The Problem

Although dog adoption rates have greatly increased in recent years, the problem remains that a fraction of these dogs will be returned after adoption. I wanted to know how I could reduce this number through a design solution that educates its users and also challenges them to reevaluate the preconceived expectations they might have about what it is to adopt and care for a dog.

How can I educate first time dog owners who want to adopt a dog in Ohio through a design outcome?

Success Statement

With the availability of an educational platform, aspiring dog adopters will be able to effectively learn how to find the best fit for both themselves and the dog, prepare for, care for, and give their future dog a forever home.

Target Audience

First time dog owners in Ohio who are looking to adopt a dog.


I started my process by researching about my topic to see if the problem I identified was actually a problem. I also researched what the main reasons dogs are returned after adoption are to see if these could help me better understand my problem and if it could be solved through a design solution. During this part of the research phase I also looked at existing designs that attempted to solve this problem and noted what I thought was successful about them and what could be improved upon.

Main Takeaways

  • Although dog adoption rates have greatly increased during the pandemic (Ho et al., 2021), the problem remains that a fraction of these dogs will be returned after adoption.
  • The main reasons for return are behavioral issues, the dog grew larger than expected, and unexpected health problems (“Pet Statistics”, 2022).
  • Only 1 out of every 10 dogs born will find a permanent home.
  • Approximately 2.7 million dogs and cats are killed each year with the chance they are euthanized increasing if they are returned to a shelter after being adopted.

I then decided on three different research methods that I would use to collect insights about my problem. The methods I chose were an interview with an expert in the field, analogous research, and a survey. I chose these methods because I thought they would give me a variety of insights about my problem that could then inform my design.

From here I analyzed and synthesized the data I gathered from my research methods.

Main Takeaways

  • Interview With an Expert in the Field
    •  I interviewed the board president of a local animal shelter.
    • This gave me a unique perspective from someone who works with aspiring dog adopters and dogs available for adoption everyday.
    • “It’s so easy to come in here and fall in love with an animal. I do it every day. I’m like, I’m ready to go home with you right now, without really thinking about the 20 year commitment I’m about to make.”
    • “We want people to know going in, hey, it’s not just about can I afford the adoption fee, it’s much more than that.”
  • Analogous Research
    • I chose this method to find out if there were emotions that overshadow a person’s better judgement or decision making when they go to adopt a dog and what these emotions are.
    • I went to Build-A-Bear Workshop and adopted a stuffed animal with my boyfriend as a way to mimic the experience of adopting a dog but with much lower stakes. I chose to adopt the Grogu stuffed animal because he’s my favorite character in the show the Mandolorian and I thought he was cute.
    • After this experience, my boyfriend and I reflected on it and how it made us feel.
    • I found that my choice was biased based on what my personal preferences were and that my decision was rooted in how the stuffed animal looked.
    • From this experience I was able to identify emotions like excitement, anticipation, and attachment. I inferred that these people who adopt a dog could also experience these emotions, which could in turn cloud their better judgement and ability to think rationally.
  • Survey
    • I asked people who had adopted a dog to complete my survey.
    • I had 73 total responses.
    • I asked questions like if they if they had researched before adopting their dog, if there was anything they had wished they had known before adopting their dog, and if anything unexpected happened after adoption and how they managed.
    • I learned that 38.9% wished they had known more about the dogs personality traits and 26.4% wished they had known more about training.
    • I also learned that 31.9% didn’t research before adopting their dog, which I found surprising.

After doing this, I started to think about what form I wanted my design to take. I decided on an app since I felt it would be most convenient for the user. I then moved onto sketching wireframes of my app, keeping these insights in mind. After sketching, I made a mood board in order to help me gain inspiration and start narrowing down stylistic choices. I decided on an overall simple look for the app and a muted color palette with only two colors that pop because I wanted it to be easy on the eyes and I wanted the functionality and usability of the app to come first. I chose a cartoonish, goofy and organic illustration style for the reward screen that tells users they unlocked more dog profiles so that it was cheerful and uplifting and also serves as an incentive to complete more tasks in order to see more illustrations of different dogs breeds, which changes each time the user is shown this screen. I named my app Stay because it’s a basic dog command and so it instantly brings dogs to mind but also because the main goal of my app is to help dogs stay in their new homes after adoption.

Design Process + Testing

After creating wireframe sketches and deciding on how I wanted the app to look and function, I moved to digital. To create this app I used Adobe XD. Once I had created a semi-functional prototype of the app I screen recorded myself using it as if I were a new user and sent it to three different people who had also participated in my survey. I then asked them to watch the video and answer follow up questions to find out what about my app was working well and what could be improved.

From testing I learned that the user’s experience of the app could be more personalized to them. For example, if the user is interested in adopting a puppy, then the tasks required would be centered around things you need to do or know before getting a puppy. I also learned that one tester wished that there was a screen where you could search for animal shelters.

Overall, my process was iterative and non-linear and at every step of my design process I received feedback from peers and my professor, which helped me to improve upon my project.

Design Solution

Engage with Stay

I created Stay with the main goal of educating its users before they adopt a dog. The user does this by completing tasks like taking a quiz or reading an article aimed at preparing them for dog ownership. Stay also allows users to fill out what their ideal dog looks like and about themselves in order to match them with dogs that best fit their lifestyle and needs. Users can also inquire about and fill out the adoption form for a dog right on the app.

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