Paw Pals

3.9 million dogs enter shelters every year. Of these, 1.2 million will be euthanized. For our final conceptual project, DESIGNATION asked us to create a digital platform for Project Adoptable, an organization that aims to rescue shelter dogs with traumatic pasts and prepare them for adoption through fostering. Read on to see how my team and I created Paw Pals, a community-based app to help Project Adoptable fosters train and care for their pets.
3 week-long sprints
My role
UX researcher
Interaction designer
Key deliverables

Getting our brief

Kaitlin Krupp, the founder of Project Adoptable, kicked off our project with an overview of her mission: rescue dogs with behavioral issues from high-kill shelters and prepare them for adoption through positive reinforcement training. The organization faced two key challenges.

Lack of fosters

In the non-profit world, volunteers who focused on fostering were far and few between. While adopters were always appreciated, Kaitlin preferred volunteers who were willing to continually take in new dogs and prepare them for forever homes.

People don’t want to put in a bunch of hours for free.
Kaitlin Krupp, founder
Improper training

Training a dog with behavioral issues was no small task, especially because each one had its own unique history and requirements for care. To promote positive reinforcement techniques, Kaitlin created customized guidelines and provided 1-3 hours of in-home training to onboard each foster parent. After, she would check in every week to track the dog’s progress. It was a lot of work for her small team. As a result, Project Adoptable could only handle a limited number of rescues, which prevented its ability to scale.

Training the people is harder than training the dog.
Kaitlin Krupp, founder

Our job was to design a digital tool to mitigate these challenges faced by our client while addressing the needs of Project Adoptable fosters.


Defining the problem

We started by focusing our research efforts on the two themes our client touched upon during the kickoff meeting: fostering and training. To understand our users’ perspectives on these issues, we interviewed three types of people about their needs, behaviors, motivations, and frustrations.

We interviewed Project Adoptable fosters to understand the organization's current processes for fostering and training. What were their clients' biggest pain points?
We interviewed other fosters to see how they approached fostering and training outside of Project Adoptable. What challenges did they face and how could the organization resolve them?
We interviewed potential fosters to understand why animal lovers wouldn't foster or train a dog. Could Project Adoptable gain more volunteers by addressing these barriers?

After our interviews, Mythili and I created an affinity diagram to synthesize the data we gathered from users.

Patterns quickly started emerging after we reviewed and analyzed our findings with the help of an affinity diagram. Among the Post-its, we discovered two distinct types of dog fosters we could design for. We turned these into personas to get a better understanding of who our users were and the challenges our product needed to address.

Paula, our Cause-Driven Carer, seemed like Project Adoptable's ideal customer. Experienced and dedicated, she could take in multiple fosters and prepare them successfully for adoption, helping the organization meet its business goals. It seemed like a logical next step to build a product that could attract more Paulas. However, after speaking to our creative director, we realized that we didn't know how many individuals like her there were in the world. So, we decided to create more by educating our Ambers, hoping they could someday become Paulas. The Ambers we interviewed turned to a variety of resources to fulfill their need for dog fostering tips. However, none of them did the trick because of two major issues.

The Ambers we interviewed turned to a variety of resources to fulfill their need for dog fostering tips. However, none of them did the trick because of two major issues.

There were a variety of popular resources for finding tips on dog training, including Reddit, Facebook groups, and Google, but the fosters we interviewed weren't satisfied with the information they were getting from these sites.

Lack of credibility

Anybody could post on Facebook and Reddit. Fosters had to go through multiple avenues in order to find trustworthy advice or verify information, a time-consuming and tedious process.

There’s so much misinformation out there, if you were just to google it you would find a bunch of untrue scary stuff.
Sarah, foster
Lack of Customization

Every dog is unique, so the information posted on Facebook forums and websites listed on Google were far too generic for our fosters. It was difficult to find resources that were specific to their dog.

Dogs are unique individuals. You can try a technique. It might work for that dog. It might not.
Giselle, foster

With these two pain points in mind, we created a problem statement to help focus our product designs in the right direction.

How can we build a tool that customizes advice and provides insight into its credibility so users can easily discover the most effective strategies for rehabilitating their foster?

To prepare for ideation, we also drafted several design principles that reflected the needs of our users. One of the themes that we incorporated heavily was community. Our research had shown that dog fosters loved to share their tips and tricks with each other. We wanted to draw inspiration from the organic, word-of-mouth activity happening in dog parks, animal clinics, and shelters around Chicago while designing our product.


Exploring solutions

With the help of user stories and concept statements, we landed upon three different mobile app concepts (our users were more active on their phone than on their desktop) to test for our second sprint. All three combined elements of our community-centric design principles and offered a distinct solution for connecting users to customized, credible dog training information. After we validated the understandability of these concepts, I ventured out into various Chicago dog parks to test them against each other with potential users.


I built out a paper prototype for our mentorship concept. It allowed new fosters, like Amber, to chat directly with a more experienced foster who had dealt with similar issues.

Users liked the specificity of the information they received, but felt the app was missing a passive form of interaction. In most instances, they couldn't see themselves feeling motivated enough to actively reach out to people.


Mythili created a paper prototype featuring a list of forums where users could discover content based on their interests and the attributes of their dog.

Users liked this concept the most since they could browse at their own leisure to gain valuable information.


Ankit fleshed out our meetups concept, which helped users connect to other fosters in the area and share tips for training their dogs.

Unfortunately, users already had other options for finding these groups and didn't want to go through the effort of attending an event to get information.

Based on results of user testing, we decided to focus on creating three forums and include elements of the mentorship concept to address use cases where fosters may be looking for specific information. After usability testing three prototypes with five potential users, we discovered several additional insights that would inform our final design.

Users wanted to be able to post from anywhere.
Users enjoyed having a universal post button that would let them ask a question or make a comment anywhere.
Users didn't want to have to drill down into specific forums in order to post their questions or comments.
In order to verify credibility, users needed more information upfront.
Details about others' backgrounds were helpful for assessing their qualifications and establishing trust.
Visual indicators didn't tell the users much about who these contacts were, thereby reducing trust.

The final design

We created a converged prototype based on our findings. Unfortunately, we only had time to test with one individual before presenting our product to Kaitlin, so we weren't able to iterate much on this version. It consisted of several key flows.

BRowsing Forums

After logging in, users were taken to their home page, which featured two tabs. The first was a feed of recent activity in forums that they frequented. The second tab displayed a list of forums that users were subscribed to and recommendations for other topics of interest. Once they were inside a forum, fosters could bookmark useful posts for future reference.


We built a search feature, which also highlighted popular topics on the app, enabling users to find answers to commonly asked questions. In case their search didn't have any results, we prototyped a flow for posting a request for help on the app. This also served as a gentle encouragement to populate the forums with new information. If users received a response to their post, they got a notification.


The directory provided a list of other users along with information on their background. This helped fosters find and get in contact with the users who were most qualified to give them advice, lending credibility to the app and its community.

To wrap up this conceptual project, we created annotated wireframes for future UX teams, developers, and UI designers. We fleshed out our designs with error states, empty states, and more.


My Reflections

I'll always think fondly of this project because it was the one where I really started to fall in love with UX. Everything about it—my teammates, each foster we spoke to, the design process, the dogs we met while testing—was wonderful. Up until this point, I had never been much of a collaborator, preferring to think through things on my own. Working so closely with lovely and intelligent humans like Mythili and Ankit was, as cheesy as it sounds, genuinely a turning point for me. I feel very lucky to be in a field that encourages teamwork and recognizes the importance of sharing ideas.