Bestie is Tinder for facilitating meaningful friendship between straight women and gay men. Interestingly, the idea was inspired by my experience with an ex-girlfriend who, along with her friends, frequently expressed their wish to have gay best friends. I found it to be a unique insight on a demographic underserved by social networking at the time (2013) and bookmarked it.
In brainstorming concepts for an iOS app to prototype as a final project for Hack Reactor some years later, I pitched the idea for such a platform to my to-be co-creator, who is gay and remarked fondly of his female friendships. Learning of his excitement and that of his peers for such an app to exist, conflated with my ex-girlfriend experience, I took it as early market validation.
Bestie was presented as a celebrated final project to the attendees of Hack Reactor’s demo day and, in conjunction with my other experience, led to a job offer two weeks later at Gigster.
I took on a multi-disciplinary role in this project in collaboration with my co-creator whose background is in graphic design. We rapidly prototyped the app given the restrictions of a three week timeline (think: 18 hour days, seven days a week). Based on findings talking to potential users (his friends), I led concept design, wireframing, content strategy and interaction design while he led creating high-fidelity mockups. Together, we then co-engineered (co-struggled!) an Apple App Store-submissible MVP in iOS’s programming language, Swift.
PRODUCT DESIGN THINKING
We designed Bestie around a core experience — the ‘Princess Point’ – which we hypothesized would give it the spark and differentiation necessary to make it sticky to users, outside the general value proposition. The Princess Point (“PP”) concept was borrowed from a movie we found our target demographic would identify with, which enabled us to conflate it as an asset with our product and branding strategy. In function, the PP is a mechanism to enable chat functionality between two users. In theory, it is a unit of social currency that users accrue and host on their profiles as a measure of their reputation and engagement in the community. The more PPs, the more desirable a match you are.
In the same way it can be given, it can be taken away if the giving user decides to, and in this case behaves similarly to a ‘remove friend’ feature on other social networks. It has the added effect of diminishing one’s social standing. By default, every chat button on the profile of a user you are viewing is deactivated. Tapping it issues a PP to that user and activates chat functionality to begin communicating.
Our goal was to energize users as soon as they launched the app while driving a clear, simple user journey. An inviting sign up view with a compelling piece of copy “Because every girl needs a boy best friend” with a rainbow icon peaks the user’s interest. ‘Girl’ and ‘boy’ would swap positions in looping animation. Authentication available only through Facebook sign-up was designed strategically to drive trust that all of our users are real people. A simple on boarding flow educates how the product works before users can immediately start browsing potential matches ordered by proximity and go on to issue PPs, chat and ultimately schedule time to meet.
An emphasis on balance, gender neutrality and personality mapped to our UI design choices. We selected a bright purple as the primary color, with a contrasting but equally bright yellow to draw attention to key elements.
A common challenge for product designers is designing for users and not themselves. My experience designing Bestie was a masterclass in that, forcing me to design for a product I would never use and demonstrating my ability to do it. I was also very fortunate to co-create this with someone who embodies the end-user and was a wellspring of insight for me to draw conclusions from.
From an engineering perspective, I came to this project with only a few weeks of studying the fundamentals of iOS programming so to suggest this was working beyond my comfort zone would be an understatement. The experience taught me that often what we think we won’t know is simply what we don’t know and what we can know can be self-taught. The internet has democratized self-teaching for all; what it hasn’t democratized is the will power to take action. I struggled every step of the way engineering this app and was sincerely proud when we succeeded in building all of its required functionality.
If there was more time, I would have conducted extensive usability and desirability testing. As a team, we discussed that although the PP function was a creative gamified system and clear barricade to chat, feelings could be mixed on the culture it instigates. Some users might like how it created a silly power dynamic while others could find it intimidating. We were striving for a culture of both inclusiveness and playfulness with the PP as a social currency holding little weight in the emotional tone users experienced (think: mayor on Foursquare).
Separately, my interest in how consumer technology effectively (or ineffectively) brings people together for meaningful social experiences ladders up to a broader personal philosophy and curiosity motivated by driving human connection. You can see that represented in my experience building Coffee Club, Couchsurfing around the world or organizing dinner parties between random people.
“Of all the many smart and interesting colleagues I have worked with throughout my career Mike is one of the people I have enjoyed working with the most. This is not because he has a great sense of humour and an incredible work ethic but because he is highly creative and original in his thinking and has the ability to challenge others to achieve unique results.
Throughout the ideation, development and production of this project, Mike had incredible insight into our target audience and how to create something that would resonate with them. The thing that I admire most about Mike is that he just understands how to make great experiences in the digital age while being a great all-rounder which is a combination you don’t come by every day in the industry.
I would highly encourage you to work with him if you can. I certainly hope I get to do so again in the future.”
— Nic, my co-founder & Senior Product Designer @ Oanda