The brief

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. Provide a high-level flow and supporting wire frames.


1. Goals and constraints

Before we do anything, let's define our goals. Without clear goals and success metrics, we’ll have little chance of designing a solution that aligns with the business or being able to measure the extent to which it was successful. Based on the brief, our goal is to connect people looking for a new pet with one of the millions of animals in shelters awaiting adoption -- presumably to increase the number of successful adoptions and reduce overcrowding in shelters. We'll assume that our primary metric is successful adoptions, e.g. total adoptions minus any that are returned to the shelter. We'll also assume that we're designing for Native iOS and focusing first on dogs before expanding to other pets. 


2. Understanding the problem

After defining our goals, the next step is to better understand the problem we're trying to solve. More importantly, we want to make sure that we are even solving the right problem in the first place. In this case, we'll take a step back and look broadly at the current state of the pet adoption industry and some of the factors leading to overcrowded shelters. We'll attempt to answer some of the following questions:

“Why don’t more people adopt from shelters? Why do pets end up in shelters? Is finding a pet that 'matches their lifestyle' people's greatest need? Will it have the greatest impact on increasing the number of successful adoptions?"

 

Common Myths ABOUT ADOPTION

Upon initial research of the topic, we find that many of the factors discouraging people from choosing adoption are based primarily on common myths and misconceptions.

  • I don't know what I'm getting
  • They might have health or behavioral problems
  • I can’t find what I want at a shelter
  • Shelter pets have baggage
  • Adopting a pet is expensive

 

BENEFITS OF ADOPTION

In reality, these myths aren't always true. And in many cases, there are clear benefits of adopting a pet vs. buying from a pet store or breeder.

  • You're saving more than one life by creating space at the shelter
  • You often have more background information about a shelter pet 
  • Many of the pets from shelters and rescues are already house trained, saving you time and effort
  • It’ll cost you less, since shelters often cover the cost of spay/neuter, vaccinations and microchipping 
  • You're fighting puppy mills by not buying from a pet store or online seller

 

WHY PETS END UP IN SHELTERS IN THE FIRST PLACE

Additional research also shows that there are 3 broad categories of problems that ultimately lead to pets being relinquished to shelters. These are  especially important to understand since our goal is to facilitate successful adoptions and place pets into permanent homes. 

  • Financial issues - the high expense of owning a pet often leads people to relinquish animals to the shelter system; they simply can’t afford the cost of care.
  • Behavioral issues - the lack of awareness and access to behavioral training are often leading pets back into shelters, and out of loving homes.
  • Housing issues - reloacting to restrictive housing such as an apartment complexes, their only option may be to relinquish their pets to local animal shelters. In addition, prospective pet parents who already live in restrictive housing will be limited to certain types of animals when adopting—putting a strain on the animal shelters in those communities.

 

COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

Finally, we want to take a look at what others are doing in the pet adoption space. At a quick glance, we find that there are many existing sites where users can go to search for shelter pets. Similarly, there are also many sites that offer "lifestyle quizzes" that attempt to match people's lifestyles and preferences with compatible pets. The two are rarely connected and most of the adoption sites or apps are extremely dated.

  • Most focus primarily on search and filtering by dog breeds and characteristics, not lifestyle
  • Long, boring questionnaires are required to match you with pets
  • Some do a great job at creating a personal connection with each pet
  • Most require you to call or fill out a contact form to reach the shelter

3. Understanding who we're designing for

Next, we'd expect to conduct user interviews to better understand the needs of our users. We would explore their experience throughout the entire pet adoption journey and dive deeper into their needs, pain-points and moments of delight along the way. Some of the things we might document at this step would be: 

  • Empathy mapping - what are people saying, doing, thinking and feeling, hearing and seeing?
  • Journey mapping - what does the complete pet purchase or adoption experience look like? Who are they interacting with throughout this process? Where are they going and what tools are they using?  
  • User personas - what are different types of people using our app? how do their attitudes, behaviors and needs differ?

 

the customer journey

For the purposes of this exercise, we'll assume that this research was conducted for us, citing the research report “Big Data, One Dog at a Time” by Jen Underwood as an example. Here she outlines the customer journey and some of the key touch points and activities that a prospective pet owner might experience. From the research, we learn that there are major pain points in the adoption process that negatively impact people's likelihood to adopt. 

