Millions of animals are currently in shelters and foster homes awaiting adoption. My task was to 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, including factors including breed, gender, age, temperament, and health status.
Why did I choose this Exercise?
- It's a real-world problem that sparked my curiosity to understand and try to solve.
- This is the type of project aligns with my personal interests.
What are my constraints?
- I have 3 days to Research, Ideate, Design and Deliver.
- 1 day to research.
- 1 day to ideate and concept rough UX flows.
- 1 day to design Hi fidelity designs and deliver the presentation.
- Limited access to various data sources.
- No access to shelter workers in the timeframe.
- What are the steps in the adoption process?
- What is that process like? Is it broken, can we fix it?
- Is it a consistent process worldwide for all pets?
- What would be the business objectives for Google?
- Would the business objectives influence the platform we use? Is this a new product experience? Are we finding ways to use an existing Google product? My guiding principle will always be 'The best solution for the user is always the correct answer'.
- For this exercise, we're just focusing on dogs and cats in shelters.
- The users will have a mobile device.
- The people working in shelters will be tech savvy to use a mobile app.
- The pets will have had a background check on behavior and personality.
- The target audience is adults aged 20+ .
Find the problem
In order to find a solution for pet adoption, I first had to find the core problems with the issues at hand.
- Knowing the reasons why animals are relinquished to pet shelters.
- Understanding the reasons why people choose not to adopt.
After some online research, I found a breakdown of the top 10 reasons for relinquishment for both cats and dogs.
- Moving (7%)
- Landlord not allowing pet (6%)
- Too many animals in the household (4%)
- Cost of pet maintenance (5%)
- Owner having personal problems (4%)
- Inadequate facilities (4%)
- No homes available for litter mates (3%)
- Having no time for pet (4%)
- Pet illness(es) (4%)
- Biting (3%)
- Moving (8%)
- Landlord not allowing pet (6%)
- Too many animals in the household (11%)
- Cost of pet maintenance (6%)
- Owner having personal problems (4%)
- Inadequate facilities (2%)
- No homes available for litter mates (6%)
- Allergies in the family (8%)
- House soiling (5%)
- Incompatibility with other pets (2%)
If we remove the cases above where the user has no control over the circumstances, we'll find 23% of dog and 32% of cat relinquishment are completely preventable through correct education and awareness.
Our first challenge is to find ways to get the correct information into the user's hands so they can make smarter, more informed decisions BEFORE they purchase or attain their pets from other sources.
Identify use cases
- Actively looking.
- Open to adoption, but are still researching, undecided or waiting for circumstances to change.
- Likes the idea of adoption, but their preference is still to buy for reasons X, Y, and Z.
- Actively looking for a pet, but not interested in adoption due to the surrounding stigma.
Interview key stakeholders
I created a survey to help me build a deeper understanding of why the people in the use cases above choose to adopt, what could be holding them back and why others choose to buy a pet. Because I had limited access to real use cases, I sent the survey to 40 friends so I knew I could get real insights rather than assumptions and built 4 different personas based on these results. The survey can be provided on request.
Before I could start any UX flows, I had to get an idea of what the adoption process was, and how users felt at each stage of the journey. The aim here is to build empathy with the user by understanding how they might feel, how they might react, and possible frustrations along the way.
My initial thoughts were to streamline the Adoption process, but after reviewing this in depth I now understand that it's extensive because it needs to be. Without the rigorous process, it would create further burden and incorrect matches for the shelter workers who are already under-resourced.
The problems with pet adoption
- Behavior issues such as aggression with other pets and lack of being house trained.
- Psychological issues such as anxiety, trauma, and stress only rear their heads after adoption.
- It's common for shelter pets to have a range of hidden medical problems which can be costly and problematic for adopters.
- Many shelters are overcrowded, under-resourced and under experienced so adopters experience a range of issues with communication, paperwork, screening, refusals and return policies.
It's a lot of hard work, time and financial commitment that people underestimate and may not be prepared to take in their busy lives. The user must ask themselves a few hard questions before they ready to take on another pet...
