Catlog, a Product Bridging Fur Family and the Owner
Catlog, a product by RABO Co., Ltd. specializes in monitoring cats’ health is gaining attention. The scope of its design extends to the users, the cat owners, and the cats themselves. Cats, who cannot communicate by speaking, and their unpredictable nature, are cherished beings. To understand and watch over these lovable creatures, how does the Catlog development team approach their design on a daily basis?
Nozomi Korin | VP of Design at RABO, Inc.
Nozomi has been involved in UI design at companies such as Goodpatch and major publishing houses. She has also practiced graphic recording to facilitate discussions and has experience as a lecturer. In 2019, she joined RABO, Inc. through her connection with cats. Leveraging her curiosity and adventurous spirit, she not only designs products but also motivates the entire team. Her beloved cats are her daily inspiration.
80 Million Cases Studied Health Status of Cats
── First, please tell us about “Catlog.”
Nozomi: Catlog provides a dedicated device for cats and an app to manage the data obtained from it. There are two types of devices: the collar-type “Catlog” and the “Catlog Board” which is used under the litter box. Each device automatically captures the cat’s activity data. Cat owners can use the app to monitor their cats’ behavior almost in real-time.
Collar-type Catlog captures health-related behavioral data such as “eating,” “drinking,” “sleeping,” and “running” by analyzing subtle movements around the cat’s neck. It continuously monitors for any changes in behavior 24/7, 365 days a year. On the other hand, the Catlog Board collects weight and excretion data each time the cat uses the litter box. This information can be helpful in addressing issues related to the cat’s toilet habits, such as urinary tract problems and diet management. Machine learning is utilized to analyze the data, allowing Catlog to support cats’ ongoing health and well-being.
── What is the technology behind Catlog that supports “biologging” (animal behavior studies)?
Nozomi: Biologging is a field that involves attaching small sensors to wild animals to collect behavioral data and analyze their ecology. It is a field of study in which our representative, Iyo, specialized during graduate school. We thought about applying this technology to our beloved cats, who are part of our family, and that’s how Catlog was born.
In the development of Catlog, we have received cooperation from many biologging researchers. While actual research often gathers only a small number of sampling data, Catlog has already collected data on the behavior of over 80 million cats. This extensive data collection has led to new insights in the research field.
── With such a large amount of data, we can expect high accuracy. Does Catlog’s content come from the accumulated data?
Nozomi: Yes, first, we extract and model the characteristics of the data obtained from the devices. Then, we use machine learning to analyze the data and achieve high-precision behavior detection. However, we don’t rely solely on that. We also conduct tests with the cats living with our team members. To minimize errors due to individual differences, we verify the behavior characteristics while the cat’s owner, who knows their behavior well, is present. This allows us to ensure the accuracy of the detection and understand the unique behavioral traits and differences of each cat. Additionally, cat owners can provide feedback on behavior detection through the app, which helps us optimize machine learning specifically for their cats.
We place great emphasis on the accuracy of the detection. If, for example, the device consistently shows different results while the cat is eating, it would undermine the trust in the data, especially in critical situations. Therefore, the entire company is committed to improving the accuracy.
── Do you also take customer feedback into account?
Nozomi: Of course, we consider customer feedback as well as directly collecting data from cat owners through regular “Cat Behavior Surveys.” Since testing within our company has its limitations, the purpose of this initiative is to gather data from a broader range of cats and address individual differences. Cat owners are encouraged to record videos of their cats’ behavior and submit them, allowing us to further improve the accuracy of our analysis.
Support owners’ decision making
── As a fate of products that monitor health, there may be moments when you convey the danger to life. Do you have any precautions when presenting negative information?
Nozomi: We value conveying information based on data and encouraging correct judgment based on that information. Intuition is also important, but subjective and vague perceptions like “Hmm, my cat seems to be going to the litter box more often today” can cause the owner to miss the timing to go to the vet or overlook it as just their imagination. Generally, there is a tendency for cat owners to have fewer opportunities to take their cats to the vet, so they are less likely to take action unless it is something serious. With Catlog, we aim to provide objective numerical information such as “Normally, my cat goes to the litter box three times a day, but today it has gone 11 times,” so that owners can make the correct judgment of “I should take my cat to the vet.”
Nozomi: Actually, in February last year, my cat developed urinary stones. I noticed that the litter box usage was significantly higher than usual through Catlog’s display, and I immediately took my cat to the vet, which prevented the worst-case scenario.
It is natural for owners to have a bias of “There’s no way my cat would go through something so serious!” That’s why I strongly felt the need to objectively show the condition through data.
We have had internal discussions about the degree of suggestion and have made design modifications accordingly. For example, while the graph display usually uses Catlog’s base color, which is yellow, we use red during alerts to convey a sense of urgency and seriousness.
