It’s finally the weekend. You’re already all dressed up to hit the town because you sure as hell ain’t cooking. And as you get a text from your buddies asking where to meet, that’s when you see it: your best buddy sitting at the door, wagging wildly near his leash.
If this guilt trip hits close to home, you know howl hard it is leaving your pup alone unattended. You’ve probably ended up countless times scouring the net for dog friendly restaurants fur your pooch.
Well the reviews said this place was dog friendly…7 years ago. Should you call to make sure? This guy says this other place allows dogs. And twelve other people said they don’t. Oh, only if the dog’s smaller than a poodle. How heavy is the poodle? And this last place has the word “dog” in the name. You have no idea what that means. This is roverwhelming.
BringFido: A little barkground
When Melissa Halliburton launched BringFido.com in 2005, she sought to answer these questions. Imagine having a one-Spot shop for every dog owner’s needs, including hotels, parks, beaches, restaurants and more. More than a decade later, the service has become the leading mobile and browser-based pet travel directory.
BringFido has the pet-tential to be the go-to travel directory for a massive user base of dog owners. To ensure that it isn’t made obsolete by other services out there, BringFido needs to narrow its scope. Its main appeal as a travel service should be its first priority and all the other nice-to-haves can take a backseat or be removed entirely. After all, we’d rather have a fully fleshed out minimally viable product than a hodgepodge of half-barked ideas.
As BringFido themselves said it, “roughly 70 percent of users visit site through a mobile device”, and so the mobile app redesign was the furst priority for redesign.
User Pain Points vs Business Goals
After pawing through various outlets for user feedback (App Store/Play Store, Better Business Bureau, Reddit, and many more) and the company’s business model specs via their Advertising and Sponsorship guide, I was able to dig up some useful insights.
- As a small team, BringFido manually adds, checks, and rechecks each location so detail inaccuracy is a recurring issue (i.e. price mismatch, location’s dog pawlicy, etc)
- BringFido partners with hotels using Expedia’s engine (and with plans to expand to AirBnB in the future) but it emphasizes the want to book directly on their site. This is made difficult as “hotels are offering lower deals and better perks to members of their loyalty programs that book directly”.
- The order of priority towards the site’s design reflects the analytics retrievered from their site visits: hotel bookings (41%), activities (23%), and restaurants (19%).
- Product/service sponsors and social media are also essential to expanding the brand and revenue. To spread pawsitive word of mouth, reviews are gathered from TripAdvisor and native app reviews.
- Customer service quality varies but the drawn-out refund process and strict cancellation policy has lapsed users. The company policies are open and subject to change.
- Prices on hotel sites differ from BringFido’s, mostly from a user’s misunderstanding on how to choose correct dates. Any non-lapsed users from this experience resort to other booking methods which conflicts with BringFido’s priority to have users book through their portal.
- General design issues include the scope/iconography/filtering of map searches. These often involve minor bugs, glitches and simple affordance issues.
Fetching a Page from the Competition
When it comes to functional design, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. This redesign mutt benefit from borrowing design elements from similar travel directories (main competitors), and crowd-sourced events/restaurant search engines (secondary).
Although BringFido has limited direct competitors with the same value proposition, there are design lessons that it can learn from the leading competition:
- Detail accuracy is necessary to instill trust in users but is understandably difficult with a small team. While the company continues to fact check, reviews themselves can be fleshed out more: key phrases and review highlights can stand out immediately.
- Profiles can be more than just remembering your travel history. It can recommend spots based on preferences and patterns. BringFido has a hidden option to add your dog’s information but the default search engine does not incorporate that at all. This is a missed op-paw-tunity.
3. Travel aggregates have a price-match guarantee, which is important for user trust and retention. Rather than listing the competing rates which are often cheaper, it might benefit from having a similar policy and refund users the difference.
4. BringFido is inextricably focused on dog-friendly options but competitors still have this feature as a filter option. The flow should emphasize how much easier using BringFido is.
