Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of friends who are always out experiencing the best of entertainment. Be it plays, films, concerts, exhibits, or restaurants, they’ve learned that the arts are best when experienced together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls clashed over the art of app design – codified in the digital flame of one of the most popular smartphone apps. Let’s hear their conversation…
Gwen leaned over the couch armrest, her cheek resting in her palm, looking down at her phone. Her thumb traced circles over the screen, flicking photo after photo in a seemingly endless string of small choices. Weeding through a series of potential partners, and life stories that might get written. She’d previously described it as “all the fun of looking for lost keys,” at least to Dania. But now a few months out of college and with no S.O. to speak of, Gwen had decided to at least dip a toe into digital dating – to at least get her bearings.
She was trying balance critiquing every profile and taking them at face value. She knew that everyone on Tinder had curated their profile with the precision of a NASA engineer. What kind of man would I attract if I changed the wording from “likes thai food” to “enjoys thai food?” Should I mention that my favorite movie is “all the Harry Potter films,” and thus interest a 0.004% larger demographic of women? This picture of me at the party looks super hot – but will that piñata in the background distract them? It was childish, and Gwen knew that. But then again, the knowledge that everyone had done that encouraged her to look even more closely at each photo. Hm. What does it say that his favorite song is Chance’s “No Problem?”
“Are you on Tinder?” Eleanor interrupted.
Gwen looked up at Eleanor, who had silently walked in, and then looked down to see that the app was still open on her phone, with the screen facing up and fully in Eleanor’s view.
“What?” Gwen said, impulsively, closing the phone and putting it on the table.
“You were absolutely on Tinder,” Eleanor said. “You said you weren’t gonna get Tinder before!”
“I just wanted to check it out, all right?” Gwen defended. “I wasn’t using it seriously.”
“Gwen’s using Tinder?” came Dania’s response from the other room, and she came bounding down the hallway shortly after.
Gwen took the phone from Eleanor. “I just wanted to know what it was.”
Dania laughed. “Okay, show me your profile.”
“It’s not good.”
“So let’s see it.”
Gwen groaned, but opened her phone.
“Hm,” Dania said, looking over the profile Gwen had built. The photos were mostly clean shots of her face, except –
“Hey, Eleanor, we’re in this,” Dania said, holding out the phone.
“What?” Eleanor asked, grabbing the phone. Sure enough, a photo of the three of them was among the six Gwen had included.
“Why are you including a photo from graduation?” Dania said.
“Because it looks good?”
“But,” Dania said. She crossed her legs and leaned into Gwen on the couch. “You gotta think about everything on Tinder, it takes an evening to design a profile.”
“This is really vague writing,” Eleanor commented. She was reading Gwen’s profile.
“I just filled it out quickly,” Gwen said. “As I mentioned, not a lot of complex thought.”
“Well, it says nothing about you,” Eleanor said.
“I mean,” Dania said, “the photos are more important.”
“They’re not more important.”
“They definitely are,” Dania defended. They’re the first thing you see. That’s what gets you the swipe.”
“I noticed that,” Gwen said. “It’s so surface-level. You look at one photo, and you have to tap the photo to see anything else. It’s distilling down dating into this tiny bubble.”
“Well, sure,” Dania said. “But doesn’t that make it easier?”
“Okay, so before Tinder, all dating had to happen in person, right? So ––”
“I know how dating happened pre-Tinder, Dania,” Gwen said. “I went to high school.”
“Yeah, but now, post-college,” Dania said. “When there’s no network of people we see five times a week, it helps to have something. This big barrel of potential partners that you can check out. There’s some certainty to setting the location to, like, three miles away and finding people close by to you.”
“You can set location?” Gwen asked?
“Give me your profile.”
Dania showed Gwen how to change the settings: location, age range…
“It’s pretty uncomplicated,” Gwen said.
“It’s a start,” Dania explained. “If there were more options, you’d be able to isolate yourself to people who were just like you. Tinder at least has some amount of randomness to it, finding people who have, like, one thing in common, even if that’s just location.”
Returning to the app’s home screen, Gwen scrutinized the image of a man standing behind a barbecue.
“He looks cute,” Dania said. “Swipe right on him.”
“Wait, let me see his other photos,” Gwen said.
“See, the whole idea,” Dania said, “is that you’re supposed to do this quickly. Just get a quick look and make a split decision.”
