The number of dating apps and online dating candidates have flourished over the past decade.
Facebook Dating, Bumble, Tinder, Grindr, and so many more are calling for your attention as they try to monopolize the dating industry.
According to Pew Research, 48% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have used a dating site or app.
I’m 25, and that’s practically half of the people I know around my age!
I’m guilty of using some of these apps myself, which is why I was wondering…what makes these apps so addictive?
Why can I scroll, read, swipe, message, laugh, cry, and talk with my potential significant other(s) for hours on end on these apps?
As a UX designer, I had no choice but to explore this question in more detail.
1. The Gamification of Love
Tinder was one of the earliest dating apps to take the native swiping affordance of smartphones and use it to its advantage.
Swipe right if you like them, swipe left if you don’t…how hard can it be?
Dating apps make meeting that special person as easy as a swipe.
You’re in control of your destiny, and that destiny tells you the person you’re going to spend your life with is right behind the picture you’re looking at.
Wait no, behind that one.
Every game you play on your phone has a level of addictiveness to it. While the reasons for this can vary, the general reasoning for this is because you’re promised a reward by playing the game.
This could be money, coins, points, or even just the sheer challenge of the game.
But when your reward is the love of your life, you feel like it deserves your time and effort, right?
The dating app is your game, and the goal of the game is to find your lifelong mate.
And it’s an easy game to play.
Casinos cash in on your dopamine hits by creating simple games for you to play.
You just pull the lever and you’ll win that $10,000,000.
You can play for hours, even days, spending all your money, and still want to play more because you just…want..that…reward.
That’s why gambling is over a $375 billion dollar market worldwide.
Dating apps have adopted this strategy of easy-peasy dopamine hits with easy swipes to create their own kingdom.
The online dating services market is expected to reach a little over $9 trillion worldwide in 2025.
Happiness is just a swipe away, right?
2. So Many Choices of Dates…Oh My!
When you walk into a casino, do you see one slot machine? No.
You see a long line of flashing machines whirling with sounds and lights just tempting you to engage.
The idea is similar when you go to Kroger.
You go to the cereal aisle and you see a long list of colorful boxes for you to choose from.
Well, replace those slot machines and cereal boxes with profile pictures and you have yourself a dating app.
As humans, we love to have choices. Having many choices may stress us out and keep us paralyzed trying to make the very best choice possible, but we can’t help wanting more choices.
That’s what you call the choice overload effect.
A big temptation to opening that dating app is the fact that there are so many people out there looking for a connection just like you.
It seems like every time you check, there’s a new opportunity to find someone.
Did you strike out yesterday? Well, here’s another chance today with that new person in your area.
It’s this abundance of choice that lets you have that dopamine kick over and over again as you swipe left or right.
There’s a certain feeling of power being able to control your “options” like this, which we’ll go over in the next section.
3. Shopping for Your Barbie or Ken Doll
Hmmm…do I want them tall? Muscular? Thin? Short? Blue-eyed? Accomplished?
You can pick and choose your date on dating apps like you can choose a Barbie or Ken doll.
The ability to filter by preferences is a common feature among dating apps.
Want them to be living near you? Done.
Want them to live far away from you? Done.
You can filter the choices to such a specific degree that you’d have to be Barbie or Ken to fit the exact “model” you’re looking for.
Having this “shopping” power makes the user feel powerful.
It’s a power over other people’s lives you don’t normally have.
And since it’s behind a screen, you feel almost detached from the process and you forget they’re real people. Just build your Sim and date it.
Not All Unicorns and Rainbows
According to Pew Research, four-in-ten online daters reported having at least a somewhat negative experience with these platforms.
Considering that, statistically, half of my friends are using these apps, that’s a really large number of people.
How would you feel if the app you were working on had around 40% of unhappy users?
What would you do differently if you were designing a dating app?