An app to educate and help an adopter to select the right pet from an animal shelter or foster home.
Millions of animals are currently in shelters and foster homes awaiting adoption. Design an experience that will help connect people looking for a new pet with the right companion for them. Help an adopter find a pet which matches their lifestyle, considering factors including breed, gender, age, temperament, and health status.
Review the Challenge
To understand the challenge, it was important to clearly define it. I asked myself why people might need, want or engage with the topic I am working on. I decided to write the challenge to make sure it feels approachable.
Being an occasional volunteer at pet adoption events, I had a little bit of impression about the pet adoption process. I wrongly had the following notions before I did the research for this challenge and while doing so, I realized there was a lot I didn't know.
- People do their homework before getting a pet
- You can't teach an old dog new tricks
- Dogs and cats are the most popular pets
- People know which pet do they want
- It is difficult to adopt a pet from the shelter? The process takes longer
- Appearance of the pet can play a major role when it comes to adoption
- Not all pets in shelters and foster homes are healthy
- People connect to the pet based on its profile pictures
Moving past assumptions to better understand why there are so many homeless animals in the first place, I started with an online search to learn more on the subject and found that there are multiple factors which contribute to the situation:
- Abandoned by their owner
- Surrendered by their original owners
- The pets were lost and their owner never returned to claim them from the shelter
- Pets came from a breeder or a shop
- Surprise factor about pet behavior
- Cycle of forceful breeding
- Limited awareness about spaying and neutering programs
- Financial constraints
- Living Space limitations
- Family member allergic to a pet
- No time to take care of a pet
- People prefer to get a puppy to an adult dog
After carrying out a competitive analysis to get an idea of what other key players in the sector are doing, I sorted them depending on their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).
People are often the most valuable source of inspiration. I created a list with a particular description of the people I wanted to meet. It helped me to navigate the process of finding and engaging with interesting individuals and organizations. I had basic requirements before starting a field research:
- Want to talk to the people who are the subject matter expert in pet adoption programs
- Meet volunteers/pet handlers who engage with the adopters right from the start and tries to help them with the pet matching process
- Get answers on what do people look for while selecting a pet?
- Are first-time adopter and experienced pet adopters approach the adoption process the same way?
I talked to
- Humane Society Silicon Valley
- Pawsitive Connections (a non-profit, no-kill animal sanctuary)
- Two foster families
- Six experienced pet owners
- Three first time pet owners
- Two still actively looking for pets
Throughout the Interpretation phase, my perspective evolved and changed. I gained a clear understanding of what my observations meant, how can I relate them to my challenge and use them as inspiration.
These learnings are the recollections of what stood out during my conversations with a different set of people.
- Due to the high demand of certain breeds, people prefer to go to shops and breeders
- In the shelters you can find a dog or cat of any breed and size
- People bring pictures of the animals they like and try to find similar looking pets look in the shelter
- Looks and energy level the big deciding factors for pet selection
- Animal in the most shelters are well taken care of and are vaccinated
- Each shelter has a different adoption process
- People like to interact with the animal before making a decision
- Many pet owners consider a "high level of shame." to return the pets to the shelter, which ends up leaving an animal on the street
- Many pet adopters don't take an account their lifestyle before getting a pet which results in a big surprise and an unhappy ending
- Many first time adopters ask only basic questions regarding the breed of the animal, its age, its source, its child-friendliness
Some of the points from the learnings stood out more than the others. Also, there was a pattern in the pet selection process. I organized my observations from field research under themes, and later used themes to prioritize the application features
Lifestyle consideration: most adopters don't take their lifestyle into account before getting a pet.
Looks are important: it's common to pick up a pet purely on how they look.
Homework is a must: knowing why you want to bring a pet in your life is very important.
Photos & Videos: photos help people make a connection to an animal. A video is an excellent way to highlight animal's social skills by filming them interacting politely and playfully with both people and other pets.
Interaction: people like to interact with an animal to see if there is any connection.
Insights allowed me to understand the pet adoption world in a new way and cleared my assumptions which were based on half baked knowledge.
90% of animal entering the shelter system are healthy and ready-to-adopt.
Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).
5 to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. There is a high chance to find a best friend.
Many of the adult dogs have already been trained! That can mean less mess to clean up and one less new trick to each an old dog.
20-30% of dogs in shelters are purebred. There are incredible breed-specific rescues everywhere– a quick Google search will help an adopter what they are looking for.
3 in every 5 dog adopters don't do their homework. When getting a dog, it is important to understand what you are looking for and what your expectations are of your new animal.