- Can you place your trust in the shelter staff to decide what is the best for the animal?
- Are you they able to monitor the health of the foster pet?
- Is your home prepared for a new pet?
Adopters who are educated about the long-term benefits of accurate pet compatibility will make better and more informed decisions about the pets they adopt. This reduces the number of pets going back into shelter care and alleviates the strain on shelter workers so they can spend more time evaluating animals issues and finding the right adopters.
Design an experience that increases pet adoption from shelters by accurately connecting pets to users personality and lifestyles.
To achieve this goal, the experience must;
- Educate, inform and support the user looking to adopt.
- Connect and match the pet to the user's lifestyle and personality.
- Reduce friction in the adoption process for shelters.
How can we measure success for this experience?
- Decreased number of pets being euthanized.
- Decreased number of pets being taken to Pet Shelters.
- Increase pet adoption numbers nationwide.
- Wider community knowledge about the benefits and rewards adoption.
- Reduce any stigmas surrounding adoption.
Now we get to the fun part! I needed to start brain dumping all the goals, ideas and features together to evaluate what the user needs so I can start to create some basic flows.
I looked at each stage of the user's journey, stated the goals for each step then the creative solutions that for each part of the process. Obviously, a lot of these features were not going to make it into the app, but I always like to go as wide as I can then narrow in.
After reviewing all the possible ideas, the best solutions were those that aligned with the user's long-term goals of successful pet adoption.
- A 'Compatibility Questionnaire' that accurately finds a perfect partner.
- Making 'Pet Education' part of the user's journey.
- Providing users with the right tools and knowledge before they adopt.
I then start to sketch up some really rough layouts on post-its. I find doing them this way is a quicker process for me, I don't get concerned with any major details, I can play with some layout ideas and just concentrate on getting exactly what needs to be on there. I try to give myself 30mins max to complete a full 'post-it flow'.
My next step is to design a detailed orientated user experience. This is where I do most of my critical thinking about what the user needs, the tools they need at each stage of the journey. My goal is to solve all the problems before I start any visual design.
I aim to solve;
- The Journey
- The Message / Copy
- The User Interface
- The Content
- The End Points
I didn't want to force users into an experience, so I gave them the option to take the questionnaire now or skip at the end of the walkthrough. If the users skipped, they were taken to an empty state of the 'Home' screen. This is an important screen because we can reinforce the value of pet education and provide users with content on;
- The facts about pet adoption
- Busting the myths
- Success stories
- Adoption checklist for new users
Once the user has explored this section, they will be prompted to take the questionnaire as there are no pets to discover without knowing about you and your needs first.
The questionnaire is broken down into 4 main sections that provide the App with enough data to successfully match a pet with their perfect partner.
- Living environment and special factors.
- Lifestyle and energy
- User personality traits
- Pet behavior traits.
It's important to also be transparent to the user in this process so they're self-aware in how we came to the conclusion. This builds trust and reinforces the value of completing the questionnaire. Once the user completes the questionnaire, we congratulate the user on taking the first step and give them an overview of the results on their profile page.
The user is given a detailed summary of the type of pet that matches them. We then provide visual examples of types of pets that are suitable for a compatibility rating to support the options. This is an important and subtle step as some users may have their heart on a certain breed, but realize after our analysis they the breed may not actually be the best option for them while providing some new ideas on pet types they may not have thought of before.
This is where users will spend most of their time so we need to make sure it's designed efficiently. We start sorting the pets by compatibility but give users the option to sort by their preferences such as breed, location, and recently added. We also give users two options to view by. They can choose a richer experience with larger rows, or in a smaller grid view for quick scanning.
Users need the essential information to make quick decisions. This includes pet names, breed, and location, but, images are their priority, so I gave them access to multiple images within the card (by swiping) so they don't have to open up the profile to dig a little deeper. It's also useful to see the compatibility score on each pet.
