Rethinking the future of Dating

The Problem
Often, scrolling dating apps make you feel awful. Beside their focus on physical traits, even when people match, the pressure to be witty and constant back and forth can be extremely exhausting.


For a class project, we were urged to think about transportation and the future. We could look anywhere -

Probable futures (likely to happen based on current trends),

Plausible futures (could happen based on current knowledge) or

Possible futures (might happen based on future knowledge).
A version of the Futures Cone
We imagined a future where pollution was much worse than today. This led to dramatic regulations in cities. To curb carbon emissions, city rezoning was to be mandated.

One of the criteria is the types of transportation allowed at different locations.
The vision of a new world
To start, preference will be given to pedestrian-only zones, which will lead to city centers efficiently utilizing Autonomous Vehicles (AVs).  

Outside the city, people can still use personal Electric Vehicles (EVs) if they choose to. Given this context, we wanted to look at how something which is already broken today, can be improved. Namely, dating.

Because when you go on a date in the future, neither of you are going to be driving!

Dating Apps, Today

Online dating is extremely hard. In fact, even before I list out the reasons why, I’m sure you know exactly what I'm talking about. That’s how universally bad the experience is.
A newspaper article talking about why dating apps make you feel awfulA newspaper article talking about why dating apps are no way to find true love
A lot has been written on this too
The existing apps all set out to achieve an extremely noble goal. But over time, as our culture evolved, so did our relationship with dating apps.

The pressure to look a ‘certain way’ or package yourself into a short perfect bio eventually gets to everyone. Even for those who find matches frequently, scheduling dates is a hassle (i.e. if you don't lose interest or get ghosted along the way).

Dating Apps, Tomorrow

As more and more people move out of the cities and countries they grew up in and study/work across the world, there will be lesser avenues for them to meet new people spontaneously.

The problems which exist today will only get worse, leading to an increasing number of people disillusioned with dating and dating apps.

We wanted to cater to this emerging market of people. For starters, we asked ourselves if it was possible to create a platform which didn't center around physical appearances. It may sound radical, but it really is just a call back to the way things used to be when blind dates existed.

But before we get into what that is, we realized we wanted to understand what makes a good first date.

Ingredients of a Good Date

We went around and interviewed people about what they thought a good date entailed. Given the nature of the topic, I chose to go ahead with informal interviews so the participants could steer the conversation wherever comfortable to them.
Here's the link to the research document if you're into that!
Our questions covered everything from planning the date, during the date, when the date is about to end, and after the date.

We found a lot of interesting things — including people’s preferences, likes and dislikes when it comes to dating.
We went through all the snippets of data we collected by interviewing others, found common themes, and came up with the following insights.
  • Regardless of what the date entails, a good conversation is key to having a good experience.
  • Conversation topics should be complimentary and aligned with personal interests.
Non - Conversational
  • People like to do activities if they're indoors and not dining such as board games, live music and more.
  • Ambient noises help fill up empty spaces in conversations.
Focus and Attention
  • During the date, none of the plans should compete with anyone’s focus on the other person.
  • Conversation and energy levels may vary over time, but focus should remain more or less consistent.
Post-Date Experience
  • The time from the 'end of date' to getting home is also special.
  • After your date has got off, the journey back home can be either a space of reflection or planning.
Based on these insights we came up with design principles for the experience we were envisioning —
The experience should be personalized, customizable and flexible
The system should support human-human connection, but not initiate it
The solution should go beyond just an in-app or in-car experience
The solution should put humans first, and the system second

Exploring Possibilities

For dates involving driving in some form, a considerable amount of time is spent in transit.

When you take the driver out of the equation, as is the case of AVs, that's a lot of just... sitting around? To account for all the additional time, we created a journey map to brainstorm design interventions.

We start with a simple use case, where a person uses an app to match with someone. We then map their experience till the end — when they’re both driven around by an AV on the day of the date.

Since this was conceptual, we did not hold ourselves back from thinking as blue sky as we could. The priority was to make the end-to-end experience as enjoyable as possible

In exploring the possibilities through the journey map, along with the app experience — we thought about lighting, ambience, sound, haptics and much more.
Here's the link to the whole journey map if you're interested!
After undertaking this, it became clear to me that taking a service design approach would result in the best experience.

Instead of designing just an app or a special AV, it would be a service which would work across channels. Moment would play the role of dating as a service — with an app as well as a fleet of AVs — working together to create an unforgettable first date.

Moment matches people based on their interests, and builds a date around their common interests. This way, even if they're not a good match, at least everyone involved will have had a nice time.
“It should be activities I like doing alone. If the date goes bad, at least I’m gonna have a good time.” - Participant 1

Designing the App

After forming a good idea of what one of many possible ideal date experiences would look like and how the entire system would work, it was time to design.

I started by specifying the app which people would use to match with each other in the first place. I kept the app architecture simple and flat.