  • Lack of accurate, real-time information on available pets
  • Difficulty communicating with shelters re: pets of interest
  • Poor experience communicating with and visiting the shelter

4. Solving the problem

After having conducted sufficient research, we're ready to define the problem we intend to solve with our app and start brainstorming around possible solutions. The problems we we've identified are: 

  1. People are discouraged to adopt due to common myths about adoption
  2. A lack of preparation for the responsibilities of pet ownership causes pets to end up in shelters
  3. A poor experience with the shelter leads people to find their pets elsewhere

 

BRAINSTORM & SKETCHES


4. Design, test and iterate

WIREFRAMES

With a general understanding of the overall structure and the key task flows, we're ready to turn our sketches into wireframes. In this case, I'm going to create my wireframes directly in Axure, allowing us to near instantly turn our designs into a prototype that we can use later for testing. 

Upon launching the app, we start by highlighting the benefits of adoption - using photography to draw people in. We intentionally try to connect with people emotionally and financially. 

Upon launching the app, we start by highlighting the benefits of adoption - using photography to draw people in. We intentionally try to connect with people emotionally and financially. 

Next, users are asked a series of questions that we'll use to match them with compatible pets. We intentionally kept this initial set of questions short to limit the amount of effort needed to get started and we'll give users the option to complete more of their profile later. This would be a good opportunity to discuss with the data team to determine whether 5 data points will be enough to generate quality recommendations.

Next, users are asked a series of questions that we'll use to match them with compatible pets. We intentionally kept this initial set of questions short to limit the amount of effort needed to get started and we'll give users the option to complete more of their profile later. This would be a good opportunity to discuss with the data team to determine whether 5 data points will be enough to generate quality recommendations.

The main navigation represents our primary user tasks: exploring your matches, favoriting ones that you like, and communicating with shelters to see if they're still available. A bottom tab navigation to makes it easy to switch between each of those views and encourages users to take action on the pets they're interested in. 

The main navigation represents our primary user tasks: exploring your matches, favoriting ones that you like, and communicating with shelters to see if they're still available. A bottom tab navigation to makes it easy to switch between each of those views and encourages users to take action on the pets they're interested in. 

The pet profile pages are our opportunity to dispel the common myths about adoption and highlight it's benefits, e.g. their story, background, behavior and training, savings included from medical expenses, etc. A sticky bar with our two calls-to-action make it easy to take the first steps toward adoption and streamline communication with the shelter. When users choose "Ask About Me", they can even choose from a few pre-populated messages to make it as simple as possible to contact the shelter. 

The pet profile pages are our opportunity to dispel the common myths about adoption and highlight it's benefits, e.g. their story, background, behavior and training, savings included from medical expenses, etc. A sticky bar with our two calls-to-action make it easy to take the first steps toward adoption and streamline communication with the shelter. When users choose "Ask About Me", they can even choose from a few pre-populated messages to make it as simple as possible to contact the shelter. 

At the end of the day, there are many people who don't even consider adoption at all -- much less download our app. So how do we reach this group? Marketing will play a major roll in this but one silly idea could be a gimmicky feature like "finding your doggy doppleganger". It can be fun for even those not looking to adopt and raises awareness for adoptions. 

At the end of the day, there are many people who don't even consider adoption at all -- much less download our app. So how do we reach this group? Marketing will play a major roll in this but one silly idea could be a gimmicky feature like "finding your doggy doppleganger". It can be fun for even those not looking to adopt and raises awareness for adoptions. 

 

USER TESTING

The next phase of the design process would be testing, iterating and refining. In our testing, we would want to recruit from a range of participants that cover our various personas. We may even want to get feedback from shelter employees and volunteers as domain experts. Some of the questions we would answer in our testing might be:

  • Can people successfully complete they key tasks? 
  • Is the most important information presented first? 
  • What information are they looking for that's missing? 
  • What's their next step after finding a pet they're interested in? 

5. High fidelity mockups

Finally, a few high fidelity mockups to get an idea of the look and feel of the app. 


6. Improvements and other considerations

The downside of matching people with compatible pets is that there are naturally going to be pets that just don't fit the "right" criteria. For example, from our research, we know that older dogs, pit bulls, black dogs, etc. all are more likely to spend time at the shelter without being adopted. So how can we address this issue in our app? It might be worth tweaking the matching algorithm to give these under appreciated pets a better chance at adoption. 

And what about the people that don't consider adoption at all in the first place? This persona might be the most important to design for, but how do we reach them? One thought is that we could encourage users of the app to share adoptable pets with their friends. Users might be able to earn badges, "level up", or even earn referral rewards by sharing adoptable pets to their network.