Designing Apps with Veterans, not For Them

Have you ever sat in front of a blank piece of paper hoping it will transform itself? 

As a Harvard student team in a class on technology and innovation, we had spent the last two months learning about the transition of military personnel from service to civilian life by interviewing dozens of Veterans and other stakeholders.

We had developed a concise problem statement: “How can the VA provide the right services and products to better assist new Veterans?”

But we weren’t sure how to take our findings and turn them into products the VA might adopt and Veterans would actually use.

So we started to scribble and draw. Our blank page became cluttered with ideas and solutions that we turned into simple sketches in Balsamiq, a rapid wireframing tool.

Irene sketches potential solutions

Irene sketches potential solutions

Balsamiq prototype of the Veteransition app

Balsamiq prototype of the Veteransition app

We then put our prototype Veteransition app in the hands of Veterans, to get their feedback and views.  Many of their initial comments were negative and it was difficult not to feel disheartened: how had we fallen so far off the mark?

We were struck by the realisation that we had attempted to design for Veterans, not with them. An essential component to the development process is seeking Veteran feedback—whether that be good or bad—so we can develop a solution that actually addresses Veteran needs.

Every Veteran has a unique transition journey. We are excited and motivated to keep developing ideas and coming up with solutions that make these journeys as smooth and easy as possible.

Chris, Ife, Irene, Rebecca, and Simon