Urban Leash is a Chicago start-up that provides on-demand dog walking and cat sitting. Their flexible offerings are built around an understanding of busy pet owners that is lacking among other dog walking companies, making their service unique and much-appreciated by Chicago’s pet-loving professionals.
My team and I were challenged to improve the overall usability of the current app as well as to explore a new feature: allowing dog walkers to create their own pages and market themselves to new clients, as well as letting clients view and select their walkers. Our client was interested in this possibility but needed the proper research to make sure it was a valid need of the users.
Urban Leash is doing more than just dog walking and cat sitting — they’re providing their customers with trust that the animals of their lives are truly being taken care of. They’re a little start-up with a lot of love for their furry clients, and take the notion of trust to a deeper level than other similar companies.
My team and I needed to make sure that all the work the Urban Leash team puts into the transparency and accountability of their service translates to potential users. We needed to create a research-based design solution that would help users understand this new kind of service.
UX Research, iOS app design & form design
The founders of Urban Leash, Demetri Maltsiniotis and Lina Pakrosnyte, had done some research when they launched the start-up nearly two years ago, and knew it was time to take their service to the next level, with an emphasis on user experience. My team and I wanted to uncover more about their clients and pet owners in general, as well as research the competition. We would use this data to inform our design direction.
My team and I scheduled out our first week to research and learn as much as possible about the landscape of dog walking in Chicago, the mindset of pet owners, and where Urban Leash fit into the ecosystem in general.
We kicked off the research portion of our work by meeting with Urban Leash founder Demetri Maltsiniotis, and attempted to learn everything there was about his company. I wanted to get a clear understanding of the company’s history and about where he felt the service’s strengths and pain points were to be found.
We asked questions and listened for our full three hours of meeting time. It was clear that Demetri already had a running list of issues and changes he wanted to make to the website, app, and service, and had some big ideas for ways the business could pivot into new markets, but hadn’t done thorough research or testing to validate these problems or ideas. We kept a list of notes of things that we would test for — did Urban Leash walkers really want the ability to manage their own clients? Was the recurring order feature as much of a pain point for customers as the Urban Leash staff thought it was? We would be including this sort of information gathering in our research in order to help our client gain a full understanding from the perspective of dog walkers and customers.
My team and I quickly realized that our research would be ambitious; there were multiple user groups to learn about, including pet owners who could be considered potential customers, current customers, and current Urban Leash dog walkers. My team made a plan to divide and conquer in order to find out everything there was to know about all of our research groups.
I wanted to get a full understanding of the service from both a customer and dog walker perspective, so after I had sent out a survey and was waiting for results to come back, I set up an interview with Carrie, Urban Leash’s operations manager, and learned from her the process of receiving orders and assigning walkers, as well as how she follows up with dissatisfied customers and works through walker issues.
Now that I understood how the process worked internally, I set up an interview and shadowing appointment with a walker named Jonathan. I met him in the lobby of his building and he took me through what it looked like in his version of the app to receive a walk request and accept it. As we walked to the customer’s home, we discussed some of his pain points as a walker, which mostly focused on access issues and customers scheduling a 15 minute walk service but live in a building where it takes at least 5 minutes to get to the dog. This became a consistent pain point for both walkers and customers, and it was clear that there was a big misunderstanding going on: customers thought a 15 minute walk service meant a 15 minute walk, but the service actually starts the moment a walker gets to a building, and includes the walk, putting the dog back in the home, and filling out the post-walk report that dog owners see. Walkers consistently took more time than 15 minutes to complete services and customers were frustrated when their post-walk report map showed a short walk that clearly was less than 15 minutes.
Shadowing Jonathan revealed something to me that I had begun to see from talking with the Urban Leash corporate team: the walkers are incredibly dedicated to their doggie clients. The walk I observed Jonathan perform was for a very elderly setter with cancer. She wore a special harness with handles, and Jonathan explained to me that she had lost the use of her back legs for a few days recently, and before she recovered he had held up her back end with the handle harnesses so that she could still walk around with her front legs. He told me how her owners had told him they would understand if he wasn’t comfortable walking anymore, and how they had nearly cried when he told them “of course I’m going to keep walking her, it would take more than this to stop me.” I was beginning to see something that didn’t come through in Urban Leash’s current website communication: their walkers are extremely dedicated to the dogs they walk.
Insight: Urban Leash misses opportunities to communicate to potential customers that their walkers regularly go above and beyond what is expected.
Insight: Customers don’t understand that 15 minute services aren’t 15 minute walks, which causes frustration for both walkers and customers.
My team and I set out to gather quantitative data that would inform us about the various user groups. We created surveys for pet owners, current Urban Leash customers, Urban Leash dog walkers, freelance dog walkers not associated with Urban Leash, and users who had signed up but never ordered a walk. I used my writing skills and grammar know-how to make sure the questions made sense and weren’t leading in any way.
From the large amount of data we gathered from our multiple surveys, some themes began to emerge and we made several insights.
