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When I visit another person's dating profile, I'd like to see a visual indicator that communicates something about a person's age so I can determine whether they might be a good match for me--without displaying precise age. The goal is to minimize the use of age as a factor for selection, without minimizing it entirely. What's the right mechanic and the best visual indicator to accomplish this goal?

Options we've considered:

  • Fuzzy it up: Joe is 30ish.
  • Relative to you: Joe is a bit younger than you.
  • Compliance to a range: Joe is within your dating range.
  • Math required: Joe graduated in high school when Tears for Fears was a hit.

What is the best way to do this?

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It's worth bearing in mind that on this kind of site people will lie about their age anyway... –  PhillipW May 23 '13 at 21:58
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6 Answers 6

I would go for a variation on JohnGB's answer.

Instead of 'Young' and 'Old' which are subjective, use real date ranges. If I select 30-35 (a 5 year range) as my ideal date range, the middle green box text should be '30-35'. Using 'Match' or '✔' instead assumes I can remember my ideal date range and that I understand that a '✔' represents that.

On either side of '30-35' should be age ranges the same length in years as my ideal age range (5 years), above and below, IE: '24-29' and '36-41'. '24-29' and '36-41' should both be the same yellow/orange. In John's answer 'Young' is orange and 'Old' is red, suggesting 'Old' is a worse option. Ideally you wouldn't show results below 24 and above 41 in this case, but if needed those should be "18-23" & "42+", where 18 is the assumed minimum site age.

enter image description here

(Apologies for stealing JohnGB's image styling here, but I can't insert images in a comment on his answer)

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+1 for not having a -18 option on the left side of the spectrum :D –  kontur Feb 5 '13 at 10:18
    
@mattdempsey Interesting and clean modification, but what happens when someone is 50 years old? or when someone is looking for matches that are 28-32? –  JohnGB Feb 5 '13 at 16:07
    
@JohnGB I tried (and obviously failed) to explain this part :) If I was looking for people 28-32, the 5 options would be "18-23 | 23-27 | 28-32 | 33-37 | 38+". You take the length in years of the ideal age range (4 years) and give the 4 year range above and below the ideal range, then on either side of that the ranges which cover the rest of the possible options. (I've edited my answer above to fix overlapping years. IE "30-35 | 35-40" is now "30-35 | 36-41") –  mattdempseycom Feb 5 '13 at 17:31
    
@mattdempseycom So then it is essentially the same logic as in my last example, only you show the numbers in there. I actually think it's an improvement, but has the limit that it always has to be big enough to see the text for. –  JohnGB Feb 5 '13 at 18:04
    
There comes a point when the chosen range is so large that it ruins the segmentation. Best to cap the max range? It would have to be relative to your age for it to make sense. –  craiglauer Feb 5 '13 at 19:32
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I would consider using something visual, so that it is faster to scan. Here are two quick examples that I put together to illustrate what I mean.

Edit: To clarify some confusion here, the 'young', 'old', and 'match' are referring to relative to the users preference. So if I set my match as 30-40 year olds, then someone 25 would show as young, and someone 45 would show as old. But if my match preferences were set at 50-55, a 40 year old would show as too young.

enter image description here

As a short explanation of some of my reasoning here:

It will improve scannability / scan speed if you make the various options visually very different, while still maintaining the overall visual cohesion. To to that, I have varied the position (most important), colour (second most important), and shape or text. The option with icons as opposed to text will be better for this, but poorer in discoverability. You would need to decide which is more important to you.


Edit: An alternate option that allows more accuracy, but is a little less scannable.
enter image description here
The choices of colours in this isn't very important, as long as they are easily distinguishable and that the match colour (green in this case) is not overpowered by another colour. You could combine icons in the colour indicators, but I would argue that this makes it look too busy.

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Would it be improved if it were more of a spectrum rather than discrete states (young/match/old)? –  craiglauer Feb 5 '13 at 4:19
    
Doing that would improve accuracy, but hurt scanability. I tried a version of this out, and it looked odd. I had one other that was better for scanning, but more of a spectrum, but I didn't include it. –  JohnGB Feb 5 '13 at 4:50
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Different signal colors for too old and too young seems biased - not everybody deems a too old partner more "alertworthy" than a too young partner. Seeing how emotional suggestions the OP presented, this whole approach seems to underline the superficial nature of the choice being made, which, while it is what it is, might not be what you want to communicate to users of a dating site. (In my opinion anyway) –  kontur Feb 5 '13 at 10:13
    
@kontur I understood the op wanting it to show people that matched the age ranges that the user sets. I specifically stated that the choice of colours isn't important in those images to prevent such an issue. So I don't see how this is superficial. –  JohnGB Feb 5 '13 at 15:58
    
@kontur you're right about my intentions. How to implement something that does not encourage our superficial tendencies to judge someone by age alone, yet provide's users with sufficient information to create their own Goldilock's assessment of whether this person is too old or too young or just right. Asking someone "what is your desired age range" is less optimal than surfacing whether a woman is capable of having children still if having children is important to me. –  craiglauer Feb 5 '13 at 19:39
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Man, those options are awesome!

