Google Design Challenge
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.
Solution (Video walkthrough with voiceover)
Below is an overview prototype of the solution. More in depth screens and process will follow.
Understand the problem
It's worth noting that I narrowed the scope to cats and dogs since they are the vast majority of animals in shelters. If we want to increase meaningful adoptions of these animals, I first need to understand some key questions:
Why do people adopt pets in the first place? Why did they adopt the pet they ended up with?
What are some key characteristics for a successful, long-lasting relationship? Many animals are returned to the shelter shortly after adoption. We want the relationships to be meaningful and successful in the long term
What's preventing them from adopting animals now? What are existing barriers that could potentially be reduced through a new UX?
Understanding the rationale behind people's behavior would let me isolate the true problem for which I was trying to provide a solution. Due to limited time constraints, I turned to published research for clarity.
Understand the adoption space
A lens through which I read the research was the observation that everybody wants a puppy or kitten; adopting young animals is not a problem. Older, neglected, or abused animals are often overlooked. How can we increase adoption rates of this group? Studies like one from ASCPA had valuable information I summarize in the next section.
The most telling research though came from the Feline-ality program, a hugely successful program which synthesizes 1. and 2. above by focusing on matching customers with the right cat-personality. In Feline-ality, future owners take a paper-and-pen quiz that matches their personality and lifestyle to one of 9 cat-types. Adoptions through this program have been extremely successful (40-45% increase in adoptions).
Feline-ality is used for inspiration throughout this design exercise.
Synthesize the learnings
I summarized a couple key takeaways in response to my questions above.
In-person interactions are crucial. This can be broken down in 2 ways:
Animal/owner interaction: While people may browse online beforehand, participants say that body language (wagging tails, being approached, seeing the playfulness of a cat) in response to initial interaction with themselves (future owner) is a main incentive to actually purchase the animal
Volunteer/owner interaction: About 80% of people say that talking to a staff or volunteer provided the most important information about their dog or cat, which beats out browsing online (30%) or cage cards (50%).
People index on appearance, but more should be done to focus on personality and behavior. According to the ASPCA study, since most people pick animals based on appearance, "staff could emphasize behavior and personality to create a better match." This is partly why people pick puppies and kittens vs. older dogs.
Health and behavior information are more important than previous life history of animal. 90 and 80% respectively of respondents say health and behavior history, respectively, are extremely important. These should be prioritized over the animal's life history.
Source: PetSmart Charities
Identify the customer
In addition to the future adopter, we are also designing for the shelter. Shelters have a huge overcrowding problem resulting in high rates of euthanasia and increased costs, so successful adoptions benefit all parties involved.
For the shelter, this experience should...
Reduce animal overpopulation. Focus on matching people with older, less traditionally desirable dogs and cats.
Be low cost (financially). This experience shouldn't require a huge investment in new tech
Have a small switching cost. Not an overhaul of their entire system, if we actually want it to be widely adopted. This means things like:
Pet info should be easy and familiar to input
Low learning curve
Be flexible to integrate. By no means are shelters across the country consistent in their technology. The solution should be extensible for easy manual data population independent of existing technology.
Require few additional resources. Shelters are largely run on volunteers or staff who are already overwhelmed and don't have lots of extra time to invest
For the adopter, this experience should...
Have a low barrier to entry. For widespread adoption, the solution should fit into user's existing flow & not feel like a lot of 'work'
Help find meaningful relationships. Provide an easy way to find successful, long-lasting animal companions.
It helped me to draw parallels to other industries, like dating apps. While appearance matters much more in dating than in a pet, apps that focus on establishing a person's personality tend to result in longer-lasting relationships. For instance, for OkCupid, in which users create lengthy profiles to show their personality, 32% of users had a relationship lasting >1 month, compared to Tinder, an almost completely appearance-based app (13%). Though I can't infer direct causality for OKCupid's success rate over Tinder's, it inspired me here.
Source: Consumer Research
I synthesized everything I'd learned so far to come up with some UX goals to guide my design.