According to my findings, the most important characteristics in selecting a dog were breed, personality and adaptability.
I compiled all my research, user interviews and surveys and subsequently created primary persona.
Note that I found dogs have the most problems getting adopted, so in the course of this exercise they were my main focus. I made sure that all designs would work for other species as well.
Using themes and insights from the research findings, gave me a clear understanding of the features to incorporate in the brainstorming session. I generated as many ideas as I can without evaluating and putting a design or implementation constraints at that very moment.
Promising Ideas and a User Feedback
I spend few minutes immediately after the brainstorming session to group the similar concepts and narrow down to potential ideas based on their strengths. Again, I picked up a pen and paper to flesh out the details of the selected concepts. I quickly ran the ideas with a bunch of users to get their initial feedback.
Random walks to random dogs
A concept inspired by my experience. I love dogs, but I hardly know about the breeds. I often see beautiful dogs chasing a ball in the park or digging a hole at the beach, and I always wonder what breed it is. This concept focuses heavily on educating a user about the breed before they decide to adopt.
A user can click, search or upload any picture to learn about the breed. The artificial intelligence (AI) in the app will process the input information and will deliver the content in the digestible format. The app will show the adopter - pet compatibility bar for the matched pet profiles, and availability of matched pets in the nearby shelters.
- By educating an adopter about breed characteristics can help them to pick a right pet for themselves
- By showing the availability of matched pets in the nearby shelters, might increase the number of adoption
- A user wasn't sure about the accuracy of Artificial intelligence (AI) app
- Many pet owners might not like the cameras in front of their pet faces
A concept inspired by the online dating app Tinder. The user answers a questionnaire about their lifestyle and pet requirements to flesh out their profile. When Tailder finds pets who match those criteria, it places cards on the user screen that shows a large photo of the pet; tap the photo to see a short description the adoption shelter has provided. A user swipes to the right if they like the profile or to the left to see the new match.
- Lifestyle questions force user to consider the important factors before adopting a pet
- Sign up right in the start of the flow slows down a user to achieve a goal
- A user has seen the similar concept, which is not helpful in finding a right match
Chat with a pet
This concept is inspired by pet Instagram feeds. Owners create an Instagram account to show off photos and videos of a beloved pet. They add notes from their pet's perception. People connect with these animals in the way they relate to people.
Selecting a pet is a two-way street, as an adopter, you have expectations from your pet and vice-vera. Instead of adding filters or a lifestyle questionnaire, I created a dialogue to make it more interactive. Once a user submits their side of the conversation, the app shows the matched profiles. On clicking any profile, a user can chat with an animal (bot) who, in turn, tells their side of the story and their expectations from their potential owner.
- It connects with the animal on the emotional level, as it is the conversation, not just browsing
- Chat with pet functionality is not available in the other apps
- The perception of live chatting with a potential pet is exciting
- Sharing statistics in the pet category and characteristics about the breed is educational for the adopter
- Suggested actions, tells user what to do next
- Can be text heavy
After collecting the initial user feedback, I again brainstormed and took something from each concept to converged it into one.
A flow diagram shows how users are expected to progress from each wireframe screen to the next.
I translated few screens from the solution into high fidelity mockups, which gave me the opportunity to refine the interaction design.
The pain point which was evident in my research findings was adopters don't do their homework, and that causes major pet returns. Many pet adopters don't take an account their lifestyle, their expectations from the pets and don't fully understand what pet might need from them.
Some competitors focus on the filter based approach to show the match profiles, and some ask adopters to fill lifestyle questionnaire. None of these approaches focus on pet needs.
Pet adoption should be a mutual decision, as an adopter, you have expectations from your pet and vice-vera.
The purpose of focusing on the chat feature is to give adopter a right tool so they can make a good decision, and guarantee to the pet that adopters are going to keep them. Creating a mutual conversation develops an empathy towards a pet and their needs.
Rather than looking through vast lists of images, users are presented with limited options based on their conversation with an animal bot. Using natural language, the bot can match pet profiles. A user can click on the available profile to chat further with the potential pet (bot).
I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project especially the parts when I could disprove common assumptions to help people discover they could be a great pet owner just by doing some homework on their side. Next steps will include:
Sharing the project and receiving critique will improve the design since it will encourage the contribution of ideas from multiple people (peers and users). Feedback will highlight any obvious flaws, mistakes and oversights, thereby assuring the quality of the proposal.
Incorporate more interactive educational modules
Explore the secondary persona’s user flow (i.e., show how shelters would post a pet profile to the app)