Women veterans are veterans too.
With IDEO and the New York Harbor VA, we spent fifteen weeks researching public perceptions of women veterans—and designing to change them.
Here's what we learned:
Women veterans are far less likely to outwardly project their veteran identity than their male counterparts.
Women vets feel that the media is more likely to portray them as victims than as heroes.
Both during and after active duty, military women tend to feel like the deck is stacked against them. We made a board game to show all the obstacles and excuses that make succeeding in the military—and just maintaining physical and mental health—such a challenge for women.
Prompted by the question "How might we establish a new cultural norm that a woman veteran is also a veteran?", we read everything we could about the woman veteran's experience—and then we started interviewing. In two weeks, we conducted 10 expert interviews with women veterans and VA staff, 27 intercept interviews of civilians, and topped things off with an online survey.
We distilled a sea of quotes into insights and verified them with stakeholders using the tangible insights seen above. We refined our thinking into a final array of design principles—in the form of more pointed "how might we" questions—that we used to kick-start the ideation process.
The #SheServed initiative is aimed at building public perception of women as an equal and significant part of the veteran community in the United States. By combining a platform for celebrating women servicemembers’ achievements with an accessible, shareable brand identity, this experiential campaign can empower women veterans and deliver their stories to a larger audience.
Inspired by the Livestrong campaign’s success in creating momentum around cancer research in the mid-2000s, the #SheServed campaign uses stark iconography and an eye-catching palette to increase recognition of the issues female veterans face. To wear the #SheServed insignia is to support the following statement:
The service and sacrifices of women veterans are equally significant to those of their male counterparts. I stand with veterans—women vets included—in their search for recognition and fair treatment.
Targeted to resonate with veterans, their families and the public at large, the campaign's messaging encourages viewers to show support by wearing pins, hats and other #SheServed-branded collateral.
By driving participants to share hashtagged images of their #SheServed gear on social media, the campaign may grow its footprint at an exponential rate. And the more #SheServed gear gets bought, the more proceeds go to non-profits actively combatting serious issues for veterans, such as homelessness and inadequate of mental health care.
The Postcard Stories Project provides a platform where women servicemembers’ stories and achievements can be shared and celebrated, leveraging the military’s team-first mentality to get vets to celebrate their peers. Vets receive blank postcards that invite them to share a story about an outstanding woman peer. Stories are submitted to the SheServed team, where selections are posted to the campaign's blog and social channels.
As the stories reach a critical mass, the campaign can extend into the physical domain—through gallery shows and and a printed book—to reach and inspire civilians outside of the military bubble.
How it works
Limited advertising spend upfront could kick-start a self-reinforcing loop of earned media through participants' social channels. The more swag they buy, the more acceptance of women veterans is normalized—and the more money goes to helping those most in need.
Blank cards are sent to veterans through several channels before stories are sent back to SheServed with prepaid postage. Stories are curated and distributed through the blog, owned social, gallery shows and a printed book—getting the positive messaging in front of both veterans and civilians.
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To read more about the project, check out this story on the Products of Design blog.