Emphasize personality over appearance. When people are asked why they want a lab (appearance), they answer because it's a 'family dog', or 'friendly' (which are personality traits). The UX should distill the personality of the animal from the appearance, and present this in a way that emphasizes the emotional connection over labels like appearance.
Establish an emotional connection. People already can browse shelter photos online, but adoption rates are relatively low. Transition our focus to increasing the success rate of in-person visits, where people are already more invested and susceptible to taking home an animal. This has high potential for long-lasting matches.
The UX goals drove my brainstorm of various solutions, such as scheduling from your living room a Google Hangout with dogs from the shelter. Many ideas were originally mobile-based. However, these solutions lacked the in-person component that is so crucial to successful adoptions. Only a limited emotional connection can be established via static photos on an app.
I asked myself if resources could be better spent targeting customers with a higher probability of success - those at the shelter - while focusing on 1) increased adoptions of less desirable animals and 2) lower return rate of adoptions.
These are some very early wireframes/sketches.
My solution is an app that runs on a tablet at the shelter at the front desk or waiting room, where it's likely to be filled out by bored or idle waiting customers. As described above, a solution on-site targets future owners who are serious about getting a dog or cat, while making their time at the shelter more targeted, efficient, and successful.
It consists of two parts to help adopters plan a successful visit.
Part 1: A short "lifestyle & personality" questionnaire
A user provides answers to carefully chosen questions about their lifestyle and animal preferences (focusing on personality/behavior). The outcome of this, influenced from Feline-ality research, is discovering your cat or dog 'personality type'. Animals in the shelter are already assigned a type (see note later how this is done), and this targeted pool of animals is then digitally displayed to the adopter to browse through.
The intent here is to establish an emotional connection and illustrate how the animal will fit in the user's lifestyle (e.g. this is the ideal dog for an old retired couple vs. busy parents with active kids). Picking an animal purely by breed or appearance is overly simplistic, so the focus here is more holistic, represented by an overview of the animal personality.
An added benefit is that dogs and cats of all types are shown, not just those that are young or pretty.
Part 2: Schedule animals to meet today
This places focus on in-person meeting with an animal and volunteer. Rather than walking around casually browsing animals, which makes the focus almost entirely on appearance, adopters can add specific matches to a 'short list' or animals to see and meet today.
Benefits of this model are that it:
Focuses volunteer's time on fewer but more meaningful human-animal interactions
Allows volunteer to provide in-person input on the animal, which users previously said was the most important determining factor in learning about an animal.
Provides higher chance these interactions will be 'successful' (e.g. adopter feels a connection and takes animal home)
Prototype walkthrough with voiceover
As mentioned above, we are also need to make sure this solution is easy-to-consume by the shelter. Two main areas came to mind:
Volunteer/staff time. Originally I thought taking people on schedule tours may take up additional time. However, because the time spent is more tailored, it's simply transitioning from higher quantity/lower quality to lower quantity/higher quality, and I don't think should be a resource burden.
Inputting information about animals. Today staff and volunteers write blurbs about animals, but how are they supposed to quantify personality types? I'd imagine the staff version of this app would have some simple personality questionnaire for the animal as well, which would be smartly analyzed and categorize the animal into a personality genre.
Given more time...
Tthere are several things I'd have like to have explored further…
What is the right set of questions that determine a personality?
Does this fit into processes in place at the shelter? What overhead would a system like this bring?
Do customers actually prefer less quantity/higher quality, or feel like they're missing out on other options?
How can the shelter more accurately input personality types of dogs and cats? Right now it is heavily qualitative
Extending the design
The design has high potential at the shelter, and I think can be extended to mobile devices as a supplement. One could imagine a visitor planning their trip from the comfort of their couch. Since this requires more diligence on the customer (e.g. installing the app, planning ahead), it could potentially get lower usage than at a waiting room, but is still valuable. This could even incorporate my earlier idea of scheduling virtual Hangouts with the animal to bring that personal connection to the home.