  • Fuzzy it up: Not bad, but a 10 years range feels quite broad.

  • Relative to you: This is my favourite approach for dates ("This week", "2 days ago"), and I think it's a good option in this case. But "A bit younger than you" sound a tiny judgmental to me, not sure if it's just a feeling. For me it read as somehow negative.

  • Compliance to a range: A safe option, if the user has previously selected a preferred range.

  • My personal favourite, but I see one problem with it: You don't want to show an exact age but you are allowing the user to do a quick search and find out. Plus, your references might be unknown to some. It is a nice widget, though, and I'd consider adding it in combination with 3.

So from my point of view: 3, and a smaller 4 below it.

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The reason I found #3 unsatisfactory is because it requires the user to be precise without being accurate. Most people might say their age range is 28-32 but could easily bump it a few years up or down depending upon their age. It's different for a 25 year old than for a 50 year old. –  craiglauer Feb 4 '13 at 22:59
    
@user1946603: if users specify their age as a range, they can also specify the range of ages they would be willing to consider. Don't force it upon them. You always have people more interested in younger versus ones more interested in older dating partners. There also is a gender difference where males tend to prefer younger partners and females tend to be prefer slightly older partners but seem to be less fussed over age than males. –  Marjan Venema Feb 5 '13 at 7:06
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Why display it at all? Why not allow the user to set acceptable age ranges for a date in their profile and then only include profiles in a search when the searcher falls with each profile's desired range? The age of both the searcher and searchee would need to fall within each other's range.

One of the things that many women complain about is getting undesired messages from men twice their age. Not displaying the age would solve both problems.

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While I agree this would be ideal, the venn diagram of those two sets will be small for most people, and leads to user disappointment. For that reason, bi-directional matching on age ranges only isn't realistic, though its a good option. (e.g. Show me only the people that would date someone my age.) –  craiglauer Feb 4 '13 at 23:19
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There is no best way. It depends on so many other factors. For instance, is your site designed for senior citizens? Teens? Those two groups have vastly different needs and expectations. For example, older people may not care about a five year age difference, whereas the difference between 22 and 27 can be vast.

You also need to consider the tone you're trying to set with your potential customers. Are you a dating site for millionaires? Members of Mensa? Gen-Y'ers? What may be amusing and edgy to one might be very annoying to another.

Have you tried asking potential users of your system what they would expect? Personally I prefer "Relative to you", but I may not be your target audience.

As a final suggestion, below whichever method you choose, put a link that says something like "show me ages in a different format" which takes you to a page that gives you the same choices you have in your question, with a radiobutton beside each choice.

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Yep. Is there a visual indicator for relative age that works sufficiently well for a 21 year old as for a 72 year old? (3 years younger to a 21 year old is criminal; 3 years younger to a 72 year old is a blink of an eye.) –  craiglauer Feb 4 '13 at 23:02
    
@user1946603: allow your users to set the age range (the green range) they are willing to consider instead of dictating it to them (and trying to get it right for everybody in vain). –  Marjan Venema Feb 5 '13 at 7:03
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I think the answer is dependent on what you offer your users as a selection criterion. If you allow users to set the age range they are interested in, then you should just stick to that I think. If you do allow setting the age range, there are two approaches I see:

  1. Always apply the range both ways, so if user A (aged 23) indicates that he/she is interested in partners between 20 and 30, user B of 32 but interested in partners between 20 and 40 won't show up for user A but user B also won't get to see user A in their matches or the other way around.
  2. Give users the options to be approached by users outside their indicated age range. In that case, user A still won't see user B in the results, but user B would get user A in their results. I doubt however if many people would enable such an option, but that's just my feeling.

I don't think that it is a good user experience if you still get messages from users that are outside of the acceptable date range for a match that you set yourself without a way to opt out from that as in option 2 above, even if that means that other users will get less results. Note that though getting few matches may be disappointing, it will give even more disappointing if a large number of "matches" immediately express that they are not interested, or worse, don't respond at all. Also, it seems annoying for the people that are not interested in these matches to get messages from they all the same. It will decrease the signal/noise ratio for these users.

You could also opt to go for a default acceptable range, and not give users an option, or use a default range only if no explicit range was set. A rule of thumb that might work for your case is to use the age/2 + 7 formula for the minimal age of a partner. For our 23 year old user A, that would mean the lower range would be 23/2 + 7 = 19 (I'd round up) up to (23-7) * 2 = 32 years. By default, user B would be shown then.

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Thanks for the thoughtful response. The problem I see in enforcing this rule is that for most people "desired age range" is not a precise calculation but a proxy for a host of other very real concerns (e.g Is she young enough to have babies? Is he old enough to be ready to settle down? Is he established in his career? ) These are fuzzy calculations we do, not precise, and I feel its a premature optimization to reduce someone's pool based on this filter alone. –  craiglauer Feb 5 '13 at 19:21
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