Insight: walkers face multiple pain points on a regular basis, the most significant of which are home access, finding the leash, and dog behavior-related issues.
Insight: Urban Leash’s most well-known feature is their on-demand walking.
I scheduled interviews with 5 pet owners, 3 current customers, 2 dog walkers and 1 freelance dog walker who had indicated they would do a short interview on the survey. All told, my team interviewed 19 people.
I spent a lot of time talking to pet owners about what they wanted out of a dog walking and cat sitting service, and tried to get at what trust meant to them in terms of their pets. I approached this first by asking people about a recent time a stranger, such as a plumber or electrician, had been in their home, and how they felt. I found that things like wearing clothing with the company’s logo, the stranger introducing themselves, and the company the person worked for being a large, well-known company all made people feel more at ease about having strangers in their home. An interesting trend I noticed among pet owners who allowed strangers into their homes to walk their dogs or sit their cats was that they had much more fear about something happening to their home than to their pet. As one person told me, “I don’t really think that people are looking to hurt my dog. That’s just not something that happens. What I do worry about is someone nabbing some of my valuables or leaving the door unlocked. This sentiment came up over and over again in my team’s interviews.
Insight: When it comes to at-home pet services, people worry more about theft and something happening to their home than they worry about something bad happening to their pet.
A second theme that appeared among the Urban Leash customers and walkers we interviewed was that trust is of the utmost importance when it comes to this sort of business. We heard it from both ends: trust matters immensely, and the walkers work hard to establish that trust. Regular users of the service reported feeling much more trust for Urban Leash than the did for other similar services; clearly, once people gave Urban Leash a chance, trust was established and they became loyal customers. A question to answer later was: how can we help people who have never used the service understand that it’s extremely trustworthy?
Insight: Trust is vital to a good owner-walker relationship.
My team and I uncovered multiple pain points from the various groups we interviewed, many of which were supported by the results from our surveys. Pain points ranged from customers booking recurring orders to walkers often being unable to access the home. We also found that Urban Leash has many strengths, but that they weren’t highlighted to potential customers using the website. Finally, we found that Urban Leash does a good job trust building but misses certain opportunities to earn the trust of potential and current customers. A summary of the pain points, strengths, and opportunities for trust is below.
My team and I had done our research and had gained a thorough understanding of the landscape of dog walking service in Chicago as well as the joys and pain points of the various groups involved. We came together to share our learnings, organize the information, and synthesize it all to pull out the most important insights and move forward.
We created 6 personas in order to cover the types of people we had identified from our various user groups. The most important became Eliza, a persona I created for a potential customer who needed a service like Urban Leash but was wary about having strangers in her home and unsure about how walkers would handle her pitbull. She embodied the fears and goals of the majority of pet owners we had surveyed and interviewed, as well as represented an important group for Urban Leash: dog owners who want a walker but are wary of dog walking services.
My team and I brainstormed solutions for each of our personas. We wrote out what we had learned on dozens of post-its and affinity mapped them into groups to identify themes. We boiled down our huge amount of post its into just a few essentials, and organized those essentials in various ways to make sense of them. We ended up drawing heavily on a chart of pain points grouped by before service, during service and after service.
At the end of a day of analysis, we settled on the following design directions:
- Highlighting Urban Leash’s strengths
- Eliminating customer and walker pain points
- Capitalize on the various opportunities to build trust not currently being utilized
When deciding who would lead out on the various aspects of our solution, I was exciting to take on the challenge of redesigning the customer-side app’s registration and booking process. Done right, this redesign would eliminate many of the customer and walker pain points as well as build trust among new users.
Since the priority was on a quick registration that properly gathering the necessary information from the customer and forms that were intuitive and simple, and I wasn’t doing a full app redesign, I kept my wireframes in greyscale. There are parts of the existing app that work beautifully and don’t need to be touched; my new and improved forms can be included with Urban Leash’s app design and easily worked into their existing process.
I began to design natively for iOS. Creating forms that were simple, intuitive, and didn’t require too many screens or clicks proved to be a difficult challenge that I enjoyed solving. The part of my brain that enjoys puzzles and writing code kicked into gear, I designed, tested, and iterated my forms until they satisfied my high standards.
The largest pain point among regular customers was booking recurring orders. When designing a form for recurring orders, I studied the way that other services handle recurring orders, as well as how calendar features on platforms such as Outlook and Google handle recurring events. Below is an annotated look at my final form design for recurring orders, which I created using research and iterated on through multiple rounds of user testing.
After three weeks, we delivered our research report, validated testing and design solutions to our very satisfied clients.
This video shows a walkthrough of my redesign of the registration process and includes the redesigned forms for tricky processes like gathering users’ home access information and setting up multiple and recurring orders.
Nothing will make working in teams 100% seamless, but open communication and honest feedback goes a long way. My team and I agreed on day 1 to be honest about our working styles and any frustrations we would face in the coming weeks. Rather than pretending we would never have conflicts, we openly discussed our personal strengths and areas of growth before we started working, and doing this right off the bat rather than waiting until there was conflict helped our team immensely.