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I’m a longtime (20+ years) UI/UX designer and full stack developer, but I’m running into a wall with the UI for a specific field, concerning a delicate question that can be approached and handled in several ways in an app that I’m building.

The app in question is a dating app, and the question in question basically needs to ascertain a user’s preference for the HIV status of other users in search results. Users declare their own HIV status in the app in onboarding and in editing their own profile, with the options “positive”, “negative”, and “prefer not to say”, exactly one of which is required.

The problem I am running into stems from the fact that users can choose “prefer not to say”, and a large percentage of users are expected to choose this option—as a result, the related search preferences field cannot simply be a choice between one of “positive”, “negative”, and “any”, because this set of choices excludes important use-cases. The major use cases (in other words, the end-results users need out of their search results) that I can identify are:

  1. Exclude only positive users from search results (user is negative and doesn’t want to see any definitely positive users in search results)
  2. Exclude only negative users from search results (user is positive and doesn’t want to see any definitely negative users in search results)
  3. Include only positive users from search results (user is positive and wants to see only other definitely positive users in search results)
  4. Include only negative users from search results (user is negative and wants to see only other definitely negative users in search results)
  5. Include all users in search results (user is either positive or negative and has no preference for other users’ HIV statuses in their search results)

As you can see, there are five major use cases stemming from a field that has only three options when users themselves fill it out. All use cases are important, because users need to be able to either include or exclude the “prefer not to say” users in addition to having a preference for either “positive” or “negative”.

Besides the enumeration of options itself, the additional UI/UX pitfalls I see here are twofold:

  1. It shouldn’t make things complicated. I could simply have a drop-down menu where users choose one of the five choices/use cases above, but I believe that this would confuse users, because 4/5 options would be so similarly-worded, with repetitive language and important ramifications. It needs to be as simple as possible.
  2. I don’t want this field to take over or draw undue attention to the UX in this part of the app. Yes, this is an important consideration, especially for the app and market the app is designed for, but the truth is the topic is a downer, and if it dominates the search preferences (especially if it makes them think too hard about the difference in options), or it could potentially to turn off users. It shouldn’t be two separate questions, for this reason, and it shouldn’t take up more space than other search preferences. For reference, the other search preferences are:
  • Location (autocomplete drop-down with optional user device geolocation)
  • Age preferences (minimum and maximum ages—single slider w/ two handles)
  • What I’m looking for (type of relationship sought—modal with multiple choices as checkboxes)
  • Relationship status (acceptable current relationship statuses of other users—modal with multiple choices as checkboxes)

Dating apps are supposed to be fun, and this one is no exception—we want users to focus in having a good time, we want the UX to be aspirational and light-hearted, while still accommodating important considerations.

So for all these reasons, I’m now here looking to see if anyone has a fresh take on this tricky problem and could offer a suggestion that meets the criteria listed above.

On the back end, all of the search preferences listed above, along with the HIV status preference this thread concerns, are used as filters in elastic search to exclude certain sets of users from search results, and then the pool of remaining users is scored according to some other fields (which cover interests, lifestyle, red flags, etc), which sorts that pool of users, and then those results are paginated and delivered to the user upon request.

Thank you for any suggestions you can provide!

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  • You list several use cases for asking this question, but I'm wondering - do you want to prioritize helping + people find each other? The other use cases sort of incentivize not disclosing.
    – Izquierdo
    Nov 16, 2023 at 16:05
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    This is not a feature of my design, it was a client request that I am obligated to implement. I was actually against implementing such a feature at all, because I think it is fraught with issues of all types. However, the client has cited research among would-be-users that indicates a desire for this sort of feature due to a distinct lack of it in other dating apps catering to the MSM community. But to answer your question, my own opinion, as should be evident from the OP, is that we should prioritize helping people connect and have fun, & we shouldn’t pretend to offer medical advice/info.
    – Avana Vana
    Nov 16, 2023 at 17:05
  • Thanks for the additional context. I think Devin made some great points about potential pitfalls, but I also wonder if there's a way to build a safe solution for + people, and have them (and those who want to date them) go there, vs. general screening of the entire user population. Just a thought.
    – Izquierdo
    Nov 16, 2023 at 18:16
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    Just to be clear: in many countries asking, storing, and filtering on information about people's HIV status can be very strictly regulated (as any medical info about a person) and may not be allowed for a dating app, and/or may require extensive security measures to protect that information. Make sure your company and your client are aware of this. This is probably the reason this feature is not present in other apps.
    – jcaron
    Nov 17, 2023 at 15:13
  • @jcaron Thank you for your response. Actually there was a big scandal a few years ago with the app Grindr, where they passed non-anonymized user-disclosed HIV data to their technical partners…thereby outing them to potentially…anybody in the world. But from my research the laws around this fall into two categories (in the US, where we are limited, at least initially): 1. HIPAA laws, which only applies to data collected by medical workers, and 2. 33 US states require people who test positive to disclose to sexual partners under penalty of law.
    – Avana Vana
    Nov 27, 2023 at 18:21

5 Answers 5

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Occam's Razor to the rescue: Don't ask it.