This is the most important screen to design because it's the where users make their evaluation. We show the key information at below the images, then reinforce the compatibility matching to inform. Users will also want to see details their most concerned about with pet adoption such as the pet's background, it's personality, behavior, and medical history. Before they book the pet for a walk, it's important we show the user adoption checklist for any new owners so they are well informed about the animal and the process.
The final step is to 'book for a walk' which I envision would be an easy to use calendar system syncing to shelter systems. Here the user would select a date and a time to pick the pet up from the shelter and how to get to the shelter. We would provide the shelters with the results of their questionnaire (with their permission) which would help them evaluate the adopters' situation and give them a quick update on the day. This streamlines the process and reduces one more form being completed by the adopter and the shelter worked.
I have chosen to leave this out of the process due to time restraints.
My goal for the visual story was to create an empathetic and honest account of what this experience would actually be like as part of Googles family. I debated internally (for some time) if I should flex my skills and design a richer interface, but in the end, I opted to stay as closely tied to the Google Material experience as my knowledge allowed me. This is mainly due to timing restraints and getting caught up in the details.
- Choosing a purple color theme to project empathy and compassion.
- Making sure was still vibrant and gender balanced.
- Using authentic images over hi-quality (unrealistic) images.
- Adopting Google Material typography, menus and iconography.
- Chose to use images over illustrations because I'm a terrible illustrator.
I like to start visual designs by working on either the most important screens or the screens where the user will spend the most time. I find it easier to expand out once I solve the bigger problems.
In the example above I started with a visually rich interaction design on the left. While I do love this as a design, I knew users would prefer multiple images within the card design for quicker browsing. Statistics on user patterns confirm this.
The design on the right shows how we implement additional content into the Feed. Making sure users are learning about pet adoption is a critical part of solving the issue.
I chose to use images rather over illustrations in the walkthrough to create a more compassion and motivational start to the experience. It would be a great addition to add a short and inspiring film of how the app solves the problems of pet adoption in the walkthrough.
I'm a natural storyteller at heart, so I do believe in inspiring through the art of story first, then enabling the user to take action through the product.
I have created lo-fidelity prototype using InVision for this project. The prototype takes you through the entry of the app, through to booking your first dog walk.
- The prototype is optimized for a Google Pixel device and viewed in Chrome.
- Other devices may render differently and out of my control. I would recommend using the web version if on an IOS device.
- I kept the prototype light by not adding 'Settings' or 'Login' features.
- I have not added the 'Booking a walk' schedule feature due to timing restraints.
- Features such as 'Search' and 'Sort by' have been left out due to Invisions limitations.
There's no silver bullet that can magically solve such a complex issue as pet adoption. You might get traction from a viral stunt or an entertaining pet dating app, but that could also result in pets going back to shelters due to unmet expectations from adopters.
Continuing to educate new adopters and the wider community about the commitments and rewards, rather than the stigmas surrounding adoption will increase people using shelters as a source for attaining new pets, rather than buying or contributing to puppy mills.
Providing adopters access to support groups and ensuring they're tooled with the right knowledge will decrease pets returning to shelters, alleviating the stress and over-population of the current system.
What else would do?
I would love to try and solve the problem from the side of the Adoption Shelters. Having such a tight time restriction, I really couldn't investigate the adoption process from their side thoroughly enough to have an informed answer and it felt like a lot of assumptions were made. I have no doubts the system could be streamlined, especially if they were using one consistent process and network system tool. This would provide adopters the ease of using multiple shelters without the excess paperwork.
Would I do anything over?
I had an early idea about building a VR empathy experience that showed the users what life as shelter animal would be like. You could view it from a range of different pet types who all have different experiences from being abused or having a loving family dropping you off because they were moving? I couldn't find a tangible solution for that though.
- Have every shelter use the same Adoption Process and find ways to streamline that.
- Have every shelter connected and using the same paperwork system making it easy for adopters.
- Try using a pet delivery system where people could pay a service fee to have a pet visit their home/family for a weekend or a week.
- Adding a 'Lost Pet' section where you can track your pets if you have a beacon or Tile on their collars.
- Add a groups section so people can communicate and ask for help and support within the app.