As part of SVA Products of Design’s partnership with Veterans Affairs (and held through the Design Research and Integration class taught by IDEO’s Lawrence Abrahamson), I teamed up with classmates: Jiani Lin, Teng Yu, William Crum, Alexia Cohen, and Kevin Cook, used design to examine gender and the military—creating two design proposals aimed at changing the way people “see” women veterans.
We were first challenged with a question: How Might We establish a new cultural norm that a woman veteran is also a veteran? Starting with both primary and secondary research, pouring over VA and VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) materials we prepared interview guides for a variety of subjects. After conducting 10 expert interviews, 27 intercept interviews in New York City, along with online surveys distributed through social media we extracted 5 core insights which lead to 5 design principles in the form of How Might We questions.
The distillation process to our How Might We questions
One of the best ways to delve into an insight is to make it tangible. We explored this by designing a highly-researched (and playable) board game that takes players through the user journey of Active Duty, and then through Veteran Life. Gameplay reveals countless obstacles in both; the players quickly realize that the deck is stacked against women.
A tangible rendition of women not identifying with their military identity after service
Portrayal in the media
The majority of the subsequent work centered on the creation of SheServed—a brand, campaign, organization, collateral, and website for women vets—along with it’s first “interactive” initiative, the Postcard Stories Campaign.
We were inspired by the “Live Strong” campaign and bracelets, which together raised both public sensitivity to cancer—along with donation funds for cancer research. “With SheServed, the managing organization puts out the messaging materials to vets and to the general public, telling them about the initiative and driving them to purchase the branded materials,” we thought. “In turn, the funds collected are given to organizations that support female vets.”
How the brand plays out
And of course there’s the power of social media: “The campaign collateral also gets shared on social media through the #SheServed Campaign—which in turn helps create organic momentum around the campaign…that then promotes the project further.” And once the pins, hats, t-shirts and other collateral make it out into the world, the social media posts become infinitely more powerful and empathy-loaded. “There’s a big difference between an image of a logo pin, and and image of a person wearing that pin”. “Once Instagram fills with photos of real-life vets identifying with the movement, along with civilians wanting to show their support, the campaign will have a greater authenticity—and therefore a higher likelihood of success.”
And to further drive awareness, perhaps the most persuasive elements of the campaign are the billboard ads, which are strong but respectful.
Postcard Stories Campaign
The SheServed Postcard Stories Project provides a platform where women service members stories and achievements can be shared and celebrated. The campaign would leverage the military’s team-first mentality “to get vets to celebrate their peers.” It would empower women vets by showcasing their accomplishments and appreciation, and would also get stories in front of a larger audience by leaning on men vet allies.
Certainly, there was a push from critics to move the method of submitting stories from postcard to website—arguing that it would be more accessible and “easier”—but we were resolved in starting with the zero-tech approach. We liked the idea of the hand-written and argued that "There’s a ton of research that tells us that the kind of writing that happens with a pen is different from a keyboard, and we also like referencing the 'writing home from overseas' trope that is closely identified with people’s perception of the military. Of course, we can always add online forms once the campaign gains traction.”