One of the best ways to disrupt is by noticing a lack of something in your own life or a problem you’ve experienced that needs solving. Petfinity, a Chicago area startup, was created in a similar manner. Petfinity was conceived as a social media website for people to post as their pets, interact with other pets, posts pictures, events, and all other manner of social media interactions. On top of this, there was a strong push to integrate commercial brands that serve the pet demographic so that users could meet their needs regarding food, comfort, and care more easily.
When I tell people of the work I did for Petfinity, I get two standard responses: Oh My God, this is perfect for me/sister/cousin/friend/etc. or why do people want this?
To explain the why, you need to try and understand the relationship between pet and owner. We all know people who truly love their pets and want nothing but the best at all times for them, whether this is comfy beds or some obscure food brand or expensive toys. Pets can be like our children. Going with this concept; children, we want to show everyone around an aspect of our lives. It is the core behind all social media sites: this is my interest, here let me show you.
What are Dual Accounts?
One of the underlying aspects for the site is the concept of a ‘dual account.’ I reference this frequently in the discussion of my work, the quick explanation is that a person runs the account but can utilize multiple pet avatars (their pets) in the social interactions. Each pet would have its own mini account that was tied to the user account but interactions would be done with the pet aspect.
This was one of the first design interactions I completed for Petfinity. This was my first foray into exploring the dual account concept. There are two paths that a user could take to onboard: Pet information first followed by the user information or user then pet. If someone is coming to use your platform which has a specific purpose, you should make every effort to provide for that purpose. Therefor, I reasoned that the focus should be on the pets and then in the quickest manner establish the user information.
One of my first challenges on this role came from this process. The CEO wanted to collect as much information as possible about pets and users as an avenue for revenue. I was told that the form was lacking a spot for people to input the birthday of their pet. This was an issue because not everyone knows the birthday of their pets. Unless you get the pet with some sort of pedigree, you might not know this with certainty. Now it is likely that some people have chosen a birthday for their pet. When I mentioned that this was a bad request, the CEO mentioned that if people saw the question on the form they would just lie about the birthday to continue their account. Instead this will push users to abandon the signup. During the next meeting I explained that this requirement would only hurt signups and rather we could ask the pet’s age. I provided an example of a friend who has a dog which had been adopted a couple times and only a rough idea of age is known. With this, I convinced him to accept an imprecise number.
Follow-up: The onboarding is such a fundamental aspect of a site that once the site launched, I had hoped to review the analytics and refine the approach even further. For instance, do people give up at a certain step or add the max photos at this time or could the copy be further refined?
The account management screen proved to be an interesting problem. I felt that this was a design that was most constrained by existing patterns that are dominant within social media but at the same time, there were areas to differentiate. It isn’t so much to build a system to change between the different avatars but to make the experience intuitive and have proper affordances.
The page needed to provide simplicity since it would be one of the primary ways to switch between multiple pets.
The new post box was a fairly standard of application of existing patterns. This was an area where I pushed for greater brand integration with the interactions. An example would be changing the copy to reflect how the species of animal typically communicates: bark, meow, or chirp. This would not need to be a feature that is defaulted to on but rather a toggle which could be changed by the user. Being able to personalize the experience to better fit the user’s wants and how they want to use it is a well documented way to increase their happiness and loyalty to the platform.
The feed was also an area that stayed close to what I would say are traditional patterns. In areas where people are extremely familiar with existing solutions, it can be hard to make an impact and differentiate yourself from them. To try and combat this I, again, explored adding personalization of the functions of the feed match the avatar of the user.
After being with Petfinity for some time, the majority of my work started to fall under policy construction and more abstract parts of the experience. Let me ask you a question, how many pets should an account be able to support? 5? 10? 100? Why limit it? This was a question that we could never answer. There should be a limit in place because once you start to get to bigger and bigger numbers, interactions and management become a bigger problem. For a while there was a plan that through some action, the user could increase this limit or purchase other perks for their account. On a different front, limiting users often leaves a bad taste in their mouths but then you don’t want a user with 200 (most-likely made up) pets using them to pester people.
This duality of the account/avatar proved to be a very large hurdle to the underlying technology. The time investment to allow this interactivity proved to be too extensive for the project which had already been in development for 2+ years. It was decided to put the project on hiatus/hold and focus efforts elsewhere. This was the end of my involvement with Petfinity.
While the work I did here was based on research of existing patterns, requirements of the page in questions, and healthy analysis of competitors, being able to conduct research on the users themselves would have been extremely beneficial for the site. This would allow for iterative design and a confirmation that the path you are on is the correct one.
This work was exciting, had interesting new problems, and a domain I knew little about with the potential to learn more. It left me with a few takeaways that will follow me into the future. With the struggles that Petfinity faced with the dual accounts, it is clear how important proper requirement gathering is for the success of a project. Dealing with the account issue right at the beginning would have freed up a lot of resources for later in development and produced a more cohesive experience to base my work on.
There was a constant struggle between the brand identity and various stakeholders. The brand of the site is such an important aspect in this age and sometimes I need to remember to push more strongly for concepts I know will benefit the goals of the project.