First of all, your question is really loaded. It will upset many users and, as you noticed, it introduces complexity and friction without any positive aspect to balance it.

Remember that conditions and diseases don't define a person. Even people who don't have the condition might feel offended, especially with HIV and particularly in a risk group.

From a UX standpoint, you'll probably get a "prefer not to say" answer whether the person is positive or not, making your question pointless while upsetting users and affecting your system.

Also, there could be users with HIV who simply don't know they have it. So, if a user gets sick from another user even though your company said they weren't HIV positive, there might be legal issues for your company.

A final consideration:

Depending on your legal jurisdiction, if you need this information (which might be the case for a medical site but unlikely for a dating site), it's doubtful you can publicly display it. In most places I know, medical records are confidential, so doing this could cause legal problems (unless your laws allow it).

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  • 7
    These are some good points—I brought up the first one when asked to implement this feature by the client. The other two points, however, regarding legal issues, are also very strong—perhaps even stronger. I was against this feature from the outset—it’s feature creep/bloat at this point in development—but there are already a lot of legal concerns around a dating app to consider.
    – Avana Vana
    Nov 16, 2023 at 16:46
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    The thing is, the client has told me that, in their research, would-be-users complained about a lack of this feature in other apps catering to the MSM community, and that would-be-users believe such a feature would 1. make dating in this community safer, 2. help broach an otherwise uncomfortable subject, 3. prevent uncomfortable or difficult situations from coming up later in their dating relationships by allowing them to be upfront, and 4. give users of all kinds more confidence in putting themselves out there.
    – Avana Vana
    Nov 16, 2023 at 16:56
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    Basically, I completely agree with you, and this is probably the best answer I’ll get. I will keep trying to fight this feature and bring up some of these concerns, but I feel that the client is very set on including it, so I may need to implement it anyway, and if I need to do that, I would like to give it my best.
    – Avana Vana
    Nov 16, 2023 at 17:08
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    One other thing: another possibility is that we could keep this question out of the onboarding, so that every user is “prefer not to say” by default. Then, we could add a section in the user’s settings page that allows them to disclose if they want to, and preface the viewing of this UI with a very clear legal disclaimer (the accepting of whose terms is also stored in the user’s profile). Instead of including the other side to this in search preferences, we would add. “Search preferences” section to this same settings screen that allows users to check “show only uses with my status” or not.
    – Avana Vana
    Nov 16, 2023 at 17:11
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    Yes, that could work. But remember: legal issues come first, before UX. Your client needs to talk to lawyers first to understand what's allowed and what isn't. Perhaps the reason other apps don't have this feature is simply because they're not legally allowed to.
    – Devin
    Nov 16, 2023 at 19:39
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It seems to me like this should address your problem. Or am I missing something?

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    Unfortunately it is not this simple—users don’t go looking specifically for other users whose HIV status is “undisclosed”. Also, people who check “prefer not to say” could be “positive”, “negative”, or they may not know their HIV status, and the way you word it here, it isn’t clear that could be the case.
    – Avana Vana
    Nov 16, 2023 at 17:00
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    @AvanaVana "I would like to see people whose HIV status is ..." ? Nov 16, 2023 at 23:58
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    @AvanaVana "I would like to see people who say they are..." (since you cannot say what their status actually is) Nov 17, 2023 at 17:59
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Only provide 2 options for explicit search

You expect most people to be "not disclosed" - this will severely limit the benefit of any excluding filters, since the majority of your hits will still be "unknown" even if you have a preference when searching.

I would provide a button in the filter-menu called "HIV Status" - if the user clicks on it provide a popup dialog:

Filter by HIV-Status

Some of our users chose to freely self declare their HIV-Status as positive or negative. This declaration is not verified in any way.

