just set expectations to be successful. They also need to live up to them. They do this by carefully curating the user base. Whereas other apps like Tinder and Bumble let you just create an account and get going, The League puts you on a waitlist. They look at your Facebook, LinkedIn, and The League profiles to decide if they want to let you on or not. This lets them target a user base in much the same way that advertisers might target a market.
Through proper expectation setting, they’re able to make membership on their app intensely desirable. Membership doesn’t just give you access to the best of the best dating prospects. It tells you that since you’re one of the few to make it through, you must be pretty darn special too. According to research on Social Comparison Theory, people generally compare themselves to others and strive to be better off than similar people, so acceptance into The League community is a very effective indicator of status. You also get to signal to every other user that sees you on the app that you’re among the cream of the crop. This is image motivation, and it’s why voting goes up when people get badges that say they voted, why people don’t tip until the cashier looks at them, and why your roommate only unloads the dishwasher if you’re around.
With that winning combination of motivations, The League can get you to do just about anything while you’re on the waitlist. Your concierge will tell you that their system “prioritizes users with 6 clear, high-quality photos and those with a fully filled out profile,” so you fill it out. They know that if everyone has their information completed, then everyone can make more thoughtful decisions about who they match with and what to talk to each other about, increasing the chances that you’ll actually talk with your match. They tell you that “every day you check in you’ll move up [on the waitlist] faster than you would if you didn’t check in, as it shows us you’re interested in really finding someone.” They keep you engaged with the app before you’re even allowed to use it! I can’t think of another app that does that.
On top of creating a better user experience for other users, having you complete your profile increases the likelihood that you’ll stick around for the whole waitlist process. This is due to the IKEA Effect. In a series of experiments conducted by Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely, it was shown that people value things that they build more than identical, pre-assembled products. You know how cooking something yourself makes it taste better? Same concept. However, if participants didn’t finish construction, this effect totally dissipated. Getting users to exert themselves and complete a profile early is hard, but if a designer can properly motivate it, the users will value your app much more than otherwise.
Usually, apps try to make their registration as frictionless as possible because any difficulty in that process usually leads to lost users. On the other hand, The League asks you to swim through Jello to get started. The expectations they set of the user base create powerful motivations for their target users to make it through, and it weeds out everyone else.
Designing thoughtful decision-making
Last week when I wrote about Tinder, I explained how they design around snap decisions. They make personal information beyond appearance optional and force you to like or dislike a prospect before you can move onto the next.
Looking at The League, you can see that your decision on whether to match or not match with a user is totally different.
First, notice the information that you’re given about your prospects. You see their first picture, name, age, location, height, about me (if it’s filled out), education, profession, interests, and groups all at once. Their first picture is always in black and white, which makes it less eye-catching and increases your likelihood of checking out their textual information. Tinder, on the other hand, puts the picture on prime display and makes you go to another screen to see biographical information. You’re evaluating different information, and you’re making different decisions as a result.
The League also sets up your choice differently. Every day, you receive a batch of 3–5 potential matches and you can scroll freely through them. If you aren’t sure how you feel about one of your options, you can scroll down and look at the others first and then come back. The League gives you breathing room here, which encourages you to actually think a little about whether or not you like a person.
By displaying more information in the right way and reducing the urgent need to get to your next prospect, The League slows you down and designs for thoughtful decision making.
Creating a habit
Habit creation is about forming a loop through identifying a cue that triggers a routine which is then rewarded appropriately. The League takes a direct approach here.
Every day at 5:00 PM they give you your batch of prospects. They call it “Happy Hour,” which invites you to connect thinking about The League with a happy hour you might go to after work. This creates a cue.
A few minutes later, they send you a notification so you open the app. Despite the fact that you are given a lot more information to consider about your prospects then you are on other dating apps, you only need to decide how you feel about a few people. This doesn’t take you more than a couple minutes, making it a cognitively easy task. Since this is a short routine, people are more likely to do it when the app cues you to do it (5:00 PM), forming a link between the cue and routine.
Occasionally you get a match (reward) while you’re engaging in the routine, connecting these two steps of the habit creation process. Since this reward is given to you on a variable schedule, you don’t get discouraged by not getting a match since you know that you won’t get a reward every time.
If you’re looking to do this for your own app, you should note that creating that sort of habit loop does come with three main conditions. You need to 1.) have repetition in a 2.) stable context with 3.) the right rewards schedule.
I’ve already touched on how The League does repetition with the right rewards schedule. It achieves a stable context by knowing its primary audience: working professionals. At 5:00 PM, 5/7 days per week, most of them are going to be just finishing up their workday. This creates a stable context that ensures that the time and situation become cues for thinking about the app and using it.
Every day at 5:00 PM you get on The League to swipe through your prospects and sometimes you get a match. Cue, routine, reward. Badabing, badaboom, you’ve got a habit.
Messaging your matches
Your dating experience doesn’t end with a match. If it’s going to tun into anything, you’ve got to message each other. The League knows this and sets up motivations accordingly.
The League tells you what they want through your concierge and through the settings. They give you a “League Score” which supposedly rates your likelihood to get shown to other users. You can be an All-Star, Majors, Minors, or Starter League. Factoring into that score are popularity, flakiness, pickiness, initiation rate, ghost rate, flagged rate, blocked rate, and match conversion rate.
There’s probably more contributing to your score than that, but from the components that they’ve stated, a few are within your control. By telling you that all of those things go into your “League Score” and incentivizing you with more and better matches, which they’ve made intensely desirable by setting your expectations, they motivate you to take the actions necessary to optimize each score that you can.
Your flakiness (letting a match expire without talking), initiation rate (how often you make the first move), and ghost rate (how often you stop responding to a match) all have to do with messaging your matches. Encouraging you to improve these scores turn your matches into something meaningful rather than just an ego boost.
Tinder also has a score that it gives each of its users which they similarly use to decide who they show you to and who you are shown. However, this score is entirely internal and they don’t tell you through the design what factors play into it. You would have to do your own research. This means that it’s just being used to describe behavior and attractiveness, whereas The League’s can actually influence you to be a better user.
Points and gamification leading to real rewards is a great way to tell your users what you want and give them a good reason to do it. But be careful. If it’s an extrinsic reward like money or discounts, it can backfire. Make sure that the reward is aligned with their intrinsic motivation. For example, if The League instead offered high score users a discount on paid membership, they might decide that if they aren’t interested in paying, their score doesn’t matter. As it is now, it increases your chances of getting matches as a result of you being a good and desirable user, which is what you already wanted, so it serves to amplify and direct intrinsic motivation.
- User behavior shapes user experience just as much if not more than design, so you should put serious thought into what you want users to do and how you’ll get them to do it.
- Expectations can make or break an app, but you can set them.
- Users will engage in high effort tasks if they’re properly motivated.
- Focus on amplifying intrinsic motivations
Have questions, feedback, or a recommendation for an app or service I should take a look at? Get in touch and let me know.