Best Friend Feeder
My role: Industrial design of the BFF, digital screen designs, storyboarded scenarios for video, and animated my co-star in our final video pitch.
Techniques used: Assessed technology fit, visioning, storyboard generation, industrial design, animation in After Effects, script writing, video production
Duration: 3.5 weeks
The Best Friend Feeder was born out of a prompt to take an existing technology and develop and IoT product that fills a real need and audience fit.
What we delivered
The BFF is a pet feeder outfitted with a smart scale, that serves your pet the right portion based on their weight and activity level. We delivered a Kickstarter-style pitch video which shows the BFF in action in several key scenarios.
Teammates: James Budday and Paola Aguilar
Fitting Tech to a Problem
Our prompt was to take an existing technology and find the appropriate audience for it, by creating a solution to an existing problem. We chose to explore new applications for a connected scale. Without any specifications on size or sensitivity of the scale, we had free reign to define those for ourselves. We began our brainstorming session by outlining the various general capabilities of a connected scale; it could potentially be used to:
- Know how many people are in a room
- Know where people are in a room
- Know the time an object stayed in a certain position
- Detect posture
- Keep inventory
- Detect the addition or removal of items
- Track position
Based on these observations, our team came up with ideas that ranged from a smart mat to help professional gymnasts, to a chessboard that could be played by opponents that were not physically together.
One of our ideas was an automatic pet feeder that would weigh your pet and feed it the perfect portion. After doing some additional research, we found that pet obesity is an epidemic - 54% of cats and 58% of dogs in the US are overweight or obese. Obesity in pets can lead to many health issues and can cost up to $10K over the pet's lifetime. Armed with this information, we decided to move forward with the smart pet feeder idea.
Defining Design Through Narrative
We received vital feedback after our first pitch, which shaped how we approached the whole project. From this initial feedback, we focused on three key points for the design and video scenarios for the BFF:
- Maintaining the joy of owning a pet, for which feeding is a big part
- Portion control in a multi-pet household and scheduled feedings are important for a healthy diet
- National studies have shown there is a correlation between owner and pet obesity.
We tried to address each of these in the design of the BFF and in the scenarios we presented in our video.
In the first scene, we needed a lighthearted but sincere way to introduce the statistics driving our idea. We also wanted to show an improvement in the health of the owner and the dog as through the video. For those reasons, we began the video with the owner flipping channels while lounging on the couch.
We then introduced the Best Friend Feeder and demonstrated a typical feeding time. We purposely made it so that the owner has to be present to feed their pet, so they can maintain that connection with and joy of providing for their pet.
In this pair of scenes, we incorporated other aspect of a healthy lifestyle into the BFF. The BFF prompts the owner to take her dog for a run and she takes the advice. This helped us further demonstrate their improving health now that they have the BFF in their lives.
In our final scenario, we still wanted to incorporate some of the convenience of an automated feeder, but only in emergencies. This scenario also gave birth to the idea of a connected app where the owner could track activity level, weight, and portions for their pet over time.
Feeding Back into Industrial Design
I drew up many versions of the BFF in order to explore different approaches. For the design of the BFF, we needed to consider:
- The incorporation of the mat with the connected scale
- How to limit access to the food for a healthy eating schedule
- Keeping the food bowl protected in a multi-pet home
- Feedback for the owner to see weight, activity level, and portion size
BFF Final Designs
We eventually landed on a simple design with clean lines and clear sides that reveal the food storage. The drawer bowl retracts after the pet has walked away to limit grazing throughout the day. The bowl is flanked by plastic shields to keep other pets from jumping in on the food. Lastly, a screen at the top of the feeder displays the pet's weight, activity level, and portion to the owner.
Iterating on the BFF Screen
We refined the BFF screen display throughout the process, to refine the information shared with the owner. Our initial screen idea was to simply show the pet's weight as a number and give an indication of how high or low their activity level was for the day.
Given that the BFF recommends portion size and healthy activity level based on exact measurements, we wanted to also give the owner an indication of how healthy their pet is based on weight.
In our second version of the screen, we displayed both sets of information as progress bars, which could then indicate to the owner how overweight and active their dog is compared to a set standard. We also added more transparency by showing the owner the exact size of the pet's portion.
We thoroughly thought through the pitch scenarios for the BFF, but had little chance to flesh out the actual product. If I were to revisit this project, I would further explore how the app and the BFF are connected.
We did no user research in this project, so the first step would be to observe people during their regular pet feedings. What are the routines people follow? How do they determine what and how much to feed their pet? I would also want to interview veterinarians - how do they make recommendations about how much to feed or exercise pets? What kind of daily tracking would vets like to see about their furry patients?
I would take the findings from those investigations to inform the design of the BFF display and app.