  • Show only Self-declared positive
  • Show only Self-declared negative
  • Show all users

Reasoning

The user will usually filter and then search through a list of profiles, where a self-declared HIV status can be displayed. You could even ask on signup "Is HIV-Status something important to you?" and then display the self-declared status more prominently in profiles.

Excluding certain results just sends the wrong message, since most are undeclared, so the filter will most likely have no visible effect for the user and just provide a false sense of security.

Providing an explicit search for self-declared people will give like-minded individuals a way to search for individuals in a similar situation.

Only one Option?

I would even talk to the client if they can change the requirement to only allow declaring HIV-positive explicitly and leave all others unknown. Because realistically you can only be sure to be positive - nobody can ever be 100% sure to be negative.

Negative would immediately lead to more complicated questions: like when was the last test? ... Which is why I would think about removing the option.

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    Thanks for your response. The reason I responded so late is a combination of being busy (w/ this, and other things) & the client moving the goalposts…again. Basically, they now also require an additional option, “U=U” (which stands for “Undetectable equals Untransmittable” & means that one’s viral load is so low they are physically unable to transmit the virus even though they are technically “positive”—well-known term in the community), & whether or not positive users are on the “PrEP” treatment. I also found out Grindr & several other apps have this feature & users can report last test date.
    – Avana Vana
    Nov 27, 2023 at 18:02
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    That said I like some of the ideas you bring up here. Regarding “last test date”, since some major, successful apps in the same space, like Grindr, actually have the “last test date” feature, it seems that users may not find it as complicated as it seems, and may even expect it if the feature is there at all. Another thing to consider is that in the US (where we are limited geographically, at least initially), 33 states criminalize non-disclosure of positive HIV status to partners. So it’s in many users’ interest to disclose—we could even show a banner recommending it for users in those locs.
    – Avana Vana
    Nov 27, 2023 at 18:17
  • @AvanaVana if not disclosing a positive result you can directly ask your members on sign-up. And the Options will vary even more: Positive-U=U, Positive-PrEP, Positive-(Transmittable) and Negative-(Last-Test: ...), Untested (No known positive partners)
    – Falco
    Nov 28, 2023 at 10:18
  • But if the majority will still be "untested" - I would still opt for only providing a search option for positive people (to search for people having the same treatment, no danger of infecting because both are already positive) and would otherwise not provide filters, since the status will be visible in the profiles.
    – Falco
    Nov 28, 2023 at 10:21
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Rewording your 5 options:

  • No filter for declared HIV status
  • Declared HIV-negative (only)
  • Declared HIV-negative or Undisclosed
  • Declared HIV-positive (only)
  • Declared HIV-positive or Undisclosed

Depending on the rest of the interface, offering those as a drop-down might take up the least real estate and draw the least attention to this particular question.

This phrasing subtly emphasizes that what's being searched is a user's declaration of their status, rather than their actual status, since they may be ignorant of or even misrepresenting their true status. Without having medical records, any statement to the effect that the following people are HIV ____ seems risky.

Hypothetically a user could wish to search only for Undisclosed, or for any who are not Undisclosed (i.e. to see both declared positive AND declared negative), but including those options seems like a waste of space & cluttering your form for no likely benefit.

Depending on the assumed fraction of the population that is (or believes themselves to be) HIV positive, the last of those 5 options might also not be worth including. If the assumption is that many user will choose not to disclose, and that the majority of those probably believe themselves to be HIV-negative, then that fifth search option would filter to both some number who know themselves to be HIV-positive, and also many who believe (but didn't disclose) themselves to be HIV-negative. Is that likely to be a desired search result, excluding only those who declared that they're HIV-negative? Obviously, if those assumptions don't match those in the project, then this may be a far more useful option to include.

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  • Thanks for your input. Your options are clear to me, but I fear to many they would feel like the content of one of those forms that bewilder people in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. And actually, I’m going to have to update this thread, because the client has just informed me that they now also would like the options to include the term “U=U” (undetectable is untransmittable), which is based on research of the last 20 years that shows people living with positivity but undetectable viral load cannot infect others—just not having this feature is quickly winning out as my preference.
    – Avana Vana
    Nov 17, 2023 at 6:56
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Without changing your UI or searchability as those are business requirements, only addressing the technical implementation.

I would change your underlying data model persisted to elasticsearch. Instead of a single es doc field, hivStatus with an enumeration of 3 values, change it to 2 fields, declaredHivPositive and declaredHivNegative with true/false values. Then when setting the user’s profile set one or other fields as true if they declare their status or default both to false. That should then support queries for your various use cases.

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