When the Happy Path is GPS to a Lost Pet

or: “Designing for the worst possible scenario”

One of many untraditional things about building product at Whistle is that we hope many of our users never have to use our most prominent feature. In the same way that the makers of smoke detectors hope people never have to use their product, we — as the makers of the Whistle GPS Pet Tracker — hope that people never lose their pets. The unfortunate truth is that over 10 million pets get lost every year. As pet owners ourselves, we’re building, hacking, and designing with those lost pets — and their likely stressed owners — in mind.

The current generation Whistle GPS Pet Tracker

The Whistle GPS Pet Tracker is a small on-collar device that helps pet owners find lost pets with GPS and keep tabs on their best friend’s overall wellness. And it’s a trip to build and iterate a product with so many emotional aspects.

Our users, in a lost-pet scenario, are likely frantic, worried, and don’t have time to navigate menus or decipher tooltips. A lot of us on the team — myself included — know firsthand what that’s like to be in that awful moment. While it might have been terrifying when it happened, knowing what an experience like that feels like is an important reference point in building a product to solve it.


Aside from knowing who your target users are, it’s important to know how, when, and why users are interacting with your service. Without knowing those things, there’s no foundation for building an emotional product. Because we know it’s a high-stress, urgent matter to find a lost pet, we can cut a lot of UI out and get straight to the point: “Here is your pet’s location”.

Tracking session prototype, with all other UI cut from the screen


Naturally, humans try to fit the world into patterns, and a lost-pet scenario is not the time to introduce a new one. We could’ve had some crazy map design, with all sorts of gesture-based inputs and explosive visual transitions, but those things take learning and increase cognitive load. By working on a visceral level, we want our users to feel like our interface resembles things they already understand — maps, directions, minutes — as opposed to new branded UI. The goal of entire experience is to feel familiar, and comforting. This is something we’re constantly refining, day in and day out.


There’s a ton of tech crammed into our device. I mean, it’s crazy. Just because we have all this data on hand doesn’t mean our users want to see it all at once, or during certain situations. For example, we’ve heard of people using our device to find their pet lost in canyons and in caves. Their pet’s feeding schedule isn’t relevant in situations like that, so we throttle back what we present to them.

The entire Whistle product experience boils down to trust. Some of our users rely entirely on our push notifications to tell if their pet has left home, without using the full app for — and that’s completely okay. If that’s what they want, and they trust us to be accurate, we want to empower them to use the product in that way.


If someone is just checking up on their pet with no cause for alarm, we want them to feel that Whistle has their back — because we do. The device and app can do quite a lot, but there’s a time and a place for everything. By keeping the features focused and separate — with times for action and times for reflection — the visual noise is reduced per-screen, and there’s always clear path for users to take.

Space Doge, our Chief Petfinding Officer


While the device and app can do all of these things currently, we can do it so much better. We can innovate on the GPS front, getting more accurate location readings faster. Information can always be more streamlined and should preempt the questions or needs of our users. Solving for these challenges is precisely what keeps us up at night. Product design and development is an ongoing iterative process, and with our users’ pets in mind, we’re sprinting forward building the next generation of connected pet devices.

Want to be a part of the team giving owners pet-finding superpowers? We’re hiring! Check out whistle.com/careers or drop me an email at arman@whistle.com