By 2015 a lot had changed since JDate and other niche dating sites had first come about. While the intent of the category had remained the same, technology had improved dramatically and a new generation of online daters had come of age.
This was the challenge faced by Spark Networks, which owns and operates a large portfolio of special-interest online dating sites such as JDate, Christian Mingle, and Elite Singles.
The Spark Networks Online Dating Platform
Spark Networks at a glance
- America’s 2nd largest dating company
- Portfolio of special-interest dating sites
- Includes JDate, Christian Mingle and Elite Singles
- One million paying subscribers monthly
Spark desperately needed to revamp their two leading properties: JDate.com and ChristianMingle.com. Both sites had fallen behind the times, with cumbersome, non-user centric consumer experiences. As a result, they were slipping in the marketplace. It became clear that it needed a comprehensive product redesign from the ground up.
My Role as Design Leader
As the design leader, my role was to help set the vision for the new experience and to lead a team of product designers in a daunting undertaking. Collaboration with my research, engineering and product partners was essential in aligning our teams for success.
My key responsibilities included:
- Design Director
- Vision & strategy lead
- Workshop facilitator
Our first order of play was to develop our vision and strategy. We wanted to re-establish Spark as a trusted service for finding the right match – to be a matchmaker, not just a directory. To accomplish this, we focused on our users – their needs, personalities, habits, and idiosyncrasies.
Next, we developed a set of experience guideposts. These were intended to give the team clear ‘rules of the road’ for their work going forward. They encompassed a high-level vision that set the tone for how we would approach the design of the overall experience. Ultimately our focus would be on streamlining the user journey – from the initial site visit, registration, and on-boarding – to profile building, finding matches, and purchasing a subscription.
Re-imagining User Profiles
As a result, we totally re-imagined the user profile page. The new layout put a focus on better showcasing photos, quotes and interests. We enhanced the way we surfaced compatibility matching and made communication tools contextual and highly visible.
Making Search More Rewarding
In order to make the search experience more rewarding we simplified data input by introducing natural language forms. We also rebuilt their faceted search functionality and added the ability to send messages directly from within the search page.
Lastly, we completely rethought their communication framework. Communication is core to Spark’s service and the key step in creating and maintaining connections between users. Messaging needed to be as seamless and fun as texting with friends which we did by consolidating their various communication tools into a central messaging platform.
While rebuilding an entire platform is daunting enough, there were a couple of key challenges we faced.
Consolidating Two Feature Sets
The first was that we needed to consolidate two separate site experiences – each with their own unique set of features that had evolved and been added to over time. Using analytics and user testing we were able to identify and prioritize not only the old feature sets, but also introduce new ones to the shared platform API.
Encouraging Profile Completion
Another key pain point we’d identified while journey mapping was profile completion. While improving the sign up and subscription conversions were key, we needed to ensure users found value in the search experience too. And without data, the matching algorithm could only do so much. We looked to do so by introducing features like progress indicators, a profile strength meter, and prompting users to enhance their profiles contextually throughout the site.
In the end the result of our efforts was rewarding:
- We successfully updated Spark’s platform and launched the first re-designs of both JDate and ChristianMingle in over 8 years.
- Collectively, we doubled the acquisition rate within the first 24 hours of each site launch.
- In the following quarter Spark also saw the average subscriber rate grow for first time in over two years.
- And we grew their mobile monthly active users, which had been lagging, to over 300,000 by year end.