Responsible Dog Owners, Meet Ethical Breeders
After speaking with many dog owners about their experience purchasing their pets, I noticed a common complaint – finding ethical dog breeders online is difficult and the process of purchasing a dog is a headache. Taking this information, I contacted a dozen breeders in the Toronto area and spoke with them to get their opinion on this issue. To my surprise, many said that finding responsible owners for their puppies could sometimes also be difficult. Combine these issues with the fact that most dog breeder websites are extremely out of date and poorly designed and Breed Base was born.
- Potential buyers want to ensure they are buying from ethical and reliable breeders but most breeder websites are outdated, poorly designed, and difficult to navigate
- Dog breeders want to ensure they are selling their puppies to responsible and caring owners from good households and currently do not have a way to vet buyers before meeting them other than having them complete lengthy questionnaires
- Breeders also generally don’t have the time, patience, or technical expertise to easily update their websites and therefore stick with an outdated web presence
Breed Base is a tool that connects responsible future dog owners with ethical breeders. Breeders are invited onto the platform and are able to create a profile page, list the practices they’re committed to, any organizations they belong to, additional services they offer, and are also able to add images of their breeding facilities and of their puppies. Breeders can view the profiles of potential buyers and decide whether they are a suitable fit based on various criteria, they can also inform potential buyers of upcoming litters.
On the buyer side, users are able to browse breeders and breeder profiles based on dog breed and location, read reviews, and message them to ask questions or to arrange an appointment. The users on this side of the platform are required to complete a questionnaire before they can sign up. Their answers to the questionnaire will the visible to breeders.
Pen and Paper
As Breed Base is a two-sided platform, for both dog owners and breeders alike, I was required to speak to both groups in order to determine the viability of the idea.
To find contact information for breeders in the Toronto area I consulted the Canadian Kennel Club website and Canada’s Guide to Dogs and was able to conduct brief phone interviews with 12 breeders in Southern Ontario. To ensure that every breeder was asked the same questions and given the same information about the idea, I wrote out a basic script that was followed at the beginning of each phone call. In the script, I summarized the key points of Breed Base. Most breeders were extremely friendly and helpful and some conversations lasted upwards of half an hour. The information I gathered from them was generally encouraging with 65% of breeders saying they would be interested in using such an app. Of those that were interested in the idea, their main concerns were ease of use, cost, and having some level of assurance that only ethical breeders would be allowed on the platform. Many were also compelled by the prospect of no longer having to update their website. Several breeders I spoke to confessed they were hesitant to update their website because it involved having to contact a web developer which would cost them time and money.
Interestingly, many breeders also mentioned that they only sell their puppies to individuals and families that can prove they will be properly cared for. This was not something I was aware of. Most ethical breeders go through a lengthy interview process with potential clients before they will agree to sell to them. I realized that perhaps Breed Base could help ease this process as well
The information gathered from breeders was encouraging – 65% of breeders said they would be interested in using the app.
To gather information on those that would potentially be using the app on the owner/buyer side I created a thread on Reddit in the ‘/r/Dogs’ subreddit. Here I asked the question, ‘Is Finding a Breeder a Headache?’ and inquired into how dog owners found their breeder (online or through word of mouth), if there were pain points in the process of finding a breeder, if they had difficulty determining whether a breeder was ethical, and whether finding an ethical breeder was important to them. The thread received 32 replies and overall the results were a bit less encouraging (but still promising) compared to speaking with breeders. Out of the 10 people that answered my questions directly, 4 reported having difficulty determining whether a breeder was ethical, getting responses, and navigating very out of date websites.
Several Redditors suggested that perhaps the forum was not the ideal place to conduct such research as it is largely a group of very passionate dog owners that are connected to the dog owning community and therefore wouldn’t have the same level of difficulty in finding a reliable breeder as your typical dog owner.
The information gathered from both groups was enough encouragement to proceed with designing and exploring the Breed Base idea.
