Matchmaking in Dome City


So in prior posts I spent a lot of pixels describing and discussing the critical failures of the interaction design of the Circuit. The controls don’t make any sense. It is seriously one-sided. It doesn’t handle a user’s preferences. In this post we’re going to go over some of the issues involved in rethinking this design.

Circuit goals

As I express time and again in design projects—and teach in classes on interaction design—to design a system right you need to understand the goals of each actor. In a real-world project we might get more into it, but our “tuners” and “travelers” have some pretty simple goals to achieve in using The Circuit.

Goals of our users

  • Find a compatible partner for satisfying sexytimes™
  • Minimize social awkwardness
  • Have an easy way to opt out of mismatches and, if they’re just tired of it, of the whole matchmaking process for the evening

For Jessica, social awkwardness entails not getting matched with an authority, since she’s a resistance fighter.

We’d want to establish what “compatible” means for each in a categorical sense. Is Carl homosexual? Is Logan bisexual? Is Jessica heterosexual? For design in the real world we’d also want to know about their mental model of sex, but for purposes of this scene it may not be too important, just that we help maximize compatibility between users.

Personas account for most but not all actors here. There’s another, more sinister character to consider here, and that’s the Übercomputer. Put in place long ago, it has a primary goal to maintain the status quo within Dome City, which breaks down into a number of other goals.


Goals of the Übercomputer

  • Maximize pleasure among the populace
  • Discourage pair bonding (it might interfere with Carrousel [sic] and general compliance)
  • Overcome the resistance movement
  • Solve the problem of the decaying DNA base (a secret subplot revealed later in the movie)

It seems like these latter goals don’t have much to do with the Circuit, but read on, because they do.


A designer also needs to take into account the broad facts of the domain. In this case, we have to think about matchmaking. For this, a person looking for a casual encounter wants to find a person who is compatible, interested, and available. (Source: reason.)


Being Compatible

If Logan wants to be spanked in a monkey suit but Jessica wants to cuddle, little else in the equation matters. For a successful match, two have to have compatible preferences. This is kind of complicated because what a person wants depends yes on categorical interests, but also on mood, and there are a large number of abstractions to manage. Logan might not have particular acts he’s interested in, just as long as he’s able to please his partner with whatever it is they’re into. Sexuality is a fluid spectrum, especially in a hedonistic culture like Dome City. But I suspect some set of categorical preferences is workable if handled respectfully and thoroughly, and users have some means of communicating preferences that don’t fit the mold. A supercategory for those common categorical preferences would be:

  • Desired/Undesired traits (both physical and psychological)
  • Desired/Undesired activities (and role in those activities)
  • Desired/Undesired individuals

Given the high-tech world of Logan’s Run, there are a number of ways for the Circuit to have a model of each user’s categorical interests. Logan can express them directly upfront, or through use of the system, but living in a sexy panopticon means that the Übercomputer can also infer it over time, note when it’s on the verge of changing, and maybe even nudge it in useful directions.

Making compatible

If we’re going to respect the Übercomputer’s need to nudge the system, then we should also consider that the humans can be primed. In this sense, priming means being exposed to stimulus that affects mood and influences subsequent choices the user makes. The interpretation I offered in the previous post that Carl was put there as a way to make Jessica look better is an example of negative priming, but it’s possible that Logan can be positively primed, too. It’s what modern advertising is based on, and those same tools are available to the system.


Being Available

If one of the parties is unavailable for a hookup, the compatibility doesn’t matter. In the real world this could mean one is committed to a monogamous partner. But for Logan’s Run, this isn’t an issue. Sexual pair bonding is not part of the culture. In this case, it means available at the moment, receptive to an offer to hook up. This could be as simple as an indicator that “he’s online right now,” but with a sufficiently smart system, this could include

  • Predictions that he will be available soon
  • Knowledge of routine times he’s available
  • Warning that he’s losing interest, and his window of availability is about to close

Making available

Again, the Übercomputer can just act as more than a passive go-between, but can also influence things to make sure that two people happen to be available at the same time. Encourage Jessica to stay at the gym a few extra minutes. Clear a way through the computer-driven traffic to get Logan home an extra few minutes, and oh, hey, gurl…


Being Interested

If compatible is a gauge of categorical fitness, interest is a gauge of specifics. That is, at the decision point, does Carl dig Logan and Logan dig Carl? Modern sites and apps let people express and respond to interest in the moment using interface, and we can use some cool tech to design this right, but again, Dome City is a panopticon with ubiquitous tech and a central artificial intelligence. It can detect expressed interest and disinterest as it happens in the world as well, and let people when they hit the sweet spot of someone in whom you’re interested who’s also interested in you.

Making interest

If the Übercomputer wants to make sure that, say, Logan notices Jessica, it could outfit Dome City with cinematic tools to make that happen. Say they’re sitting near each other in Carrousel, the moment that Logan glances her way, an amber spotlight subtly and magically makes her slightly brighter and warmer than the people around her. “Who’s that girl?” he thinks, and things are underway.

Tech to use

So these are the things that need to be handled by any dating system: compatability, availability, and interest. What tools does the world of Logan’s Run have to design with? If we were just using tech from the original, we’d have a small set of tech:

  • Analog controls
  • Slideshow-like projection screens
  • Voice interface
  • Wireless communication
  • Slow teleportation
  • Lifeclocks
  • Artificial intelligence (the Übercomputer)

If we’re thinking about a reboot, the sky’s the limit. I’m more interested in thinking about future technology, so I’ll leave the 70s constraints behind and instead focus on:

  • Real time social interfaces
  • Big Social data
  • Ubiquitous sensor and actuator technology
  • Wall-sized OLED displays
  • “Natural” user interfaces, especially gesture and voice

Since it’s really hard to guess what the future looks like past the singularity, I’d ordinarily focus on algorithms that are merely agentive and not full-blown AI. But the Übercomputer is a core part of the story of Logan’s Run, so I’ll presume that as a fait accompli, as I take all these factors into a rethink of The Circuit in the next post.