Marcus Wood

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Rapid Prototyping and Iterative Design

It's a Date
Phone showcasing Its a Date

It's a Date

Welcome screen for Its a Date

Online dating is flooded with mobile apps that focus on throwing potential matches into "Yes" or "No" bins, and not much else. Many of the popular dating apps attract people with decidedly unromantic intentions. Shocking and uncomfortable bios, blunt propositions, racy pictures...so much so that it’s pretty clear when the other user has no skin in the game. Even when users find someone attractive and pleasant to talk to, there always remains the question: What should our first date be? Will they like the date idea I come up with?

I found this kind of approach to dating to be impersonal, and decided to throw my own idea in the mix. Introducing “It's a Date.” “It's a Date” encourages human connections through shared experiences. The app thoughtfully curates dates to make users excited not only for the person they are meeting, but also the overall experience they are agreeing to be a part of.

User Research and Idea Generation

Our staff was comprised entirely of people within our target demographic- young professionals [20-34] living in or near Washington D.C. We used big-name dating apps for years and felt like there was something missing. A majority of our ideas came directly as responses to our own qualms with existing apps. Our own social circles aided early ideation and user research, and made our eventual user testing sessions self-sustaining in terms of participant recruiting.

Collage of Its a Date screens

Development

Frontend: The app was built using React Native with Expo and Styled Components. I loved using this stack for mobile apps because it easily allowed me to begin creating and didn’t impede the design team. The design team was able to create the exact experience people were asking for without worrying about views not being technically feasible or taking an unrealistic amount of time. Styled components felt right at home in React Native, allowing me to compose complex themes with custom React components in perfect harmony.

Backend: This app used Node, Express, Typescript, Firebase Cloud Firestore, and Google Cloud Platform. There is not a backend stack out there that allows you to create real-time applications faster. We created our messaging feature in one day! However, that speed came at the cost of in-depth domain expertise to the interworkings of Firebase and the Google Cloud Platform. The flexibility I take for granted in more traditional environments like scheduling, backups, integration testing, and other operations took a bit more effort to implement.

Dev ops: I created three environments: Development, Staging, and Production. Development served as a playground for new features and allowed our development team to try certain features on phones before letting our design and functional team touch it in staging. Once features from Staging were tested and verified, we could deploy from our continuous integration to production.

The Landing Page

With app development nearly complete and users asking about the app, we created a landing page to generate hype around the product. The emails we captured were leveraged for user testing events and beta testing the app in its current state. With more feedback under our belt, I launched a blog and CMS for team members to write about cool events happening in the D.C. area.

It's a Date landing page

Administrative Portal

Adhering to the team's design principles, the app launched without many features users normally take for granted in a dating app, like blocking functionality and a support portal. Instead, I opted to create a personal concierge that would route messages directly to the team to take care of any issue. Not only did it align with the app's goal of being more personal to our audience, but it allowed us to cut the development runway by three weeks.

The admin portal was the place for our team to chat directly with users of the app, create new dates, and send push notifications. This was 100% integrated into the application and gave us great control over how we interacted with users.

It's a Date admin landing page

Design Thinking

This was my first experience tackling a domain as intimate as online dating, and I wanted to ensure I got it right. I enlisted the help of the SIDO Innovation team to help run design thinking and facilitation sessions with friends and beta users. Through their proven techniques, I was able to pull out crucial insights on what users wanted, and to see if I was on the mark with my hypothesis - something has to change in online dating.

Using proven design thinking techniques was crucial to the launch of It's a Date.

Each session lasted roughly three hours with drinks and apps provided. What was most striking is how quickly people opened up about their frustrations with using the app and shared their experiences with the team.

Its a Date User Testing Entrance
Its a Date session
Its a Date feature grouping
Its a Date Group Talking
  • Its a Date User Testing Entrance
  • Its a Date session
  • Its a Date feature grouping
  • Its a Date Group Talking
  • Its a Date User Testing Entrance
  • Its a Date session
  • Its a Date feature grouping
  • Its a Date Group Talking
  • Its a Date User Testing Entrance
  • Its a Date session
  • Its a Date feature grouping
  • Its a Date Group Talking
  • Its a Date User Testing Entrance
  • Its a Date session
  • Its a Date feature grouping
  • Its a Date Group Talking
  • Its a Date User Testing Entrance
  • Its a Date session
  • Its a Date feature grouping
  • Its a Date Group Talking
  • Its a Date User Testing Entrance
  • Its a Date session
  • Its a Date feature grouping
  • Its a Date Group Talking
  • Its a Date User Testing Entrance
  • Its a Date session
  • Its a Date feature grouping
  • Its a Date Group Talking

Testing

  1. Programmatic testing: This involved taking the business rules established and writing tests in the code to make sure there were no errors. Errors like users getting matched up to the wrong gender or someone's message going to the wrong recipient. It was crucial to make sure things worked as expected, especially on the backend. On top of running tests for the logic of the application, I wrote the entire backend in Typescript to help harden the code against any potential defects.
  2. UI Testing: All of the team members assisted in running through the app and scanning for potential defects in our Staging environment before deploying new code to Production.
  3. Focus Group Testing: Immediately after launch, we offered “It's a Date” to a user testing group of 20 participants. Users were instructed to move through the main event flow with help only offered when requested. Points of approval, disapproval, and suggestion were all noted by category, then ranked by their urgency for continued development.

Launch

After flow improvements and other design tweaks were implemented, It's a Date was ready for submission to incubators, accelerators, and other funding sources.

Branding became a core focus as the specific voice of It's a Date began to emerge across press materials and internal app copy. Writing shifted from a single copywriter’s perspective to include internal insights from developers and other technical staff.

Our launched video amassed over 2,000 views in two days with an average engagement rate of 40% (industry average is 2%). Social ambassadors were recruited through our user testing sessions, which aided us in our initial user base growth. Brand ambassadors naturally fell in our target demographic due to our testing session selection parameters.

Where it is Now

Our user testing events gave us a treasure trove of data to sift through along with the most telling data point of all. Even though people loved the events, our net promoter score was high, and people said they would absolutely use the app no one engaged with it after the events.

Combine that with the runway needed to be competitive in the dating market, I decided to sunset the product. Although the need is there, and I still believe this is the best way to foster meaningful human connection online, the market is hyper competitive. Maybe one day I'll pick this one back up and see where it can take the dating world.

Additional Information

I'm really passionate about products and entrepreneurship, so if I have an ambitious idea that requires a lot of work, I write a business plan for it before coding anything. This allows me to see how close it is to the projected cost of production, what the runway needs look like, and if it’s viable. Sometimes I'll decide to build the product and put it in people's hands for testing before choosing to continue with it full time.

  • Business Plan (a brief history of the online dating market if you wanna read!)

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Marcus Wood is a JavaScript software engineer that focuses on building products using Typescript, React, and GraphQL. He has built and delivered solutions for some of the largest companies in the world.

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