Muttmatch Pet Adoption Case Study

Table Of Contents

Overview     Research     Flows & Mockups     Deliverables     Outcomes


Animal shelters in Austin, Texas have a no-kill ratio above 95% and Austin Animal Lovers wants to build a service that keeps it that way. Adopters need resources to make informed decisions, and more importantly, adopted pets need to stay in happy families. Ally Miller and I set out to understand how we can improve the adoption process.


  • Two-week deadline to perform research, wireframing, testing, iterations, and design work before handing over for development
  • We chose to use tools and resources that we wanted more experience with, accepting there might be some lost time
  • This was the first time I worked with the other designer on my team (spoiler: we killed it)


  • Users must be able to determine if cat or dog person
  • Adopters and pets must be matched based on personality
  • User must be able to browse dogs currently available to adopt
  • Ready-to-adopt user must be able to identify the shelter a pet is located at and go there
  • Concept must contain a call-to-action to support shelters
  • Shelters can review user profiles to shorten adoption process

Project Process

From the start, we believed that the best product for this project can only stem from thorough research. If weighted visually, the flow we followed would have massive blocks for research and ideation.

Tools Used

Illustrator, Sketch, Invision, Google Docs, OmniGraffle, RealtimeBoard, whiteboard, sticky notes, pen & paper, some really weird internet videos 


Warning: Fields of text ahead. Bring your waders.

Our survey sent to adopters revealed that the best adoption stories were when owners had no expectation of breed, age, sex, or weight. These adopters serendipitously found their forever pets. People were also frustrated with the adoption process. Some were turned away weeks into an adoption because of restrictions they were not aware of.

Notable Quotes

We allowed respondents to tell us their adoption story. It became clear that the happiest-ever-after situations were unplanned:

“I loved that they wanted to make sure it was a good fit before I found myself in a responsibility I wasn't ready for.”
“Every dog was going crazy when I walked in except for him. He just sat there on the ground looking at me with his big brown eyes, and I knew right away that he was meant for me.”
“[...] My wife went to the Humane Society to look at a dog she found online. She ended up not liking that dog, but saw our future dog sitting alone in a small room. He had just gotten in that morning and she was the first to play with him. She ended up adopting him [...] without telling me. Turns out it was a pretty good decision.”

Adopter Survey Breakdown

Over two days, we received 52 responses:

  • 76% of survey respondents have adopted a pet before
  • 22% did not adopt/want to
  • 2% did not adopt/will not
  • 58% went through shelters

Adopters focussed on the following characteristics, in order:

  • Size of pet
  • Age
  • Breed
  • Activity level/compatibility with children

Competitor and Comparative Analysis

We looked at, Austin Pets Alive, Coco’s Heart,,, and other local animal shelter websites. (Yes, we looked at okCupid. This will make sense soon.)

  • Inconsistent pet information between sites. Some shelters would have multiple listings of one dog and completely different criteria.
  • No search filtering options, menu navigation was difficult, couldn’t find available dogs, etc.
  • Petfinder had filterable results, focussed on breed, age, weight, and aggregated info from multiple shelters, rescues, breeders
  • Dogtime has a breed-matching quiz, but shelters largely had mutts and mixed-breeds.
  • The process was tedious. A vast majority of sites required multiple page loads and clicking into individual profiles before we learned about the pets. Some sites had dozens of listing to go through and no organizational tools. As cute as photos of puppies were, we were quickly exhausted when we put ourselves in the shoes of a prospective adopter.

Humane Society Interview

Ann is a veteran volunteer at the Humane Society. When she heard that we were doing research on the pet adoption process, she was eager to share her wisdom. Our key takeaways were:

  • Small dogs "fly off the shelves" while large dogs can stay for weeks at a time
  • A majority of the pets returned were adopted for breed, not personality
  • Majority of pet returns occur within one year of adoption. “I didn’t think he was going to be so energetic!” was a common reason, highlighting little investment in training or education
  • Most adopters did not realize hidden costs such as vet visits, toys, and supplies.
  • Humane Society had tons of available literature and education and encouraged adopters to read before deciding
  • The Society runs “sales” to re-home animals faster
  • Adoption process can be extensive and loaded with paperwork


From the research, we put together three personas. Rob in particular proved to be an amazing guiding light for the user journey creation process.


  • Recent college grad who’s interested in adopting a pet
  • Previously rejected due to housing type
  • Tried to get another pet and went to visit it and it was gone
  • Had a few breeds in mind
  • Feeling discouraged by process
  • Familiar with reputations of local shelters
  • OK with waiting to find the right dog


  • Executive at big company
  • Looking for cuddly companion
  • Long time pet owner
  • Wants to adopt quickly and easily
  • Doesn’t want high energy, stressful dog
  • Doesn’t have a lot of time to spend visiting in shelters
  • Recently divorced
  • Gets frustrated when things don’t run smoothly


  • Father of three
  • Looking for a family pet
  • Lives in house with yard
  • Works from home
  • First time pet owner
  • Worried about having kids get attached to pet before being able to adopt
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the options
  • Needs a pet that is good with children 
  • Would like to adopt soon

Design Studio

Ally and I split a whiteboard in thirds and sketched ideas page-by-page. After five minutes per page, we each checkmarked ideas we liked. If an idea had two checkmarks, we talked about why we both liked the idea and put it into the center. Anything with one check, we talked about why we liked or didn't like it and iterate as needed.

User Flows & Mockups

It was clear we needed to design a platform that focussed on personalities first, which is what dating sites like okCupid use. Perfect for pet adoption. The product owners were thrilled to change the requirements to focus on personality instead of breed. User testing every three days revealed gaps in the flows, as well as concerns like "why do they need to know my age?"


Muttmatch is a website that gets to know you and shows you pets that have similar or complimenting traits. Runners will find pets that love running; homebodies can be paired with their perfect couch potato. Can't adopt? You can donate!

And most importantly, cats and dogs are given a much greater chance at finding their forever homes the first time around.

The final package included:

  • Icons with descriptions
  • Logos, with tagline and without
  • High fidelity design of key pages
  • Wireframes of all pages
  • Style guides
  • Interactive design documentation
  • Annotations for Bootstrap grid responsiveness


Muttmatch became a very personal, intertwined project for us. We could not have been more proud of our minimum viable product. It is a crossroads of what I love about user experience design: a complete consideration for every living creature involved, designed enough to be simple and elegant but not complicated, and it makes the world a better place. The site was an exploratory exercise, but I would happily take a pay cut if I could bring Muttmatch to life.

In future versions, shelters can review your profile and provide the information you need to know long before you schedule a visit. We would love to see Muttmatch facilitate visitation scheduling and expand to offer a broader range of pets.

Also, it's really hard to focus when there are so many cute puppies to look at.