In less than a few decades, online dating has become an all but essential part of modern life. According to a recent Pew Research study, 31% of U.S. adults have used an online dating website or app. Among these users, 18% are currently active on one or more platforms.
But for something that has grown so quickly, it is far from a perfect creation. For instance, the researchers at Pew report that more people believe online dating has had a negative impact on dating and relationships than a positive one, and people still think relationships that start in person are more likely to succeed than those that start online. Furthermore, close to 50% of Americans view online dating as unsafe.
What can be done to make online dating better? The team at Jigsaw, a U.K.-based dating app company that launched in the U.S. in 2020, believes it has an answer. I recently spoke with Alex Durrant, CEO and co-founder of Jigsaw, about his company’s efforts to improve the online dating experience. Here is a summary of our conversation.
Mark Travers: You recently conducted a survey of 2,000 representative dating app users in the United States to understand why so many people are disillusioned with the current state of online dating. What did you find?
Alex Durrant: Yes, we worked with the survey research company OnePoll to understand people’s frustrations with the way dating apps are currently designed. The results were pretty overwhelming — seven in ten dating app users said they find the experience shallow and superficial, and that there needs to be a better alternative. A killer finding for us was that two-thirds of them were sick of being judged only on looks. And this is right at the heart of how dating apps lead you to behave — see a photo and swipe right for ‘like’ or left for ‘reject’. Pretty dehumanizing!
Despite these shortcomings, the data also show why dating apps have become so popular. For instance, when we asked respondents how dating apps made them feel, the top three answers were “Excited when I have great conversations,” “Gives me a mood boost when I get a match,” and “More confident being online than in real life.” For us, it’s about understanding what dating app users are saying and building the best possible user experience around those needs.
Travers: In what ways has this research helped guide your company’s product and positioning?
Durrant: It’s validated our purpose of saving singles from superficial dating, and developing a dating app for people to put personality first. On Jigsaw, the faces you see are initially covered with a digital jigsaw puzzle. This might sound a bit counterintuitive, but it means people pay more attention to what you’ve written about yourself. If you like the sound of someone, and it’s mutual, it’s a match. Swapping messages with matches makes the jigsaw pieces fall away to reveal the face underneath.
We’re not saying looks don’t matter — just that they’re only part of the picture. Character and conversation are hugely important in dating and relationships, so the way Jigsaw works is to help you get to know the person behind the photo.
Travers: What new developments and trends do you expect to see in the online dating space over the next few years?
Durrant: Dating apps have continued to thrive during the pandemic, and growth in online dating is predicted to rise by more than 40 percent from 2020 t0 2024. We’ve seen an acceleration of innovation over the last year to accommodate restrictions on dating in real life; the use of in-app video dating has boomed, and we think a video call between text messaging and meeting up will become the norm.
We think the shift from ‘hot-or-not’ swiping to more personality-focused dating apps will continue to the point where personality-led apps become mainstream.
And as the market matures, we expect to see further fragmentation and experimentation; the parallel we think of here is how buying a coffee developed from giving you simple choices around milk and sugar to a whole cornucopia of variations. Strong brands will be important as we move from mass-market, “one-size-fits-all” dating apps to premium products for the more discerning. Those brands who really understand who their customers are and clearly communicate what they stand for and what they offer will be the winners.
Dating apps for particular demographics will continue to proliferate, and some of their markets will be huge — as we’ve seen with apps specifically for the Muslim and Jewish communities, for example. Others may be super-specialist, niche, or just a bit of fun — we’ve seen everything from dating apps for the bearded or bald to apps for clowns, witches, and sea captains. All human life is there and there really is something for everyone! Those that stay the course will be the apps that understand their market and continue to innovate to keep the product fresh and attract new people.
Travers: Are there other areas of scientific research that you have looked to for inspiration as you have been designing your app?
Durrant: We’re continuing to learn about, and are fascinated with, human behavior and the psychology and social factors that drive it. We’ve recently come across an insightful piece of research by a team of psychologists in the United States that found that people’s reason for swiping right is based primarily on attractiveness and the race of a potential partner, and that decisions are often made in less than a second. We know from our own research that swiping on looks doesn’t lead to success; four in ten people have matched with someone they have nothing in common with and nearly a third are disappointed with the conversations on dating apps.
Ask people in happy relationships what the magic ingredients are and you can be sure they won’t say their partner’s looks come top — it’s almost always personality elements they talk about first.
Travers: Last question, what’s the highest number of dating apps you have had installed on your phone at one time?
Durrant: We know that the average American dating app user has between three and five apps on their phone at any one time. I’m in a long-term relationship so all those I have are strictly for work purposes and competitor research only!
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