She Served Project: Designing for Women Veterans



Designing for women veterans

The She Served Project is a campaign and story telling platform aimed at changing the way people “see” women veterans in American society.

The project was developed as part of Products of Design’s partnership with the NY Veterans Affairs office and held through the Design Research and Integration class taught by IDEO’s Lawrence Abrahamson.

Jiani Lin / Teng Yu / William Crum / Kevin Cook / Antriksh Nangi

Human-Centered Design / Design Research / Visual Design / Campaign Design

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Student Runner Up / Strategy & Research

Student Notable /  Design for Social Impact

The challenge

How might we establish a new cultural norm that a woman veteran is also a veteran?


Human-centered research

Starting with secondary research, pouring over VA and VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) materials the team prepared interview guides for a variety of subjects. Then they moved onto primary research by conducting 10 expert interviews, 27 intercept interviews in New York City, along with online surveys distributed through social media.


Insights + design principles

Downloading the research the team extracted 5 core insights which lead to 5 design principles in the form of How Might We questions.


Tangible insights

By turning insights into a playable board game the team generated empathy for the women veteran’s experience, helping participants explore the insights viscerally.

For Insight 2 they designed  The Game of Military Life,  a highly-researched (and playable) board game that takes players through journey of Active Duty and Veteran Life. Gameplay reveals countless obstacles; though women and men veterans have experiences in common, the game quickly reveals that the deck is indeed stacked against women, and gives the players a glimpse into what they might experience in reality.  


The She Served Campaign

The majority of the subsequent work centered on the design team’s creation of SheServed—a brand, campaign, organization, collateral, and website for women vets—along with it’s first “interactive” initiative, the Postcard Stories Campaign.

The team was very 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. In turn, the funds collected are given to organizations that support female vets.


Amplifying the campaign’s effect through social media


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 and promotes the project further. 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 an 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 a higher likelihood of success.”


Ad Campaign

To further drive awareness, the team created a set of ads that are strong but respectful. The ads feature quotes collected by the team during the user and expert interviews.


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.

Here’s how it works: veterans are sent blank postcards and are invited to respond with a defining story about an outstanding woman veteran they know. The SheServed team curates submissions, publishing select stories on the online platform, and collected in printed books (with permissions of course).


Next steps

The team spent a lot of time considering the obstacles for getting both of these campaigns out into the real world—everything from agreement on the style and color of the logo, to building enough critical mass for reasonable adoption. Still, they argue, “social media has changed everything. We figure that if we can get some key influencers—with high social media clout—to be a part of the launch on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, anything is possible. It’s really just a question of believing that the optics of the overall campaign are solid, and then lining up sympathetic manufacturers to help with the production. We think it’s all very, very possible.”



Vantage Point / Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs