PET ACADEMY

The One With the Pivot

Pet Academy is an educational website, which aims to ensure prospective or current dog owners are adequately equipped for the challenges and responsibilities of pet ownership.

How might we help people who lack pet experience prepare for dog ownership?

THE TEAM

Two UX designers

One UI designer

MY ROLES

UX Designer,

UX Researcher,

UI/Visual Consultant

OUR TOOLS

Figma, Jira, Miro, Google Suite,

Zoom, Pencil & Paper

ACCEPTING THE BRIEF

Kickoff

The challenge was in the ambiguity. The open brief only dictated that we had to design and create a responsive website for both mobile and desktop on the topic of animal welfare. This meant that we had the freedom to explore any aspect of the zoological world. 

But the real question we had to answer was:

what did animal welfare
mean to us?

MY PROCESS

Research

Define

Ideate

Test

Iterate

Ship

DOING THE LEGWORK

Research

After brainstorming and discussing multiple proposals, my team and I decided to tackle something in the pet domain because we knew there was a target audience and could easily identify competitors already in the market. 

Working within one-week agile sprints, I quickly delved into exploratory research and completed a competitive analysis of existing players in the pet sector. 

 

Through my preliminary research, I became interested in why people who want a pet have not yet pursued pet ownership and sought to explore some of the challenges first-time or new pet owners face. Conversely, I wanted to learn how more experienced pet owners may have overcome those same problems.  

 

We came up with a working hypothesis:

People who want to get a pet, but lack pet experience, are intimidated by the process and overwhelmed with the amount of information available, discouraging them from pursuing pet ownership.

I wanted to understand the following:

Why

don't people who want a pet pursue

pet ownership?

What

did current pet owners experience 

when they got their first pet?

How

do first-time owners

find resources to become educated

about pet care?

To find answers to these questions, my team and I set out to conduct interviews with subject matter experts (SMEs), pet owners, and non-pet owners who were interested in getting a pet.

We interviewed 8 participants:

1 Veterinarian

1 Dog Trainer

3 Prospective

Owners

3 Current Owners

SMEs

Users

In order to further substantiate our findings, I sent out surveys to collect quantitative data on perceptions around pet ownership and to see how likely it was for non-owners to get a pet. There were 33 respondents. 

MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL

Define

During my exploratory research, I was confronted with some 

staggering statistics:

up to

 20%

of animals are returned to the shelter 

within the first 6 months of adoption

6-8

million

cats and dogs enter shelters each year,

but only 4 million

are adopted

~2.4

million

cats and dogs that are euthanized in shelters each year are healthy and adoptable

These numbers inspired our working hypothesis, but I needed to understand more about the potential problem space, so I put together an affinity diagram from our interview transcripts and survey responses to aid us in visualizing commonalities and patterns.

Our findings aligned with our research in pointing towards two primary reasons for the return of animals to shelters:

Animal

Behavior

Unanticipated

Costs

Owners fail to correct aggressive or undesired behaviors  due to lack of training and know-how. 

Most participants had

no idea what the financial and emotional responsibilities were before getting a pet. 

The data that I quantified from the survey responses further corroborated these key takeaways. I had enough information to define our personas.

This is Anita.

She's always wanted a pet, but her parents never allowed it, so naturally, she immediately started looking for one as soon as she moved out. Having no prior experience, she's not sure what to expect and how pet ownership would impact her lifestyle. Due to this uncertainty, she hesitates in taking next steps towards adoption.

To further illustrate Anita's narrative, I wrote a storyboard that followed her through her quest for pet information and created a user journey map to chart her emotional response throughout her pet researching process.

With our heroine's goals and frustrations in mind, we were able to evolve our hypothesis into a problem statement.

WORKING HYPOTHESIS:

People who want to get a pet, but lack pet experience, are intimidated by the process and overwhelmed with the amount of information available, discouraging them from pursuing pet ownership.

PROBLEM STATEMENT:

Potential first-time pet owners need a way to fully understand the responsibilities of pet ownership because they want to become adequately prepared and confident in committing to new pet ownership.

Now that we had a problem statement and someone to solve this problem for, we moved into individual sketching and ideation. 

After comparing our ideas, we decided to draw paper prototypes for:

  • Pet meetup and adoption event pages 

  • Online community groups for prospective owners to connect with experienced pet owners

  • Resources sorted by category for dogs, cats, and exotics

Rolling full speed ahead, I digitized my designs into low fidelity wireframes and started working on the sitemap and potential user flows.

