Designing a solution for pet adopters

Project Details

Millions of animals are currently in shelters and foster homes awaiting adoption and many families prefer to work with shelters versus pet stores or breeders. This project explores a solution that will help people get matched with the perfect pet while considering factors including breed, gender, age, temperament, and health status. I also set out to include help for potential pet adopters that are impacted by socioeconomic factors that endure inequities in access to pet resources.

Since this project is intended to share what my process is like, rather than design a full product ready to ship, I felt it was OK shorten some of my research and only present a small sampling of higher fidelity visual design to deliver this in a timely fashion. I also wasn’t able to get feedback on a few wire flows in time from shelter staff that I wish I could have. Below are the steps of my process and how I moved through them.

To give myself a clear directive, I’m adhering to the following user story.

User Story

As a 
Pet adopter

I want to
find the perfect pet

So that
We have a long lasting relationship

A user story creates a focal point that I can continue to check back on and ask myself: Am I’m accomplishing what I set out to do for this person?

Design Goals

This product at minimum should meet these requirements.

1.Has a setup that is easy and intuitive for families searching by pet characteristics, and those searching by lifestyle criteria.
2.Allow prospective adopters to understand critical factors that help them make an informed and educated decision.
3.Include a resource component that helps potential pet adopters that experience financial challenges.


Design Thinking

A trusted methodology to serve as a framework for the design process

Design Thinking is a methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. There’s five stages that make up this process and it’s important to include users at every phase of this process.

Design Thinking
Courtesy: Nielsen Norman Group

Pawdopt Project Phases

Discovery (Empathy)

At this stage I set out to engage pet adopters so that I could gain a better understanding of their experience searching for the perfect pet and what motivates their decisions. Research and general information gathering is critical to gaining appropriate understanding versus solely relying on ones own assumptions.

National numbers on pets

(via the Humane Society of the U.S.)

There are two main sources of pet demographics in the United States: the biennial APPA National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association, and the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Source book by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) which is published every five years. Together these surveys provide data about trends in pet ownership and produce a reasonably accurate estimate of the total number of dogs and cats.

Pet Facts 2015-2016 APPA Survey 2017-2018 APPA Survey AVMA Sourcebook
Number of households with a pet 79.7 million 84.6 million
Percentage of households with a pet 65% 68%
Estimated number of pet dogs and cats 163.6 million 183.9 million
Percentage of pet-owners who consider their pets to be family members 63.2%
Percentage of pet-owners who consider their pets to be pets or companions 35.8%

Households data 2012 AVMA Sourcebook 2015-2016 APPA Survey 2017-2018 APPA Survey
Average amount spent on veterinary care per year, per dog $227 $1,542 $1,386
Percentage of dogs who are mixed breed/”mutts” 47% 51%

Dog & cat Acquisition 2012 AVMA Sourcebook 2015-2016 APPA Survey 2017-2018 APPA SURVEY
Dogs adopted from a shelter or rescue 84.7% 37% (up from 35% in 2012/2013) 44%
Cats adopted from a shelter or rescue 46% (up from 43% in 2012/2013) 47%
Dogs purchased from a pet store 4.2% 4% (down from 5% in 2012/2013) 4%
Cats purchased from a pet store 2% 1%


Dogs and Cats are the most popular pets to Adopt and people think of them as family:

  • Mixed breeds are acceptable and are most commonly adopted from shelters
  • Vet bills can add up, adopters need to know what they should expect to spend

I narrowed my focus to designing a flow for dogs and cats and other pets last. The samples show only dogs, but the cat flow would be the same.


Interviews with potential pet adopters

I spent time speaking with friends and family as well as staff from a few local shelters to understand the process for pet adoption and how pet adopters search for potential pets.

