THE BLIND DATE

The blind date identifies the strong disconnect between popular dating apps and accessibility, especially for blind users. An evidence-based, universal design solution is provided to ensure blind people have equal access to the large dating pool.

ROLE

Design - Concept sketches, wireframing, hi-fi voice prototype, usability testing.
Research - Participant outreach, semi-structured interviews, affinity mapping, competitive analysis, expert evaluation.

DURATION

15 weeks
Aug 2021
Dec 2021

TOOLS

Adobe XD
Figma
Notion
Qualtrics

TEAM

Boya Ren
Greg Parker
Srijan Jhanwar
Jessie Chiu

OVERVIEW

THE PROBLEM

Most popular dating apps are inherently visual based. They rely heavily on visual data which creates a barrier to access for blind people.

Using voice over or screen reader with these applications leads to confusing interactions for blind users as they're not really designed or developed keeping accessibility in mind. The challenge for this project is to come with with a universal design concept that works for both blind and sighted users.

complain comments by reddit, facebook and youtube users

THE SOLUTION

Identify the key pain points and expectations of blind users and provide an equivalent user experience for both blind and sighted people.

We conducted secondary research and reached out to the blind users of dating apps by 'sliding into the DMs'. After gathering permissions and approvals, we gathered data by using several research methods to inform our universal design recommendations for dating apps.

CONCEPT 1

Inclusive account verification system to provide more protection

In recent years, most popular apps have rolled out the account photo verification feature. The absence of any textual description of the gesture, blind users cannot complete this step. This concept provides an improved photo verification experience and allows for audio verification for users with special needs.

Gif showing inclusive account verification process
Gif showing audio recordings feature interaction

CONCEPT 2

Personalizing profiles with voice recordings for photos and prompts

Most dating apps are hyper-visual, relying on photos to convey a person's personality, interests, and lifestyle, which greatly excludes the blind community. This concept introduces voice recordings to add stories to profile pictures or add voice responses to fun prompts.

CONCEPT 3

Recommending top 10 photos for your dating profile

To mitigate the dependency and ambiguity of accepting recommendations from sighted individuals, we incorporated a recommender engine that would build on the existing face recognition technology in photo albums. Users can share these top 10 pictures with family and friends to narrow down on choices.

Gif showing Photo recommendation feature interaction
PROCESS

PROJECT TIMELINE

This project was a part of a semester long research methods course. As a result, the proposed design concepts are grounded in user research. As sighted individuals, we were cognizant of our limited perspective and hence we conducted research using several methods to inform our final design solutions. I took the lead in secondary research, user outreach, semi-structured interviews, visual design, researching and developing voiceover interactions for the proposed design concepts.

project timeline diagram
RESEARCH

WHAT RESEARCH METHODS DID WE USE AND WHY?

We divided the research work into three phases. First was secondary research where we analyzed the top dating apps from the viewfinder of accessibility and usability. Second was user research where we conducted user interviews, cognitive walkthrough and mapped our findings using the affinity mapping model to inform design concepts, and third phase was testing the sketched concepts, wireframes and hi-fi voice prototypes with accessibility experts and blind users.

survey icon
We used an accessible survey to reach out to a larger sample of our target audience. We kept the surveys anonymous so that blind users would feel comfortable sharing their private thoughts.
competitive analysis icon
We audited most popular dating apps using the voiceover feature to hear what a blind person hears when using these apps. This helped us inform our design and understand the best practices.
user interview icon
We conducted semi structured interviews because they allowed us for in depth discussion when possible with follow up questions and allowed our participants to feel heard and considered.
affinity mapping icon
We recorded all the comments from interview participants and mapped them based on their affinity to each other to understand and observe common patterns and key issues in current dating app usability.
remote observation icon
We remotely observed how a blind person currently navigates through dating apps and other social media apps to better understand their specific frustration and needs in regards to technical considerations.
cognitive walkthrough icon
We conducted cognitive walkthrough sessions with accessibility experts and blind users to inform our design iterations and make sure our design functions exactly how we expected it to.

COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

Apps like Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid do not work well with screen-readers because their buttons are not labeled correctly, and the hyper-visual nature of these apps does not inform a blind person whatever they'd like to know about their potential match. We analyzed these apps to get a better understanding of accessibility issues.

Inaccurate voiceover labelling

The current dating apps are not developed with conventional voiceover or screen-reader labelling methods. The following image presents what the apps would read when an element is tapped on. This inconsistent interaction is confusing for blind people and they often need physical assistance from their sighted friends/family to be able to use these apps.

accessibility analysis for bumble app
accessibility analysis for okcupid app
accessibility analysis for tinder app

SURVEY AND USER INTERVIEWS

We conducted interviews with blind users of dating apps and accessibility experts to gain insight into the scope of the challenges blind users face on online dating platforms, as well as gather information on consideration, resources, and guidelines to look into when designing for the blind community. Our script with questions and rationales helped us stay on track.

screenshot of zoom call when conducting interviews
Zoom, the real winner of the pandemic.

What’s your go-to dating app and social media apps? Why?

A primer question to break into the interview process, asking this question gives us an opportunity to probe further regarding why an app is their go-to and why.

What are your criteria when swiping left or right on a person?

To understand what blind users are seeking when using a dating app, this helped understand user behavior, interactions and user expectations.

Do you require assistance from friends or family in using this app?

Initial research showed that popular dating app navigation requires heavy assistance from a sighted person. This question helped us get a blind user’s perspective on this.

What are your thoughts on disclosing blindness on your profile?

The aim is to identify concerns blind users in particular might have about being on dating platforms geared toward the general dating pool and how we can accommodate them.

AFFINITY MAPPING

We synthesized all the data gathered from our surveys and interviews and organized them based on their affinities, to find patterns and common themes. We used our top findings to inform design decisions and derive design implications from.

Blind users care about what their potential matches sound like.

Interviews showed blind person are indifferent to what the person looks like on these apps. They’d like to hear their voice and know more about them in their own voice.

Poor labelling of alt-text buttons makes it impossible to navigate.

Initial research showed that popular dating app navigation requires heavy assistance from a sighted person. This question helped us get a blind user’s perspective on this.

Reliance on sighted individuals robs them of their privacy in their dating life.

Some users mentioned they’d like to keep their dating life private but are unable to do so because they have to rely on their friends to help them use these apps.

Security is a big concern for blind users as it Is difficult to spot the bots.

Many users reported that they were cat-fished or conned by bots on dating apps. While it’s easier for a sighted individual to spot bots, blind users feel less secure.
comments by users

USER PERSONAS AND EMPATHY MAPS

We developed three user personas to condense our findings from the surveys and interviews. This helped in gaining empathy for the end user, gaining a perspective similar to the blind community and their relationship with tech, and further defining who our users are, their frustrations and their expectations. We condensed our broad findings into what these three representative users say, think, feel and do. This helped us identify the core issues that needed to be addressed within the timeline.

Left swipe
Right swipe
IDEATION

DESIGN PROCESS

Design concept sketches

When kicking off the design phase for this project, we identified and established three distinct design concepts that would be unified by interface and voice prototyping. These three concepts address the core issues a blind person faces when using dating apps. We got together as a team to brainstorm ideas on whiteboards and came up with low fidelity sketches for the screens of each design concept.

Design concept sketches
Picture of whiteboarding sessions with team
Assessing pain points reported by users.
Picture of whiteboarding sessions with team
Some sticky notes, some sticky ideas.

Wireframe feedback sessions

Based on the sketches, we developed wireframes with voice interactions and conducted think aloud interviews with blind users to get their initial feedback. We annotated their notes as 'positive', 'negative' and 'could be improved' features for each screen. These sessions ensured that our solutions work with a broad range of blind users with varying levels of tech-savviness.

Concept 1

Providing detailed pose description and alternate audio verification system for profile verification.

Feedback

What users liked

Really like the real time feedback of where I am located in the camera frame for composition.

What users did not like

The phrase required for audio verification is too long. I cannot remember the whole thing.

