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I've been hired as the UI & UX Designer for an app focused around online dating. Typically, I work with clients that have an existing solution, like a website or app. This gives me a jumping off point to conduct research on users and identify things like: age, gender, and education which I can then use to bring into the lab to discover what their motivations, needs, and expectations are. However, this project will be built from scratch with no existing customer/user base, which will make it difficult for me to uncover user motivations and create user personas.

So my question(s) to everyone is this. How could I get started with finding the right people for this project? What steps could I take to identify who uses online dating sites and apps, and what their age, gender, and education levels are without relying on Google?

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Reddit has at least a couple subreddits (/r/tinder and /r/okcupid) where members of those dating apps congregate. You could (if it's okay to recruit there) post a link there to a survey site or a screener survey for more in-depth studies.

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There's a lot of valid research on this subject, and I mean A LOT. You could start with something general like http://mentalfloss.com/article/59509/11-results-studies-about-online-dating and go from there. Data is data.

However, if you're looking to do your own research (which is valid and recommended), I suggest you to visit not the user's forums, but the industry forums. I won't give any links here so you'll need to search by yourself, but quite probably your client is a member of those forums or at least knows about them.

As a tip: one of my first online research studies was about breast augmentation and sexuality related to breast size. I just joined a couple adult industry boards, connected with site owners and asked a few of them to co-join on this research. Finally, I got a link on a big site in exchange of sharing the results and adding a couple additional items to the research. I'm talking 1M+ a day site, so it took us 3 days to be overflown with data.

Additionally, I found out a text link on adult sites could go as low as $3 CPM (I'm talking 5-6 years ago, but I doubt it changed a lot), so you could simply buy $100 of traffic and get a lot of results

But of course, if you decide to follow this path MAKE ABSOLUTELY SURE YOUR CLIENT AGREES TO THIS!!!!

  • That's a great Mentalfloss article. I'd recommend, though, finding actual users as subjects, rather than interviewing site owners. In my experience, clients are happy to tell you about their users, but actual user behaviors tend to be quite different from what you hear from clients. – Ken Mohnkern Jun 18 '15 at 19:07
  • what I mean is for the OP to contact site owners to provide links so real users can be tested from the usual way and place they would actually join the site: clicking on ads on adult sites. – Devin Jun 18 '15 at 20:05
  • That makes sense, Devin. Good technique. – Ken Mohnkern Jun 19 '15 at 12:35
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Seconding Devin's point about existing research - online dating has been studied extensively (particularly in the communications field), and the Pew Internet and American Life Project (gold standard) has ongoing research in the field.

There was one part of your question that was concerning. That is, modern dating sites/apps are often targeted at certain demographics. It would seem that the project owners should have a very clear sense of who they are targeting with this app. Getting this information should help you strongly narrow down your research, and uncover users in the correct demographic.

At that stage, I find that 5-10 in-person semi-structured interviews can be incredibly effective for developing an understanding of the space, creating personas, uncovering use cases, etc.

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