(Friends & family, no real names used. Normally I would interview a minimum of 5 users and obtain signed waivers)
Profile Natalie: Young adult, wrapping up College this year. Working retail right now and has flexible schedule. She is looking for companionship for her time home and time outdoors. Delaney: Adult female with family that includes husband and teen daughter, pet is important part of family for companionship and we have wanted a new pet for a while. Hester: Adult male that works at a Golf course and works with grounds maintenance team. Work allows dogs, so wants a small dog. He has flexible nights and weekends.
Lifestyle Weekdays, go to school and after school I have my shift 4-6, but when not working I have time for hobbies and fun. Home during the day, family likes to be home and go out occasionally, mostly home. Morning start early, work feels a bit solitary in the area he covers. I leave 5 am, wrap up at around 1 pm. Evenings are a little lonely too.
Pet Type “I think a chow chow dog.
I would like to know if chow chows can chill and be outdoors.
I think chow chows are sweet and I like fluffy dogs. I want to go with a dog because they are loyal and I enjoy interacting with them and walking etc.”
“Looking for a dog, non specific.
Characteristics, calm, good with kids. Good track record of not being aggressive. Want people to be able to come over without issue like other pet attacks. Especially because it’s an adoptive dog, need to know. Looking for calm breed is what to focus on. No pit bulls, shepherds etc.
Looking for a dog, companionship, take them places, walks, trips. Become part of family. More awareness than a cat. ”
“Looking for a small dog, not specific.
A pet that is ok with staying close, won’t run off. Loyal and peppy.
It’s time for a companion, someone to spend time with while working.”
Adopt vs Breeder Shelters seem nicer. Want to help a pet that hey has been with another family and it’s nice to give them a new home. From a breeder is seems too expensive, better for the world to adopt pets. Sad that for whatever reason pet could not be cared for or coming from a terrible situation. I want to give them another chance to have another home. Breeder does not have the same story. Adoption gives me the chance to give a little guy a new start, times are tough, we all could use help.
Decision Factors Wants to know if it’s a good fit, don’t want the pet to not be happy. Get as much information on issue as possible; behavior, history, how long has dog been there. Why has it taken long. Ask staff what type of home would dog work with. How do they react to different staff members? Medical history wants an expect, professional opinion. Is there test to assess match? I don’t have a lot of money for vet bills, so needs to be healthy, young, but not a puppy that requires a bunch of training.
Questions & Concerns “Want to know how much grooming, how often to take to the vet, so animal is healthy, also how much exercise does it need?
Challenges with house breaking, not used to potty, so might be tough. Chewing issues, how to prevent. ”
“Some agreement where if behavior was an issue, I could bring back or take classes with shared expense with the shelter.
Want to be set up, with classes, vet options, recommendations for the pet, health insurance. If brand new want to know all the costs that go with it. Mixed breed etc. Deal breaker would be advanced age and aggression. Too old and have health issues. While it’s sweet, things are going to go wrong and it becomes a huge expense. ”
How do I get help with health stuff and vaccines? Dog won’t stay close to me if not that right type, so want to know that.
Travel Distance Could do some long distance, but not beyond one state any direction, but prefer CA If there was the perfect dog, I could travel if it was within 12 hours. Some owners might be willing to fly. Must be local

Interviews with shelter staff

Shelter staff profiles Christa
Adoption Counselor with SPCA Mission SF
Adoption Counselor with SPCA Peninsula
Adoption Counselor with Humane Society of SV.
Peninsula Humane Society Director
Process for pet adoption People come in, fill out a profile sheet. You meet with one of our match helpers to assess if you and the pet are a good fit. You’ll learn more about where the dog comes from, it’s temperament, learn about health issues etc. You usually tell right away if the match is a hit or miss. You pick kennel card, get assigned a counselor, then discuss family lifestyle, behavioral characteristics medical history of the animal. If all is a good match on paper, then it’s about 20 minutes to complete the adoption. Meet the animal, recommendation, spayed and neutered . Up to date, behavior assessment. If sparks interest, meet them and behavior. Fill out profile via web or an interview happens at the shelter
What are most people looking for? Dogs and Cats Dogs and Cats Dogs and Cats Dogs and Cats
How do ensure pets and owners are a great match? We spend time talking about lifestyle and family situation. If the dog is going to be alone, then we recommend daycare or a walker. We also try to match temperament Everyone is matched up with a counselor that is trained to match you with the best possible fit. we ask what kind of energy level are you looking for, will they take out on hikes or looking for a pet to sit with you. We spend time reviewing the profile form. We look for issues with what people are looking for. We don’t want to be the bad guy, but some people come in looking for a particular breed, but we determine it’s not a good fit based on what they share about their lifestyle.
Do you provide information about vets, classes and health insurance? We discuss all of that, resources etc. We have a hospital and conduct first Wellness exam. Online resources and discounts are also available. We’ll share info about our vets that are partners, give you info on behavior classes and help line phone number, handouts and more. We don’t provide info on health of insurance. Puppy requires training, so with puppy adoption, the fee is $375, and includes 6 week training sessions. Adult dog is $175, no training, but we offer a discount. We have a list of vets that provide free initial exam. We talk about medical issues, behavior classes and discounts for health checkups. We offer behavior consultants.
What if things aren’t working out, options? Work with the family to find behavior programs, but will take back. Try and solve problem, but if not workable, accept all animals back If doesn’t work out, we take back the animal. $90 fee waived. We will allow pets to come back, but we talk about options for behavior.
Insights “Matching needs to be in person with a trained professional.
Local will play a large factor to what pets are available.”
Dog profile are updated every hour. In person meeting to tell if it’s a good match. Adoption is forever, fee can be a lot. Fostering, makes it easy for those that are not sure, you can sign up on www. Orientation, smaller fee. Operational changes are not going to be easy. Staff is overworked. Something that would help is education for families.