5. Competitors use more modern user-friendly navigation language using a combination of easily accessible tabs. All the unused space and all the hidden features in dropdown menus need to be es-chew-ed.
6. Last but not leashed, hotels will often have the lowest price in lieu of the commission fees of using third-party services.
Content Mapping for Our Fur-sona
It is easier to understand the difficulty and puggle of traveling with her furry buddy, Dexter, when you put yourself into the Michelle’s shoes. She is ideally whom BringFido is trying to cater towards so our design should reflect her idealized user flow.
With her experience mapped out for us to understand, we can see Michelle needs an affordable and foolp-Roof method of traveling with Dexter. Pet owners like her should be able to use BringFido’s travel portal as a means to avoid all the headaches of doing extensive research on individual prices and policies.
Low to High Fido-Lity Designs
Design-wise, wireframes were built to initially adhere to Google’s Material Design System, but eventually pivoted to iOS Human Interface Design as we went higher fido-lity.
My many rounds of iterative design and testing actually relied on the BringFido app, letting me find local places with dog owners to screen and test my designs, in order to better the BringFido app. Oh the irony.
Google Maps’ tabular format to switch tabs between Hotels, Restaurants, and Events before everything else seemed like the logical decision. I incorporated Suggestions as well to give the user a more personalized experience.
Review Highlights, on top of giving each spot a user score, details any dog-specific in-fur-mation that was salient to other users.
Writing reviews is encouraged via tooltips indicating point rewards for reviews and bookings, in order to attract retention, engagement and trust. Plus it lightens the workload of BringFido’s small team to verify each location’s dog paw-licy.
“Find a Hotel for you and [Doggo] to Stay”
Although Suggestions were meant to display anything recommended under multiple categories, users completely circumvented this to go directly to the Hotels tab. This behavior was common universally which inadvertently devalued the personalization we hoped for. As we moved to iOS design, we abandoned the tabular format and encouraged a simplified single sc-roll over.
Keeping in mind the Hook Model is always useful dog-ma. Each design iteration adhered to the ideal scenario of accruing points, booking, redeeming gifts and subsequently booking more.
No one cared to read the amenities, which was de-prioritized in future iterations. But also no one understood or cared for the rewards points system, located at the bottom of the page. Moving the Rewards Points up and making it inline text with the call-to-action attracted more clicks for subsequent tests.
”How would you plan your stay in that city?”
Almost unanimously, each user was able to navigate to the Trips tab and select the city which they had previously booked for. Howlever, many users had trouble understanding how to add a place to their Favorites for their itinerary.
”Find a restaurant for you and [Doggo] in [city]”
For this task, I screened for dog owners with very specific needs for their dogs (i.e. food allergies, location, physical needs, etc.). I did not anticipate the endless amounts of needs that the Sort/Filter modal alone would not be able to accommodate. With each new row added to try and cover every scenario under the sun, the filtering became progressively less usable.
“Hick’s law, […] describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the pawsible choices he or she has.”
In my experience, the best designs hide unneeded steps from the user. Although the option to filter was still included for edge cases, once the user has saved their doggo’s special needs in their profile, the search process was automatically defaulted to only search for locations to suit those needs.
“How would you verify if the place allows [Doggo]?”
A variety of users surprisingly used the old fashioned method of calling and perusing the websites. However, when I moved the review highlights up, the behavior became less frequent.
But of course, the doggies remain the most prominent part of the page, allowing for editing to accommodate their size/diet/general health needs.
Looking forward to the future, designs should continue to revolve around user engagement with native Hotel bookings and Local Activities.By focusing their efforts on their strengths, we created a minimally viable product which caters to an overwhelming majority of dog owners and their fuzzy buddies.
With their initial offerings to be the one-stop shop application for everything under the sun related for dog aid, they became Masters of None. BringFido is an exemplary case study for “Less is More”: the product can effectively improve once we dispense with all the shitzu.