Wireframes

Concept 2

Personalizing profile with audio stories for uploaded pictures and fun prompts.

Feedback

What users liked

Would love to both record my voice and listen to other people talk about themselves.

What users did not like

Too many steps to complete the process, would like it if this was easier to do.

Wireframes

Concept 3

Recomending the top 10 photos to users using machine learning and image recognition.

Feedback

What users liked

I like that I can still share these top 10 photos with friends without telling them it’s for a dating app.

What users did not like

I don’t trust the AI to select photos for me. I’d still trust people over machines to select what’s best.

Wireframes
Annotated feedback on wireframes
Annotated feedback on wireframes
Annotated feedback on wireframes
Annotated feedback on wireframes
PROTOTYPE

HI-FI VOICE PROTOTYPE

After receiving feedback on our low fidelity wireframes, we took the design concepts to Adobe XD as it allowed us to integrate voice interactions for the final prototype. Since our target users are people from the blind community, it was critical for our prototype to offer interactions that are as close to that of a screen reader as possible.

INCLUSIVE ACCOUNT VERIFICATION

Providing detailed pose description and alternate audio verification system for profile verification.
Design prototype screens for audio recordings feature

PERSONALIZING PHOTOS WITH AUDIO STORIES

Personalizing profile pictures with short audio stories behind the picture
Design prototype screens for audio recordings feature

RECORD AUDIO FOR PROMPTS

Recording 30 second audio responses to fun prompts provided by the app.
Design prototype screens for audio recordings feature

PROFILE PHOTO RECOMMENDATION

Recommending top 10 photos from your camera roll that can be shared with friends.
Design prototype screens for photo recommendation feature
EVALUATION

USER TESTING

We conducted user testing of our final prototype with two accessibility experts, and four blind users of dating apps. We found out that there are no prototyping tools that are voiceover compatible and could be shipped remotely, hence we conducted the tests using zoom’s screen and audio share feature.

screenshot of zoom call when conducting usability testing
Usability testing using screen and audio share.
screenshot of zoom call when conducting usability testing
We could’ve conducted this in person, thanks covid.

Cognitive Walkthrough

We conducted cognitive walkthrough over zoom where we set aside tasks for each concept. We then judged the performance of our design solution through the viewfinder of these five critical questions.

Does the user understand how to initiate the task?
Is the next step noticeable by the user?
Does the next step match user expectation?
Does the user know about the progress made?
Is the user able to complete this task?
table showing cognitive walkthrough plan

Pre and post test questionnaire

We gathered our participant’s thoughts on dating app usability before introducing the design concepts and post the cognitive walkthrough to assess their satisfaction levels with the different design ideas.

table showing pre-session results regarding user satisfaction
table showing post-session results regarding user satisfaction

Findings from evaluation

annotated feedback on prototype
Inclusive verification process
What users liked
Really need the audio verification system as an alternative but I’d prefer trying to take a picture using real time camera feedback.
What users did not like
Would like to see tap and hold consistent as a way of recording across the platform, that’s the preferred interaction.
annotated feedback on prototype
Personalized audio profiles
What users liked
Voted as the best feature by all experts and users. Could further improve by providing response suggestions.
What users did not like
Could have transcriptions to be labelled as ‘universal design’. Can use more description of the feature in alt-text.
annotated feedback on prototype
Profile photos recommendations
What users liked
Definitely generates curiosity as a feature and I’d be willing to try it out. It’s important that a person looks at it before uploading.
What users did not like
Would like to hear the date and time the photo was taken along with the user’s saved alt-text for each picture.
REFLECTION

THINGS I LEARNED AND SOME THOUGHTS.

Inclusion might require ‘added accessible’ features but it could also be as simple as how one thinks about an idea.

This project was quite challenging as the blind community is a secured space and getting them to talk about something as private as their dating life was not easy. It taught us the value of empathy, the importance of user research and the skill of connecting with users to understand their frustrations.

I personally think it’s very important to not design for, but design with people with disabilities. Representation is important and collaboration with disability experts results in an efficient, empathetic and a truly ‘universal’ design.