Pet Adoption case study

The problem: Pets are man's best friend, but millions of shelter and foster animals are left without a home. With so many animals to choose from, how do people looking for a pet find the right companion that matches their lifestyle? This design case study attempts to find a solution in one week. 

My assumptions:

  • This experience is designed for people who already desire to adopt a pet
  • Applies to shelter & foster animals only (ie. Not bred animals)

Initial Questions:

  • Are we targeting a specific market or going global immediately? 
  • Are there requirements to build this on a specific digital platform?
  • What are the business objectives? Is there a goal for profitability?
  • How are we getting the available pets' profiles?

Competitive ANALYSIS

I started by pulling information on current pet adopter products into a comparison chart that allowed me to see what features are common, where there are gaps, and how users are reacting.


  • Products are split between animal shelter search applications and lifestyle quiz websites that recommend a specific species or breed.
  • All apps narrow down animals by demographic (breed, age, gender) in order to search the database. The paragraph description about the pet is usually the only way to get to know a dog’s personality.
  • Experts match animals to adopters by lifestyle characteristics (adopter's commitment, energy, household needs, etc), not the animal demographics available in shelter search apps (breed, age, gender).

If I had more time:

  • I would analyze flows of existing products to see how users currently walk through each app/ site. What do they enjoy? Where do they get stuck? What is a product missing? 
  • I would spend more time defining how to choose a pet for an adopter's lifestyle. 
  • I would talk to our Marketing and Product teams to involve their expertise in market trends and gaps.

User Research

I visited two local shelters: one large, well-funded shelter brought in every type of animal, the other smaller shelter specialized in elderly dogs. At both locations, I asked senior staff questions with the goal of discovering how they match animals with an adopter's lifestyle.

Shelter Discoveries: 

  • The adoption process involves a paper application and in-person interview to ensure lifestyle fit. 
  • Shelters encourage adopters to choose animals based on personality fit, not looks or age.
  • Adoptable animals are in an online database to allow pets to be easily posted on generic websites and apps. 

Adopter Interviews: Neither shelter was keen on me interviewing their customers, so I interviewed pet adopter friends and surveyed adopters online. I kept my questions brief with the goal of finding out why they chose a specific animal and what process they went through. Nearly two dozen user surveys came in from around the globe including North America, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East.  

Adopter Discoveries:

  • Many purchases are spontaneous when visiting the shelter. Less than half of adopters researched breed characteristics before choosing a pet. 
  • Process at the shelter could be greatly improved: "Once we picked her out, they made us sit there for an hour filling out paper work with a puppy on my lap. We just wanted to go play with her." 
  • When asked to list the most important features in a new pet, adopters' answers were based on lifestyle, not breed or demographics. Would the pet fit into the existing household and life of the adopter?


Based on information from the shelters and user interviews, these three personas represent the most common adopters: young couples, families, and independent seniors. 


  • For all personas, the reason for adopting a pet is companionship. However, the unique lifestyles of each persona define their pet's ideal characteristics.
  • The Trigger of the adoption process varies among adopters from life changes, to family growth, to loneliness. Their discovery process varies as well from downloading apps, to searching the web, to seeing ads in the newspaper.
  • The Pain Point is the same for all users. Once they've found their pet, the interview process to prove that they're a fit and filling out all of the paperwork is an annoyance. It's an emotional downer in between finding the perfect companion and taking her or him home. 
  • The Highlight is the adopter walking out the door with their new best friend.  For all personas this is an exciting, fun experience.


I sketched out a variety of feature and flow ideas focusing on the users needs I found during research. Ideas weren't limited by cost or device in order to think as broadly as possible. 


  • Create a delightful experience
  • Remove pain points
  • Insure a lifestyle fit
  • Incorporate novel technologies

If I had more time: 

I would spend days on ideation! This is my favorite part of the process as it allows you to be creative without limitations. More time spent on ideation means you're more likely to get past your default, jump-to ideas and onto the really creative solutions.


Flow Concept Development

These high level user flow diagrams walk through each persona's original process, but with additions from the ideation session to improve the experience. This ensures we meet users where they are rather than trying to funnel them down a path they won't find.

One major goal of these flows was to reduce the paper application process. Paper forms are the main pain-point for adopters and a hassle for staff who have to manually enter the information. Documenting the lifestyle compatibility through an app can make the experience more magical for a user (data automatically entered, pets personalized to them) and means the information is uploaded digitally for staff. 

If I had more time: 

I would put each persona through each flow to see which concept makes the most sense for all users.



The three app prototypes below reflect the user flows laid out above and focus on app flow, components, and features. Based on my research and ideation, my goal with each design was also to:

  • Ask users lifestyle questions to help them find their best pet (and help them understand why the pet is right for them)
  • Automate the pet pairing process to remove user error (bias towards or overlooking animals)
  • Replace paper applications by allowing users to submit their profile from this app to multiple shelters (reducing adopter's time in the shelter and staff's workload).
  • Delight the user with personalization, intelligent pairing, and engaging interfaces.

Prototype 1: Lifestyle Quiz (Invision Prototype)

An app to help adopters find their pet through lifestyle quiz cards.


Prototype 2: Beacon Search (Invision Prototype)

An app to help adopters find their pet with a lifestyle survey and proximity beacons.


Prototype 3: Voice Input (Invision Prototype)

An app to help shelter staff document pet adopters and find matches digitally.


Prototype Testing:

Product testing with users helped catch flow and feature confusion. After several tests, I made revisions based on feedback before testing on the next user. The flow became much smoother and the layout was easily understandable.

Users were most successful at onboarding with prototypes 1 & 2 and were easily paired with pets. Prototype 3's voice control caused some confusion. 

Generally, the interactivity of prototype 1, was most preferred by users. As one user said,  "I appreciate how I'm not forced to complete my whole profile at once. I can answer a few questions and start browsing. I feel like I'm in control of the options I want to define my pet."


High fidelity mock up

Given the ease of use and user preference to the lifestyle quiz (Prototype 1) , I moved forward with it as my final design. The interface design uses a clean style to attract users of all ages and bright colors to emphasis the fun experience of the adoption process.



This app's lifestyle pairing removes the gamble out of pet adoption, and simplifies the process for both shelter staff and adopters.

"If we could use this, I would feel like we were picking out a pet that actually meets our needs."

"This would have saved us so much time."

"I love this app because we could fill out our profile once at home and send it to multiple shelters."