However, we don’t want owners to live with anxiety every day, nor do we want to unnecessarily worry them. What Catlog should do is detect and notify appropriately to ensure that nothing is missed in case of emergencies. We always pay attention to our expressions to avoid stimulating feelings of panic or fear.
Design that closely accompanies cats and their owners
──The combination of analog and digital is also a feature of Catlog. What do you consider when designing analog products?
Nozomi: Since the collar-type Catlog is something that cats wear every day, we strive to make it lightweight and comfortable to wear. We also ensure that it can be incorporated as an accessory without compromising its fashionability.
As for the Catlog Board, the key points are keeping the height as low as possible to not interfere with the act of entering the litter box and designing it in a way that doesn’t require changing the original litter box. I’ve noticed that many pet smart toilets in the market require changing the entire litter box or changing the placement for charging, which often imposes changes in the cat’s lifestyle. However, cats are delicate creatures, and they often have preferences for specific places to use the litter box. Therefore, we insisted on designing the Catlog Board to fit under the current litter box. This design choice is based on the personal experience of our CEO, who prioritizes the feelings of both cats who may feel stressed by changes in the litter box and owners who don’t want to change it.
── What aspects of the app design do you consider essential?
Nozomi: The critical point is consolidated in the first view of the app.
Nozomi: Some suggested that since it is a product that monitors health, it would be better to show the data first. However, at the core of our service, we strongly believe in the idea of “always being by the cat’s side even when apart.” Monitoring the cat’s behavior 24/7 is like being with the cat through the app. Therefore, we wanted to convey that feeling first, which led us to the current UI. The display at the bottom of the screen allows users to quickly see if there are any changes in the cat’s condition.
The cat icon is designed to allow any owner to project the image of “their own cat” by using a yellow color that does not exist in real fur colors and abstracting it with geometric lines. When animated, I wanted it to create a sense of being close to one’s own cat, while also allowing room for imagination to fill in the gaps.
On the other hand, we absolutely avoid realistic depictions, characterizations, or 3D avatars of cats. We also refrain from forcibly speaking on behalf of cats, such as saying “I’m sleeping meow~”. While I believe everyone has a desire to “talk to their own cat,” if a third party were to do it on their behalf, it would create a sense of dissonance and distance from the feeling of being together.
There is undoubtedly a unique bond between cats and their owners, and there is a bit of fantasy within that bond. Rather than having a third party arbitrarily decide, I want to respect the unspoken aspects that owners feel and experience as a family while living together and leave room for owners to personalize it for themselves. Catlog aims to connect cats and their owners without interfering with or narrowing their individual sense of distance and relationship.
“Being able to be used even during normal times” is what makes it useful during emergencies.
── Generally, encountering life-threatening situations or abnormalities is not something that happens frequently. What do you consider in terms of expressing regular times?
Nozomi: The original purpose of cat owners is to “continue living with their cats for a long time,” and Catlog is a tool to fulfill that purpose. Ultimately, Catlog is an “app that doesn’t need to be looked at” when the cat’s condition is stable. The main screen of the app conveys the cat’s condition in a single phrase rather than detailed data because it’s important for owners to be able to quickly glance at it during their work or free time and know that everything is fine. We don’t want to interfere with the time between cats and their owners, and we want them to be able to interact with their cats with more peace of mind.
Surely, when the cat is healthy, an app that doesn’t have a strong presence is perfectly fine. It should be a happy situation when alerts don’t come up.
── “It’s fine for the app to have no presence when the cat is healthy,” is indeed true.
Nozomi: However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used. If it’s not used regularly, you won’t notice if things are “as usual” or “different.” That’s why it’s important to make “enjoying being as usual” a part of the daily routine.
Recently, we released a feature called “Genki Score (well-being score).” It is a numerical value calculated from the cat’s activity level, and as long as the cat remains energetic, there won’t be significant changes. We wanted users to feel that “the absence of change itself is wonderful,” so we put effort into expressing it with various Catlog-like words, allowing users to enjoy it every day.
── Apart from enjoying being as usual, are there any other initiatives you are taking?
Nozomi: We also developed the “Share” feature, which was recently released, as a way to make living with cats more enjoyable. It allows users to create and share images with freely placed Catlog data on the photos they take. Although it was released not long ago, many people are already using it.
Nozomi: Unexpectedly, users have been using it in ways we didn’t anticipate, and their creative posts are spreading on social media. Cats don’t have a culture of going for walks, and they often end up fighting when they encounter each other, so there isn’t much offline interaction. It’s delightful to see Catlog being used as a communication tool in this way.
── Lastly, please tell us what Catlog aims to achieve in the future.
Nozomi: Catlog aims to cherish the “daily routine of being healthy and unchanged, just like always” when the cat is healthy, and to assist cats and their owners in deepening their affection for each other. Moreover, in case of any abnormality in the cat’s condition, we want to be a reliable presence that detects it quickly and supports the owners. Cats are precious family members. Through our product, we want to assist in protecting their health and further deepening the love between cats and their owners.