There are a two scenarios that families typically have when looking for a pet and one for staff:

  • They have a pet in mind and lifestyle comes second
  • They are looking for a pet to fit their existing lifestyle
  • Shelter staff wants their pets to be placed in the perfect home, this only happens by meeting the families in person and having them fill out information about their lifestyle.

Define (Where are adopters and staff are needing help?)

Operationally, staff  have many responsibilities, they want to get pets into great homes, but will not send pets home to a home that is not a good fit. Extra work is out of the question for staff, they don’t need a new software solution as they have had other tools introduced to their workflows and they don’t work. Meeting with families and understanding their lifestyles will answer all the questions they have. For the financially challenged, there are resources available, they just need to be made visible to adopters.

A product centered around adoption education would not only help potential adopters make informed decisions, it would help staff begin the interview process with all the essential information they need to make a great match, in addition their is no additional operational ask for the staff to add on to their existing demanding schedules.

Competitive Analysis

Reviewing existing products for pet adoption


Includes dogs, cats, horses, sheep, birds, pigs and reptiles, among them — which you can sort in various ways including by breed, energy level, size, coat length and special needs.

They allow a forum to communicate directly with shelters and rescue groups throughout the U.S. and Canada . They include attributes like grooming needs; if they’re good with dogs, cats or kids; if they can live in an apartment; if they’re vaccinated. You can choose pets by energy level, by the amount of training they’ve had, or how much shedding you can expect once they move in.

WeRescue App

WeRescue lets you browse through beautiful full-screen images of pets in your area using your smartphone. Other than saving miles on your car, this lets you pick the right pet by making available many details right in the palm of your hand. Learn of how the shelter operates, such as whether they have a physical location or are foster-based. Contact the shelter when you’re ready by emailing or calling directly from the app.


There are some good apps out there for viewing pets and their profiles, but…:

  • Images of cute pets are engaging, but education is missing.
  • People still need to visit local shelters and get matched with a adoption counselor for vetting, not all pets from shelters are represented in these apps as pets come and go quickly.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any resources provided for families that have financial challenges but want to experience the love and companionship of owning a pet.

Reviewing a few other pet adoption apps I found that many users complained about things not working right, odd bugs like pets weren’t getting updated. It appeared that there were many technical issues that even led to the shut down of AllPaws. As a part of my process, I would have spent time working with the development team to make sure the we had a product that was stable and properly supported. There’s no point in making a product feature rich if the support is not in place technically and operationally.


Sketches (Ideate)

A few ideas exploring UI and flow. At this point it would be great to set up time with users to come up with ideas as well as staff, but due to time constraints, I had to explore this on my own. These ideas came as a result of the interviews I conducted. They are focused on matching with user’s lifestyle versus specific pet breeds.


Visual Design (Prototype / Test)

Exploring UI and flow at this point. Getting feedback on the flow and direction of the product was met with good response and personas expressed approval of the emphasis on education rather than viewing a list of pets. This gave them confidence that they were being matched successfully.

Wire flow Diagrams

How users will navigate, make decisions and experience Pawdopt.

Low fidelity examples

Once I had a good sense of the flow, I began a quick focus on brand, and spent time exploring a solution for the final UI. I only included a few screen examples, again to share what my process is like versus designing out the entire app.

Color Scheme

I wanted to approach color that was playful and neutral and felt modern. I chose melon shades as they are pleasant and captured a sense of playfulness.


I chose Raleway for the logo and general copy as I wanted a font where the header to be easy to read and felt subtly playful. I also wanted it to be strong so it expressed a sense of trust and familiarity.

High Fidelity  Examples

Examples of final UI

Prototype / Test

Click through example to present to users for testing.

In loving memory of Rocky.