Redesigning Pet Adoption

Millions of animals are currently in shelters and foster homes awaiting adoption. I wanted to design an experience that would help connect people looking for a new pet with the right companion for them. I needed to help an adopter find a pet which matches their lifestyle, considering factors including breed, gender, age, temperament, and health status. 

User Research

My Initial Assumptions
- This is a search problem. A user needs to find the right pet. 
- This is a location problem. Pets are available in many locations. 
- This problem does not have an entirely digital solution. The actual adoption process will still need to be carried out at the shelter. 
- The digital solution can help with logistics like contacting and locating a shelter. 
- There are two users: the potential adopter and the shelter employee. The potential adopter searches for a companion and contacts shelters while the shelter employee uploads and maintains animal information and responds to queries from the adopters. 

Research Plan to Test Assumptions
I developed a 1 page research plan to test my assumptions. I then went to the local dog park and two local animal shelters, the Marin Humane Society and the East Bay SPCA, to talk to dog owners and shelter employees about their experiences.

The Interviews

Justin - Humane Education Manager at East Bay SPCA

Kyle Adoption Assistant at Marin Humane Society

"People who come here know what type of animal they want like dog or cat or small animal but usually don't care about specifics like breed, age, or size."
"If someone does have specific requirements like knowing what breed they want, I will reference them to rescues that specialize in that breed or will keep their info on file and contact them if an animal they would like comes in." 
"I post every animal to our website and sometimes 3rd party sites repost these animals without asking us. But the we have no problem with that. We see it as helping our animals reach more potential owners." 
"I make matches between animals and clients"
"People apply online, call us or just walk in so the adoption process usually takes a day" 
"I do behavior assessments of animals by looking at things like possessiveness of toys and interaction with other animals" 
"There is always an in person meeting where they get to interact with the dog"
"The hardest part of my job is being able to relate my behavioral assessment to the households of potential owners. For example, a family with small children will find a dog they really like but the dog has exhibited possessiveness over toys so I have to recommend they look at other dogs." 

The Dog Park

We went to a specific Samoyed rescue that specializes in the breed. We’ve owned several in the past and knew we wanted another one because they are good with kids, nice temperament, and a good size.”
”We’ve been using the organization for the last 30 years and had heard about it through someone we knew.”
”We put our name on a list and 2 months later got matched with Bella. We were concerned about her being a mix but when we met her she was sweet and friendly.
— Bella - 1 year old Samoyed/Collie mix
Got him on Craigslist, I’ve actually gotten all of my dogs on Craigslist.”
”The pictures of him were actually pretty bad. I was drawn to the detailed description the poster had provided.”
”I was looking for a medium sized dog that was sweet and non-barking. I have a young family and a wife who has been bitten by a dog before so we definitely didn’t want anything large.”
”I got on Craigslist and found Mannie in 24 hours. The whole process took about 3 days.
— Mannie - 3 month old mutt
We spent one year looking online on sites like PetFinder.”
”We considered size, weight, breed, age, and energy level.”
”We ended up finding him at the SF SPCA and went to see him. He was the first dog we looked at after searching for a year online.”
”We consider ourselves lucky that he was the first dog we met and we loved him.
— Gordon - 1 year old shepherd mix

Key Discoveries
- This is a search problem but it is not just the adopter finding the right pet. The adopter has to have a lifestyle and household environment that matches the pet. 
- This is also an education problem. Users might not always know the right animal for them and a shelter employee often helps a user learn what animal is best for their living situation.
- There is more than one type of adopter, adopters fall on a spectrum.
- There will always have to be an in person step to the adoption process. 
- There are not two users. The shelter websites can be scraped by a 3rd party. A company with resources like Google could build and maintain a database of available pets. There is no need for a shelter employee to upload pet data to anywhere besides the shelter site. 
- People look for pets on Craigslist, the service should also pull pet data from there.

 

Who is the User?

Who is the user?
From my research I determined that a pet adopter falls on a spectrum ranging inexperienced to experienced. I decided to define three types of adopters; the first time owner, the casual browser, and specific searcher. 

I recognize that the shelter employee is involved in the adoption process but I chose not to focus on this user for two reasons:
1. My research showed that 3rd party services often automatically pull animal information from shelter websites. This is actually encouraged by the shelter as it spreads the message about their animals. I believe a company with resources like Google could successfully pull and reuse this data at a massive scale.
2. The design exercise prompt is focused on the adopter. 

What is the current process?

The next step in my design process is examining the current scenario. How do potential owners currently approach the adoption process? Creating the as-is scenario helps me further understand the user by breaking down their workflow into the "how". How are they currently accomplishing these steps? From here I discover things that are working and things that are causing pain. 

What are the pain points?

I then identify the pain points in the as-is scenario map. These are the problems that my solution needs to solve. 

How can I fix these pain points?