Once they've signed up, the home page will be he only screen they need (to swiping on cards). From there, they'll always be able to navigate to their profile or filters, to change the kind of people they see.
Information architecture of the app
I then mapped out the complex pathways of a user navigating the app at different stages. This essentially came down to three user flows — Setting up their profile, Before they match with anyone and After they match with someone.
Here's the link to all the Flows, in a FigJam document.
To match you with people based on your interests, Moment first needs to get to know you better.
Once Moment has more information on what your interests are, you’re then presented with cards you can swipe left or right.

Instead of the headshot, we show how much of an overlap you have at a glance.
When you do match with someone, Moment eliminates all the frustrating back and forth.

Syncing your calendar helps the app find a time which works for both people (user is also prompted for permission during onboarding)

Prioritizing Safety

Finally you’re ready to go on your date, everything is going according to plan so far. But like all things in life, it’s always better to be prepared.

Safety is one of the biggest concerns when meeting someone new for the first time. It was very important for us to make sure we accounted for all possibilities which might arise.
The various flows which we accounted for
Implementing a solution was quite challenging. If the date isn't going ideal, it means that one of the two people in the car — intentionally or not — makes the other want to remove themselves from the situation.
Case 1: I don't like them
It not handled correctly, this might lead to negative feelings for both people involved. One might feel guilty about leaving and the other might feel hurt.
Case 2: I'm feeling unsafe
It not handled correctly, this might lead to an escalation of an already unsafe environment. The lack of anyone in the driver seat makes it worse.
Given the important of the topic, I spent a lot time trying to find a solution which seemed feasible. I stress tested multiple ideas across all kinds of scenarios and edge cases.

As I found myself close to giving up, inspiration struck from an old article I had once read.
The various flows which we accounted for
Each person can also set code words which trigger a different set of actions based on the severity.
For Case 1, the trip is remote accessed by a safety officer and the AV is redirected to the nearest intersection.

For Case 2, the in-car camera and microphone will be silently triggered and the situation will be monitored while a safety officer arrives.
The consent for the same is taken in a safety undertaking (required for any match you have to be confirmed). While this seems like just a "checklist", what it really does is reassure users about their options and dissuade bad actors.
We decided that to match you with people based on your interests, Moment first needs to get to know you better.

Designing the in-car experience

To provide an immersive experience, we imagined the interior of the car to be covered with 360° transparent displays. These can either transform the environment or passively display content (photos from either person's social media, images of their .

Going back to our design principles, we were big on making sure that our system supports conversations instead of initiating it.

One of the ways we achieved that was by having content floating around while in the car. So if the conversation grows stale, and something catches anyone’s eye, they might use it to initiate conversation.
A representation of the interior sketched by the amazing Aspen
The display can also change the lighting to make a suitable ambience inside the car. Along with these static possibilities, we also wanted to use the display to dynamically afford richer conversations.

We considering the situations where you might need visual aid mid-conversation and reach for your phone (eg. to show your date your hair in baby pictures)

The final interaction we settled on — putting a phone into the recess of the armrest — was chosen to minimize friction. This allows Moment to access your photos and show the relevant image on command. No more rummaging through your gallery.
A representation of the interaction sketched by the amazing Aspen
This also acts provides an opportunity for monetization by allowing businesses to advertise. Sponsored posts are presented with other images, with a subtle signifier of a purple border to differentiate.

Prototyping the Concept

Given the speculative nature of this project, I relied heavily on using video prototyping as a tool to convey the story of Moment.

The idea was to communicate the various possibilities that the system could unlock for a date. I went back to our journey map and cherry picked the use cases which best demonstrated that. After that, I wrote a script, storyboarded, animated and edited the video.

I approached the video like an advertisement for a dating service, in the future. The priorities were to make it engaging (have a hook in the first 30s) and high quality.

Learnings and Takeaways

I'm happy that I was able to get over my reluctance of working on speculative design projects and see the value in them! I also learnt that I still had a long way to go in terms of pacing myself.
Focus on world building first
  • I've always had trouble with speculative design projects. In the past, it always felt like I was designing for edge cases that people in first-world countries would face. It felt extremely fictional.
  • However, I was able to turn that around with this project. After a conversation with Shruti (my friend who's an amazing designer and futurist) I was able to look at the process from a different lens.
  • Seemingly irrelevant details beyond your area of focus, can actually play a big role. In this project, world building played a crucial role.
Set realistic deadlines
  • As the only person working on the video, I had a vision I wanted to execute. We were working on the screens (which I was also heavily involved in) 2 days before our final presentation.
  • Needless to say, I was creatively spent the next day and was unable to render the video as I'd have liked to. When I wasn't able to, I felt terrible about letting my team down.
  • Since then I've continuously pushed myself to set more accurate deadlines in every project I work on.
Want to talk about dating apps, self-driving cars & more? Say hi!
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