We were ahead of schedule and everything seemed to be peachy keen.

Until I finally took a step back to admire our work, and it dawned on me:

We were solving for the
wrong problem statement.

SOLVING FOR THE RIGHT PROBLEM

Ideate

I had to pump the brakes.

 

Our problem statement asserted that potential first-time pet owners needed a way to better understand the responsibilities of pet ownership; whereas, our proposed designs were geared towards finding a pet community, which was not the user's goal. This iteration was tangential to the problem we were actually trying to solve.

We needed to pivot.

To address this, I referred back to Anita and the affinity diagram for inspiration. The most common groupings centered around financial and training challenges along with themes of pet preparedness and adoption.

Additionally, most people consult online resources to learn about pet care, which validated designing for a responsive web platform.

Although we started answering the right problem, I found that the direction was still much too broad for a minimum viable product (MVP). 

After going back to the research, we narrowed our scope by prioritizing potential and first-time dog owners, as opposed to trying to cater to all pet types. The data showed that most pet owners or prospective owners are more likely to adopt or get a dog over any other animal species. Further expansion could be considered for future phases.

We went back to our problem statement for a third

and (hopefully) final time.

WORKING HYPOTHESIS:

People who want to get a pet, but lack pet experience, are intimidated by the process and overwhelmed with the amount of information available, discouraging them from pursuing pet ownership.

ORIGINAL PROBLEM STATEMENT

Potential first-time dog owners need a way to take actionable steps towards dog ownership because they want to become adequately prepared and confident in committing to the responsibilities of owning a dog. 

REVISED PROBLEM STATEMENT:

Potential first-time dog owners need a way to take actionable steps towards dog ownership because they want to become adequately prepared and confident in committing to the responsibilities of owning a dog.

Because our users wanted to have action items, we decided on an educational approach, designing step-by-step guides with curated content courses along with article sections for budget and adoption.

 

With this new, more focused direction, we were able to bring our designs into mid-fidelity while minimizing any adverse impacts and keeping our timeline on track.

OUTCOMES

Test & Iterate

Usability testing validated our product proof of concept and primary user goal, but it also helped me identify some areas of improvement.

Here are some key takeaways:

Value Prop

Users suggested that the site's primary purpose was not highlighted enough.

Labeling

User feedback stated that some labels and names were unclear or misleading

Imagery

Users wanted visual elements to make the course page more interesting and fun.

Positive responses showed that pet educational courses was a unique concept that made the most impact, but 4 out the 5 user participants could not immediately infer the site's value proposition, suggesting that there was not enough focus on the academic aspect

To address this, I restructured the information architecture so that the site would only offer courses as opposed to having a mix of courses and articles. Users would still be able to find individual articles through the search function.​

Additional key iterations for the home page:

  • Replacing the primary menu options with course categories for clearer navigation.

  • Improving the copywriting for better accessibility while reducing ambiguity.

Relabelled navigation bar with course categories.

Replaced "See All" with "More Courses" for more descriptive text links.

Scrapped individual articles in favor of focusing on Course offerings.

Early feedback had already resulted in renaming the curated offerings from "Guides/Playlists" to "Pet Courses." During testing; however, users felt that the name insinuate a lot of work was involved even though the curriculum itself was short. By replacing “Pet” with “Mini,” the new adjective can act as a qualifier to mitigate the perceived workload. 

Additional key iterations for the Mini Course page:

  • Including a course summary at the top to set user expectations.

  • Displaying article images for increased visual engagement.

Added description for

each course.

Renamed to Mini Course to make it less intimidating

Incorporated imagery for visual interest.

FINAL DELIVERABLES

Ship

Ultimately, my team and I were able to meet our deadline and are quite proud of our work; however, if given more time on this project, we would want to conduct further usability testing for our current iteration.

(Pro tip: I recommend the "Is dog ownership right for me?" course)

LESSONS LEARNED

Retrospective

  • Check in with your user: Always go back to the user and to the research to make sure that the proposed solution is actually answering the problem statement.

  • It’s okay to pivot if you need to: This project taught me that sometimes it’s okay to scrap an initial idea for one that better aligns with the user’s goals and needs. Of course, the earlier, the better, in order to minimize any impact to the timeline or scope.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this!​

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