Using the pain points as anchors, I brainstorm ways that theses problems can be solved. 

What should we build?

This is one of the key exercises of my brainstorming process. How should solutions be prioritized? I use a chart that compares impact (how big of an impact will this have on solving the user's problems) and feasibility (how difficult is this to build). Solutions that end up at the bottom right of the chart should go into the product. Solutions at the top left of the chart may not. Solutions in the middle take further consideration and are often worked through in my sketching phase. 

The Requirements

After all these exercises I have decided to design a mobile app for two main reasons:
1. In November 2016 global mobile internet usage surpassed desktop internet usage for the first time in history (StatCounter). So there are more potential users if this is a mobile app.
2. During my research I discovered that when an owner does not take the adoption process seriously, they are more likely to end up with the wrong companion. Adopting a pet is very exciting but looking for the right pet takes patients and time. Because downloading a mobile app is a commitment (it takes up screen and storage space on your phone), putting the adoption process into a mobile app will communicate that the process is also a commitment. 
 

Sketching & Concept Exploration

In the sketching phase I plan out different relationships and representations of the requirements. I aim to answer questions like: How many screens should it take to complete the task? What content goes on what screen?

I started by mapping out the basic flow of the application: filter, results, view single result. 


I then thought about the first step of the process, the filtering. One of the big take aways from my research was that this is a matching process, not just a searching process. To solve this problem my app would include two sets of filters, household/lifestyle filters for the owner and preference filters for the pet. Owners would only be shown pets that would match their preferences AND be a good fit for their household/lifestyle. 

I then moved onto the next step, the results. I took inspiration from dating apps because this is a process where a user thinks about a match, not just a search. I thought about how dating apps use different levels of restriction to manipulate a user's opinion of their matches. Less restriction = casual. More restriction = serious. 
- Tinder's endless swiping makes a user feel like there is always another option. As a result, people don't take Tinder matches seriously. 
- Grindr's grid of photos presents the user with many options and is is therefore primarily used as a hook up app. 
- The League and Coffee Meets Bagel only show 5 matches a day. This make the user take these matches more seriously as they are limited. 

3 KEY FUNCTIONALITY DECISIONS:
1. My app would source matches based on two sets of criteria, the owner filters and the animal filters. Why? This would ensure that the right animals are going to the right homes (a crucial factor that is often over looked in currently adoption processes).
2. I decided to have my app only show 5 animal matches a day. Why? Looking at dating apps, I noticed that the apps that create more serious relationships had one thing in common, scarcity. By showing less profiles, the user is forced to take their options more seriously. 
3. I would display the animals as cards that can be swiped through. Why? Based on my research, owners first picked out their pet based on a photo and then read the description. Cards allow for a large image to be the main focus of the screen. 

I believe these three key decisions would benefit my spectrum of personas. The dual filtering, limited options, and card display would help my first time owner narrow down their choices and make the right decision while showing my experienced owner exactly what they are looking for. Finally I explored different menu styles.

 I went with a slide out left hand menu and separated the animal filters from the household filters. I put the household filters in the slide out menu and make the animal filters easily accessible from the home screen. Why? By making the household filters less accessible, a user would be less likely to manipulate their household filters to get different animal matches. This menu style would also lend itself well to Android UI patterns. 

High Level Flow

Wireframes

Card display options
- I am a perfectionist about straight lines, solid colors, and even spacing. Sometimes I'll ditch the paper and pencil and play around in Sketch instead. Here are some card display options I explored. 
- I went with the first card option because I liked the way it put the focus on one animal at a time. A stack of cards also didn't feel appropriate for only 5 results. A stack is good for infinite cards, like Tinder, which wasn't the way I wanted this process to feel. 

Animal filter screens
- I based the criteria on the adoption applications I received from the Marin Humane Society. A user can switch between animals by selecting a silhouette. 

Dog filter and breed selection screens
- There are hundreds of dog breeds. To make them easier to search I included a photo, an alphabetical sort, and a search bar.

Slide out menu and main adoption screens
- Here is how I chose to hide the household filters in the slide out menu. 

Household filter and home type selection screens
- I also based the household filters on the applications I received from the Marin Humane Society. 

Animal profile screen
- A card will show the most important information about an animal: the picture, the name, the breed and the gender. A majority of the adoption websites I researched displayed animals this same way. 
- By tapping on a card a user receives all the animal information. 
- I have a share option at the top so a user could easily share this animal profile with a friend or partner. 
- I put the contact shelter at the bottom because I want a user to read through the whole animal description before deciding to contact a shelter. Again this is another decision I made so the user takes process more seriously. 

High Fidelity Mock Ups

My visual design style aims at making content the focus of the interface. I aim to create a clean and minimalist visual design that still maintains a distinct style. I use color with intention. Either the intention to communicate a consistent brand or highlight important information.