“Did he write ‘world traveler?’ Like, where in the world?” Eleanor said, looking at Gwen’s screen. “That’s a lot of places.”
“Just swipe right, if you want,” Dania said.
“Okay,” Gwen said, swiping left.
“What did you do?” Dania said, as Gwen froze.
“I messed it up!” Gwen said. “It was an impulse. Can I get him back?”
“No, it’s just a one-swipe deal,” Dania said. “Like I said, it’s supposed to be fun and bouncy. The swiping is simple, and easier than the hand-eye-coordination of actually having to press a button.”
“But what about the work of creating a profile?” Eleanor said. “You said it takes an entire day to build one. And then people pass it by in ten seconds?”
“That’s the plan,” Dania said, with a shrug.
“But that feels so pointless!” Eleanor said. “I feel like there’s a real missed opportunity to go into Tinder like a detective – try and figure out what every single word meant. You know, assume that people aren’t putting together profiles at random. No offense, Gwen.”
“That’s not what it’s about, though,” Dania said. “If you look too deep at first and try to analyze everything, you get stuck overthinking it. You want to just get in there and start swiping.”
“The whole design does seem to feed into that,” Gwen said. “The pastel colors, the rounded edges, how everything is a circle. It’s all very inviting, almost like it’s a gaming app.”
“That’s almost what it is,” Eleanor said. “You can get all skilled at it and try to build the best profile, but even if you write it all in iambic pentameter and spend the whole day building it, your success is essentially random.”
“Not entirely,” Dania said. “There’s some controversy about how it works, and whether they base the people you see on how many matches you get. People are starting to think that you get more attractive people if you match with more people. Basically, that the app ranks your attractiveness by matches and then sends profiles based on that.”
“That’s in the algorithm?” Gwen asked. “How attractive you are?”
“Just in theory,” Dania said. “I looked it up, but the developers keep it private so people don’t copy it and build a better app.”
“How do I get back to the menu?” Eleanor said, poking at Gwen’s profile.
“Let me see,” Dania said, taking back the phone. “You’re on it.”
“But that’s her profile,” Eleanor said. “Isn’t there, like, a dropdown or something?”
“No, you just swipe over here,” Dania said, showing how one could switch from profile to dashboard to messages with the same right swipe used to make matches.
“So it’s basically a swipe-based interface.”
“As it should be,” Dania said. “You’d never use two hands on Tinder unless you’re sending a message. And by that point, it’s basically just texting, the whole Tinder part is done.”
“An entire app that can be controlled by your thumb,” Gwen observed.
“Like the best ones, I guess,” Dania said. “After all, that adds to the whole ‘game’ comparison. There’s nothing serious in life that can be done with one thumb alone. It takes the stress from the weirdness of dating and makes it into a sort of game.”
“That’s almost commendable,” Gwen said. “In a strange, Orwellian kind of way.”
“Yeah,” Dania said, looking at one of Gwen’s potential suitors. “In an original version of the app, you’d get a match and the option to keep going would say, ‘Keep Playing,’ rather than ‘Keep Swiping.'”
“Wow,” Eleanor said. “Gives you a sense of how they think of it. Like, they really considered a lot of factors to keep the app fresh in people’s minds, so people would use it and keep using it. It’s like the Candy Crush of dating – people could actually get addicted to it.”
“People do,” Dania said. “I’ve seen it happen.”
“Woah,” Gwen said.
“And all that work is just getting ignored by people who just want to hook up,” Dania said.
“It’s not all people wanting to hook up,” Eleanor said.
“It’s a lot of people looking to hook up.”
“Maybe that’s the plan, then,” Gwen said. “I make my profile really detailed and then it only attracts the kind of people who are interested in someone with a really complex profile.”
“Maybe,” Dania said. “Or it could just have a lot of people asking what the really big words you’re using mean.”
“How do I get people interested in me?”
“Just make your first photo something that will catch people’s attention,” Dania suggested.
“And then write a really well-crafted bio,” Eleanor added.
“Sure,” Dania said. “They might ignore it, but when it matters it will be there.”
“I guess,” Gwen said.
As she began editing her profile, she reconsidered whether or not it was worth continuing with the app anyway. No one was going to have the same favorite song (“Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot), and who knows if anyone was going to give her profile the thorough analysis it probably deserved. But regardless, she started swiping right on the men as they passed. Hoping for a match, just hoping for one, sure that the next one would be the first match…