"Canary" Online Dating Platform for the Centers for Disease Control


This project, partnered with the Centers for Disease Control, was designed by Gaïa Orain, Matthew Barber, Charlotta Hellichius and Clay Kippen as part of their Design for Social Value course led by Kyla Fullenwider.

Online dating has grown in the past twenty years to be one of the primary ways people meet their sexual partners. Among urban young adults, OKCupid.com has emerged as the most popular platform regardless of gender or orientation, and sites such as these offer not only relationship matchmaking, but also facilitate casual sexual encounters. As such, the use of sites like OKCupid enables users to schedule a greater number of encounters than meeting potential partners in a bar or other conventional methods.

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Several studies point to a potential relationship between the rise in new sexually transmitted infection (STI) cases in North America over the last decade and the increased popularity of online dating over the same time period. While it is difficult to draw a concrete connection between the two, the bottom like remains that people use the internet to meet new sexual partners, people are having more sexual partners in their lifetime, and new STI cases continue to escalate.

In the first phase of this project, the design team conducted extensive ethnographic research by comparing hour-long interviews with online dating users to the data distilled from a 140-person online survey. The goal of this research was to understand the mechanics, assumptions and culture of contemporary online dating. Ultimately, the team understood the importance of the internet’s role in connecting people to their individual needs and desires. And research also revealed the importance of visual culture and contemporary imagery in affecting behavior, arguing that the implementation of better practices in sexual health, when venturing to the web for lust, can be fostered through the creation of new experiences and visual languages.

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Canary, an app-less subscription service designed to compliment the online dating landscape, is inspired by subscription services such as weather site Poncho. Canary sends subscribers "prompts" that nudge them with upbeat and friendly messages to help them establish positive sexual health routines.

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At sign-up, Canary asks a series of simple questions to help create a dater profile for its users, prepping the platform to send them relevant information tailored towards their dating lifestyle. Users can then choose to receive their prompts either via SMS or email. Through this passive, yet convenient, delivery of information to its subscribers, Canary does not need to be opened or consulted in order to deliver these prompts—ideal for the busy online dater.

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