Pet, set, go!

Pet, Set, Go! is a mobile application that seeks to reduce the rehoming rates of adopted animals by strengthening the bond between pets and their new owners.

This app was developed as part of UC Berkeley's School of Information final project.

We are honored to have won the Dr. James R Chen Award for our work.

This award is intended to recognize and foster innovation, creative solutions, and pragmatic applications in the area of information retrieval and management.


Why build Pet, set, go! ?

Over 1 million pets are rehomed each year and, as animal lovers, my team and I chose to tackle this problem. We designed and built Pet, Set, Go!, a fully functioning app, with the goal of strengthening the bond between the owner and pet to reduce overall rehoming rates. Our research shows that building a strong relationship between the adopted pet and the new owner over the first two to four weeks of adoption are crucial as this is the acclimatization period for both the pet and the owner in their new environments. We hope that by creating this bond early, we can create a lifelong relationship that improves the lives of both the pet and the owner.

As the only UX/UI designer on the team, I was responsible for creating all of the designs, conducting human-centered design exercises, and conducting user research with our team's UX researcher.    

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Generative research

With our goal of reducing the rehoming rates of shelter pets, my team and I conducted various user research studies to identify a white space in the period starting from the pet's pre-adoption up until its return to the shelter. 

Our research methods included conducting a series of semi-structured qualitative interviews, conducting a competitive analysis and launching a survey. Our assumption was that employing these research methods would help us identify an untouched space that would benefit from a technology-mediated approach to nurturing the pet-human relationship.

Sample of key insights derived from our research:

  1. Impulse pet adoptions lead to pet parents becoming overwhelmed by the responsibility associated with owning a pet. This leads to the rehoming of the pet.
  2. New pet parents have an idealized expectation for their pet's behavior and are often disappointed when reality does not match their expectations.
  3. Once the pets are adopted, the first two to four weeks is the most crucial time to form a strong human-pet relationship.
  4. New pet parents resort to the internet to ask questions, resolve problems, and to find advice. However, they are often overwhelmed by the volume of information available and do not know how to determine what information is valid.
  5. There are experienced players in the market aiding the matching of shelter pets to potential adopters and addressing the pre-adoption issues.

  6. Many apps and websites that currently exist and address some of the pet management issues are poorly built in terms of functionality and aesthetics.


formative research

The insights gathered from our generative research helped us develop three main themes catered towards creating a strong pet-human relationship:

  1. Acclimatization– Acclimatizing the pet to their new home acts as the very foundation of building a strong bond between the pets and the new pet parents. It is essential to get the pet accustomed to the new environment as a way to avoid stressful situations.

  2. Behavior– It is important to acknowledge that shelter pets generally have some kind of history that shapes their behavior. Pet parents need to put in time and effort to understand, monitor, and mend negative behaviors of their pets.

  3. Expectations– Our research showed that one of the main reasons for the return of a pet is because the adopters have a notion of an ideal pet and the reality often does not meet this expectation. Setting realistic expectations and providing positive reinforcement to pet parents about their new pets would help avoid this type of situation.



Using the information we gathered from our research, we held brainstorming sessions to generate features for our app. These brainstorming session generated hundreds of ideas and themes which we classified into specific categories. The next step was to generate features for each category, each of which was evaluated against our broader product vision.

We also conducted a competitive analysis to gain a deeper understanding of the other players in the space and to find weaker areas which would benefit from an update and improvements.



low-fidelity prototyping

Based on the information gathered from the previous phases, we were able to start creating low-fidelity paper prototypes for the first round of features that we generated. Initially, we believed that we would offer training modules, an information repository, a journaling component, a community for new pet owners, and an activities section to support new pet owners. However, after walking through various user flows using these prototypes, we recognized that areas like the community section and the information repository were not foundational to helping a new pet owner create a bond with their pet. Instead, those were areas that could be helpful at a future date when the bond was already created. Through these exercises, we were able to narrow the scope of our app to focus on designing an product that would help a new pet owner build a forever bond with their new pet.

What's the best way to do this?

As we continued our user research, we discovered that many new pet owners felt insecure about whether they were a good pet parent or if they were doing a lousy job. We felt that this was an important area to focus on as the owner's confidence in their ability to take care of a pet has a direct influence on whether their pet would be rehomed. As a result, we chose to include an onboarding user flow into our app which would help us get a sense of the new owner's comfort level with pets. The information gathered from these screens would be used to help curate specific activities, at the right comfort level, for the owner to do with their new shelter pet. We felt that this would help ease the transition for both the pet and the owner into their new lives together. 

Onboarding screens for new pet parents

Onboarding screens for new pet parents

Ultimately, we wanted Pet, Set, Go! to create a forever bond between the new pet and their owner. So, we chose to focus on building an activities section, a journaling section, and a dashboard which tracks their activity progress. We felt that by focusing on these three areas we would be able to help both parties acclimate, we could monitor and help improve the pet's behavior, and finally, we could also help manage the pet owner's expectations regarding what it means to own a pet.

Aside from using human-centered design to solve these problems, we also used behavioral economic principles like soft paternalism, nudging, and goal-setting to support the user in their efforts towards building their relationship. Our soft paternalistic approach can be seen in the activities section where the user has the option to choose which activities they want to complete from a list of pre-selected options rather than the app explicitly telling the user which activities to do. The user can choose the number of activities they feel comfortable doing weekly with their pet and this is logged in the app's main dashboard. The dashboard is meant to nudge the user into completing their activities and towards achieving their goals. We believe that this type of support and encouragement were crucial if we wanted to help a new pet owner create a strong relationship with their pet.

In the activities section, the user can select an activity they are interested in, like bath time, and we provide them with content on how to complete these activities. We wanted to provide judgement-free support to our users who may feel insecure about how to perform basic care and play routines with their pet. Once the owner is ready, they can tap the start button for that activity. Once they do this, there's a new screen where the user can takes notes about how their pet behaved during that activity, they can use pre-populated behavioral tags to mark common pet behaviors, and they can also upload photos of the time they spend with their pet. We chose to track behavioral trends because shelter pets often come with histories that we cannot see or understand. We felt that tracking a pet's behavior over time would show the user whether their pet's behavior was improving over time. This information is surfaced on the home page of the app where the user can check their pet's behavioral trends over time. 

Finally, we chose to build a journaling section in the app as a way to maintain user engagement, especially after the two to four week acclimatization period was over. The journaling section allows the user to upload photos after they complete an activity which then populates a memories timeline. They can also include notes about their time with their pet which would serve as a fond memory of their time together. We were not sure whether a timeline of photos would incentivize the user to come back to the app so we tested this hypothesis in our diary studies. We found that users actually felt disappointment after our user research was over as they looked forward to doing activities with their pet and taking photos with them. As a result, we chose to include the journaling section in Pet, Set, Go!


Final Designs

Above, you can see the final designs for our screens which includes the journaling page, a curated list of calming activities, different categories within the activities section, and the screen where a user can record a memory.

Our research showed that many existing apps use bright colors and playful typefaces for their visual designs and aesthetic but I chose more clean and mature typefaces and color palettes as a way to reinforce the responsibilities associated with owning a shelter pet. With the exception of our logo, we decided to stay away from using cartoons or playful imagery across the app as they convey an unrealistic expectation of what it means to own and take care of a shelter animal.



Pet, set, go! 

As part of our final project for UC Berkeley's School of Information, we pitched Pet, Set, Go! to a panel of industry experts from Apple, IDEO, and LinkedIn and we were honored to have won the Dr. James R. Chen award for our project

Finally, I'd like to give a special thanks to Ed Yip for his help with our brand.