There are currently two main dog breeder registries in Canada – the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and Canada’s Guide to Dogs. However, these two resources suffer from the same issues as many breeder websites in that they are quite outdated and difficult to navigate. Also, both websites only offer very limited information about breeders, in most cases just a paragraph or two, and simply provide a link to the breeder site. Further, neither of them have the more robust functionality of Breed Base such as allowing users to leave/read reviews, view images, communicate with breeders directly, and so forth.
Planning and Sketches
From the initial planning phase it was clear that the design needed to be simple and straightforward. I started by asking myself two basic questions, ‘Who is the main user group on the platform?’ and ‘What are they trying to do?’ The main user group on Breed Base would be individuals that are frustrated with looking at poorly designed breeder websites and registries and just want to find reliable breeders in their area. The home page was always intended to be a promise of that simplicity – ‘Search Breed’, ‘Search Location’ and nothing more. I found that the rest of the design flowed quite easily from there.
When considering how users would navigate the platform, the main consideration was how much of the platform to make available to users before requiring them to log in or sign up. I decided that those looking to execute a quick search should be able to do so without having to create a profile. Users can search for and browse breeders in their area, read breeder profiles, and read reviews of breeders without an account on the platform.
If users that are browsing the platform to find a breeder wish to message breeders, leave a review, or compile a list of their favourite breeders, they are required to sign in or create a profile before they are able to do so.
Breeders on the platform are also able to browse other breeders in the same way that other users are able to, however, they are not able to message them, write a review, or compile a favourites list. The main difference on the breeder side of the platform is that breeders are able to view a list of those that would make a good candidate as an owner of one of their puppies. They can view this list after logging into their account.
Typography, Colours, and Iconography
Simplicity and intuitiveness were priorities when selecting fonts, colours, and icons for the high-fidelity version of Breed Base. Apart from the logo, the only font used on the site is ‘Raleway’ which works well for both headings and body text due to its clear legibility. The basic colour scheme also reflects this simplicity and evokes a friendly sense of openness.
High Fidelity Mock-Ups
Easy Search and Sign-up
Any user, regardless of whether they have an account, can search for breeders.
Profile, Search, and Messaging
Search results clearly display the name, location, and a star rating of the breeder.
Future dog owners can communicate with breeders to ask questions or arrange an appointment.
Breeder Profile, Matches, and Messaging
Part of the main functionality on the breeder side is to allow users to see potential buyers for their puppies under ‘Matches’ in the bottom navigation. Clicking this, they can browse users, view their profiles, and reach out to them.
#1 – Issues with a two-sided platform
Given that Breed Base is a two-sided platform, this provided some unique challenges and some interesting questions when thinking through the user flow and overall functionality. Should breeders be able to search for other breeders? Should non-breeders be able to find and message other non-breeders? How should the log-in process differ between these two user groups? It makes sense that breeders should be able to find other breeders to see the type of information they are adding to their profiles and just to generally get a sense of how potential competitors are using the platform. However, it did not make sense to allow regular users to view others in that group.
#2 – How to ensure that only ethical breeders use the platform
Breed Base is a tool that is intended to be used by ethical and responsible groups, this was really the idea behind its inception from the start. However, there is unfortunately no reliable way to guarantee who can use the platform and whether the information individuals are adding to their profiles is true. One option is to use an ‘invite only’ method for breeders. This method would give us control over what breeders can create accounts and would prevent puppy mills from signing up but is obviously not the best approach in terms of scalability. Another option would be to require members to provide proof of their membership to a recognized organization like the CKC. Although unlikely, it is however still possible that unethical breeders could have a membership. This is an issue still being explored.
Outcome and Next Steps
Further, I would like to eventually integrate the ability to search for rescue dogs. This is a well-known issue within the dog ownership community and many stray dogs from overseas need homes. Adopting rescue dogs is something that I believe is gaining traction in North America but will require further user research.
Overall this project has been a fantastic learning experience for me and I’m sure that what I have learned while thinking through and designing Breed Base will be invaluable going forward in my UI/UX career.