Better for pets, better for people.
For dog owners, finding a pet sitter can make travel planning an unpleasant experience: looking through Yelp reviews of overcrowded kennels that stress both you and your animal out. DogVacay, founded in 2012, is literally 'Airbnb for pets': a marketplace for pet owners to find trustworthy sitters.
In 2014, I joined the DogVacay team to help redesign their apps and help them take advantage of user experience practices and new web and mobile technologies.
Photographer: Sidney Morgan
Pawsing to Reflect
One major challenge for DogVacay was trust. Pet lovers have high expectations for trustworthiness from a service that cares for their family members — but the DogVacay website and apps were building up technical and design debt which prevented the company from presenting itself as a professional, "we've got your back" pet care option.
Another problem that plagues all B2B companies: improving the tools provided to help users run their businesses—in this case, dog sitters. With inboxes full of user feedback and requests, where was the right place to start?
The Mobile Web
In late 2014, DogVacay's web traffic passed the 50% mark for visitors on mobile and never looked back. Smartphone users had access to an iPhone app and a separate "m.dot" version of the core ecommerce flow, but many landing pages and important parts of the web experience were missing or out of date. The small team was overwhelmed with the scope of testing/updating/refreshing these complex and fragmented experiences.
I worked closely with the teams to begin rolling out new pages and app features in a responsive way. This is a big project for any organization: content and design getting used to new deliverables that product must adapt to provide feedback on, working with the engineering team to build and iterate quickly. We began with an adaptive approach to support the teams becoming more comfortable thinking mobile-first and working with breakpoints.
At the same time, designers on the marketing team were working on a complete brand refresh, which the new product needed to reflect. This was a big investment for the organization, but we quickly began to ship new web projects with full mobile functionality—mobile support hadn't been on the roadmap at all when we started out.
DogVacay's iOS app is a great experience with the brand and a major driver of new users checking out the service — it's been featured as an editor's pick in the Travel section of the App Store many times since its release in 2013. Users were clamoring for an Android release; my goal was to create an app that felt as native as possible on both platforms while remaining deliverable by our small team of developers (and designers!)
Designing With the Pack
With a small design and front-end team, we needed to find ways to focus our efforts. As part of our exploration into new branding and visual identity with the marketing team, I began to construct a comprehensive new style guide and pattern library for DogVacay's apps and sites.
Using atomic design principles, we set out to organize everything from small pieces like typography and color usage to more complex assemblies like forms, navigation, and data presentation. The intent was to create a robust, shared language between design and engineering to allow us to ship faster by codifying a lot of the important details we'd normally spend so much time on. We worked faster and in parallel with content and engineering sprints, saving us weeks on each project and responding more quickly with iteration, prototyping, and early testing.
Tools to Succeed
While upgrades to the ecommerce flow helped pet owners book a sitter, the sitters themselves hadn't seen any TLC for their tools since the service launched. Through surveys, user interviews, and feedback groups, we started to get a clearer picture of how successful sitters were running their businesses today.
Through studying the calendars, day planners, and notebooks that our sitters used, we built an updated dashboard that put all of this info at their fingertips. A quick, "what's going on today?" view for their schedule mirrored the way sitters organized their dogs and clients themselves; other information about responsiveness, pageviews, and financial data was surfaced to users for the first time, giving them more and instant feedback about how they were running their pet care business.