Holly Baumgartl
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My Senior Thesis Explanation

Hi guys! As some of you know, I've been working on my senior thesis at the Cleveland Institute of Art this year. I wanted to write a blog explaining what I'm doing, why, and how I was inspired. Let's jump in!


So, I had a couple of ideas to begin with for my senior thesis. It's pretty intense to pick a topic for a design project that I was going to be working on for an entire year. At that point, there was a lot of thought that went into the decision making process. I had jotted down my daily thoughts and wondered... What is something that I think and or talk about all the time? What is something that I care about a lot and could turn into a design solution? Most importantly, it was important at this stage to find a topic I loved so much that I wouldn't get sick of it after 6 months to a year. After careful consideration and lots of long talks with my mom and close friends... I decided to choose dog nutrition.

Now, here's some background information on that. 

Most people who know me, know that I love dogs and animals in general. About a year ago, I worked for a pet store for around 6 months. While I was there, I was introduced to the retail aspect of pet nutrition. I went through extensive nutrition training for both dogs and cats, and helped customers with their nutritional + product needs daily. I met some wonderful people along the way, petted a lot of dogs, learned a lot, and found a new way that I could help animals to make a difference in their lives. I always wanted to continue to do so, but I also knew that I wanted to be able to use my design abilities in some way as well.

Over the last decade, we’ve truly humanized our pets, we’re no longer satisfied to reward them in ‘pet terms’ with something like a tennis ball. Instead, we reward them in human terms, with expensive diamond-studded leashes or something, in a way that we think is rewarding.
— Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pets Products Association

I don't know about you guys, but I definitely humanize my pup. Most people would agree when I say that I'm an overly crazed dog mom, but my pup adds so much value to my life. Being with my pup, Skye (who you will be meeting in a future blog post very soon), are the best parts of my day. Ultimately, I want to make sure that I am giving him the best life imaginable, which includes being able to feed him a good nutritional food that will help him live a long healthy life.

When it came time for me to start working on my thesis, the inspiration was flowing and I had finally felt like I had made the right choice with my topic. I chose to come up with a problem statement and solution for dog nutrition and how pet owners shop for their pet’s food. My experiences while working for a pet store became important in my research. I started to think a lot about the issues that customers faced with their pet food. I have and am continuously doing extensive research on this subject because you can never have too much research, especially in a field that's always evolving. Since my time working for a pet store, I became fascinated with what people were feeding their pets and if there was any way I could help to make it more approachable. I started talking to people, friends, family, and even strangers about how nutrition has impacted their pet’s lives, or if it had at all. I even conducted a survey that had over 100+ responses asking owners about the food they feed their pets. The results came in and I was surprised to see how many people were overwhelmed by the subject. 

My thesis statement says that:

A surprising amount of dog owners are not aware of the importance of their pet’s nutrition. I believe that nutrition is overwhelming and not practical to most pet owners because it is very information heavy, and has proven over time that it requires further attention. My experience with pet nutrition leads me to believe that nutrition is an approachable issue that can be solved outside of a pet store.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering… why am I just focusing on dogs? Currently, with the time allowed for my thesis project, I think narrowing in on a specific animal or pet type is more realistic in terms of being able to produce the right amount of solid work. I would love to eventually expand this for other types of pet owners in the future and plan on continuing my research after graduation.


So let’s jump in to some research!

Pet owners on average spend a whole lot of money on food, this is just how much:

money spent on food_sniffer

Based on my survey results that were conducted in the fall of last year, most pet owners said one of the biggest issues with feeding a more nutritional food was the cost factor. What if I told you that feeding your pet a more nutritional pet food will actually decrease the amount of food your feeding – overall decreasing the amount of food you're buying and spending money on?

54% of dog owners purchase their dog’s food outside of a pet store
— Personal Survey Results (surveymonkey.com)

Let's break that down.

28% of pet owners purchase their food in the grocery store, 16% purchase at an online retailer and 9% at the veterinarian. Most of the time, it's possible that these foods may not have the best nutritional value, but can be argued the same for pet stores depending on which retailer you shop at. My point about purchasing food in a pet store is that there is usually a staff around that has some sort of training to help your pick what's best for your pet. But this isn't always the case, and having some type of resource in this instance could be helpful.

Dog food comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes.

So with that being said, how do we know what’s best for our dogs? That is what I’m here to help with. I'm currently working on a design solution to bring attention to the importance of dog nutrition and how pet owners shop for their pet food. 

I am creating and branding an app called Sniffer that will act as a mobile on-the-go guide to pet food, there will be options to add pet profiles so that you can customize and tailor it to your pup to make sure that what you are feeding is the best option. There will also be a search and scan feature. The search will be filtered by a custom pet profile. The scan feature will enable the user to scan a pet food barcode and receive information on that pet food instantly.

The completion of Sniffer will be in May. Until then, I will continue to keep my blog and social media updated with the latest and greatest of my progress on this project. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and stay tuned for more blog posts.