Dating isn’t always easy, no matter who you are. But for many queer people, especially those of ethnic minorities, dating can be much more complicated. This is especially true in today’s digital age; technology has made it easier than ever to find a prospective partner, but that openness has also made it easier for anyone, anywhere, to anonymously target and discriminate against those who don’t fit the social norms. Designer and data analyst Morgen Bromell says, while dating apps are slowly making efforts to combat this problem, they are slow to react to the needs of the marginalized. So, rather than wait for them, they set out to be the solution.
“As a black queer person, I often had to navigate a dating scene that was designed primarily with straight white people in mind. Modern dating relies heavily on social norms around race, class, gender, and other social markers that center on people who historically have always had privilege or access — that doesn’t make it right, it’s just easy and accessible,” they said.
Morgen is the CEO and founder of Thurst, a dating app for queer people of all genders. Its motto is to “create an inclusive, affirming space for the queer community to connect.” Everything about Thurst’s user experience is designed with this community in mind. To celebrate Pride Month, we spoke with Morgen and asked them to share the unique design approach they’re using to create a platform that pairs simplicity and ease of use with heightened security and a sense of community.
Designing a UX to connect, & protect, the trans & non-binary community
Creating Thurst was far from an ordinary design job for Morgen; unlike other work they had done, the purpose for Thurst was highly personal. As a queer, black, non-binary person, every decision came from their personal experience interacting with others on other dating apps, which they deem “extremely exclusive.”
“Other popular dating apps are led by mostly cis and male teams — perspective deeply influences decision making and many of these platforms aren’t focusing on marginalized users holistically,” they said. “It wasn’t hard to realize that many social platforms and dating apps lacked an adequate, let alone radical, protocol for keeping users, particularly marginalized users safe. That’s the first process we began to design for.”
To protect users from harassment, Thurst has a simple feature that makes it very easy to block (and unblock) other users. Reports of abuse or harassment are automatically “believed,” something Morgen says is especially important to trans and non-binary individuals who may have experienced a lack of action dealing with harassment in other apps. “Most platforms, apps, and online spaces are inherently hierarchical and therefore inherently stratified in terms of privilege, access, safety, and usability. Thurst has always centered and prioritized trans and non-binary folks — especially black and brown trans women. My hope is that we can allow folks to express the truths of their existence and be their full selves while seeking to connect with others, however that may look for them,” Morgen said.
To ensure this feeling to safety and security remains the case, Thurst has a zero tolerance policy for any form of harassment, whatsoever. It also prioritizes privacy in ways other dating apps do not — all information is encrypted and inaccessible to third-parties and marketing agencies. This decision ensures those members of the queer community who feel at danger in the greater world around them are protected from any outside sources that may make them feel exposed.
A dating app without the gender politics
Unlike most other dating apps, even ones that cater to the LGBT+ community, users don’t need to pick a gender when they sign up. Users are able to designate any gender they’d like in their profile and change it whenever they want. This choice doesn’t affect who can see them and who they can see. Morgen says this vastly superior to simply having an ‘other’ category, in addition to male and female, which they say is an alienating design choice.
“The simple design of various dating platforms and dating spaces has binary genders, so it’s male/female, and then other. Clicking ‘other’ requires the ‘othering’ of yourself, the understanding that there’s a priority on binary genders, and then selecting a harmful choice,” said Morgen.
“Since we launched our beta, more mainstream apps have adjusted to try and include more people of non-binary genders, but they are still trans-exclusive in function, requiring a lot of emotional work for some people. I’ve heard from various users who have used our platform, saying that just the simple act of removing any gender at all was affirming. They felt like they didn’t have to categorize themselves. There’s a lot of violence in having to label yourself as someone who you aren’t,” they added.
To find their community, to find love, and to be themselvesMorgen Bromell
Since launching, Morgen says Thurst has received tons of feedback from people who have felt, for the first time, that they had an online platform where they could be themselves. A lot of this is due to the design choices made by the team; notably the freedom from having to identify themselves as a binary gender or as an ‘other.’ “The idea is to allow people of any gender and presentation to find their community, to find love, and to be themselves fully online and feel seen,” Morgen said. Their mission is to help remove the pressure that society has put on people, especially tied to their physical bodies.
As a designer, it has also shaped Morgan’s understanding of empathy and their calling in life in the technology world. Developing something so deeply impactful for queer and trans people has made them realize it is their job to make this world more inclusive and accepting of all bodies, genders, sexualities, and expressions.
“You can exist in someone else’s issue, their livelihood, the things that they struggle with, and then work with them to rebuild that world, that space, to better cater to everyone. We want to make it easier for people to find their people — whether it’s love, in community, or simply through friendship.”
Learn more about Thurst and the mission behind it on its website, and to hear more about Adobe’s own diversity and inclusion policies, supporting and protecting the LGBT+ community, visit our diversity and inclusion portal.