DESIGNING FOR WOMEN VETERANS: #SHESERVED PROJECT
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), Alexia and her team of classmates: Jiani Lin, Teng Yu, William Crum, Kevin Cook, and Antriksh Nangia, used design to examine gender and the military—creating two design proposals aimed at changing the way people “see” women veterans.
The team was first challenged with a question: How Might We establish a new cultural norm that a woman veteran is also a veteran? 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 the team extracted 5 core insights which lead to 5 design principles in the form of How Might We questions.
As a group Alexia and her teammates explored making some of these insights into tangible prototypes to further investigate them. For Insight 2 they designed The Game of Military Life, a highly-researched (and playable) board game that takes players through the user journey of Active Duty and Veteran Life. Gameplay reveals countless obstacles; though women and men veterans have experiences in common, the game quiclky reveals that the deck is indeed stacked against women, and gives the players a glimpse into what they might experience in reality.
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.
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,” the designers argue. “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.”
To further drive awareness, the team created a set of adds that 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.
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).
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 the team was resolved in starting with the zero-tech approach. They really 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.”
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.”