Strategy and Design to help women veterans to establish a stable sense of self when transitioning into a non-military environment.



User Experience Design
Service Design
Human-Centered Design
Research Synthesis
Strategic Planning
Scenario Development
Participatory Action Research
Collaborative Design-led Research
Qualitative Research
Systems Thinking
Rapid Prototyping
Creative Problem-solving
Cross-disciplinary Collaboration
Monitoring + Evaluation
Workshop Design and Facilitation


Gender Psychology
Behavioral Science
Cultural Psychology
Social Psychology
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 


Corporate Design
Concept Creation


After leaving the military, women veterans go through the same transition system as men and proceed to engage with the civilian community. However, women now make up approximately 10 percent of the current veteran population, the fastest-growing demographic. The number of female veterans treated at the VA almost tripled between 2000 and 2015. As a result of this rapid growth, the VA experienced difficulty meeting the clinical needs of female veterans at all sites of care. Additionally, the existing gender specific facilities/services is either barely functioning or non-existent throughout the system of care. These deficits manifest at various points of the journey of women veterans. However, the issue is being highlighted by a number of Women Veteran run Veteran Service Organizations(VSO’s). These VSO’s are engaging with the system to address the concerns of women veterans in the areas of job procurement, assistance with childcare, assistance with procuring homes, addressing physical and mental health issues that are gender specific.

︎︎︎ how might we help Women Veterans to establish a stable sense of self when transitioning into a non-military environment?



For our project we  adopted a participatory form of approach as we engaged with Women Veterans and non-veteran civilians iteratively to get feedback regarding the direction of our approach toward the challenge.

We adopted the core principles of Human Centered Design as we engaged, created, tested and iterated through the process.
Additionally, we defined design principles that would inform our approach towards project in-terms of research and design.



Our secondary research was guided by the following questions:

“What does the existing transition system in military look like?”
“Which government organizations provide services to veterans?”
“Which VSO’s provide services? And what do they provide?”
“Which organizations are gender specific?”
“What are the services which are gender specific?”
“How does the existing transition system for women operate?“
“What are the different touch points?”

we specifically investigated:

Veteran Affairs (VA)
Veteran service organizations (VSOs)
Transition programs
Student veteran organizations
Academic articles




As a part of primary research we conducted we approached women veterans who were willing to share their experiences and challenges they faced with us.



Sandra Robinson

and ‘four’ other women veterans CFVF

VSO organizers

What did we learn?
Shared the troubles of going back to not military ready communities, and how they are ignored as combat WVs back at home. Resentment and misunderstanding from their children, illness and pain due to the lack of women-specific care and equipment during enlistment. Provided us with information on the 5-7 year transition, but current VA program only provides months (see interview document for the accurate time period) Also, pointed out VA services are based on location/state and hence their inconsistency.

Amy Street

WoVeN organizer, VA Boston clinical psychologist

A VA service provider and VSO organizer at the same time.

What did we learn?
Saw the lack of WV support in VA and formed a national network for WV sisterhood. Also emphasizes on the funding and effort VA is putting on WV-specific healthcare, and are working on it


Women Veteran

What did we learn?
Struggles of having identities both as a WV and a mother `She shared with us how she had to leave the military as she was pregnant. Additionally, her husband is a  military officer. Hence, when attending military of civilian gatherings or availing services at the VA, she is often looked upon as a dependant of here husband. She left left out in both communities. Also, the differences between treatment of male and female officers and very visible to her.



These experiences became the core that informed our design process. We analyzed these interviews and mapped overlaps on each other. Based on these we created the scenarios which were our images of crisis.



We were considering the greater systemic issue of identity crisis faced by women veterans. Communication was an area of intersection and a possible way we could intervene in the system to help create a smooth transition process.

Here, we are not referring to a generic form of communication but communication that was in tandem to their identity as a woman veteran. Due to the existing stigma, women veterans do not reveal themselves in the civilian world unless asked. Society as a whole does not perceive women veterans as existent or it is assumed that they served in supporting roles and hence do not need to thanked.

Due to a lack of visibility and acceptance, women veterans relied heavily on signs that visibly identified them as veterans in the eyes of other people.

“In the military, the uniform and the badges convey everything. I have never had to ask for respect. Also, I always had  enough context to start a conversation. Here, I need to build everything from scratch. I am not used to talking about my military experience because I don’t believe they will get what it’s like.”



This statement was our key insight as it brought forth the reason as to why it was so  difficult to talk about their identity. The veterans  wore their identity and never really needed  to discuss about it. The  process of engagement is simplified. Just by looking uniform and the batch one could know what battles, they have been in, what their rank was, which platoon they were a part of. We realized the uniform and badges represented more than pride, hierarchy and power. It was also a form of invisible language among them. It is like wearing your experience and respect comes naturally when you know what they have been through.

︎︎︎ How might we visualize the missing communication between women veterans and non-veteran civilians?

Now that we had defined the space of our intervention and its function. We had to create a scaffolding to hold these functions together i.e is an approach  method that could help us define our  strategy.

We revisited our interviews and this time tries to extract patterns  that bubbled in the unspoken conversations. We realized that the approach to conversations varies depending on whom the women veterans  were interacting with. Hence, we broke this down into four layers. And each layer is important to building a  strong sense  of self. We  draw from concepts of  levels of intimacy in psychology to develop this method.

Open communication at each level would help  create a strong  support  system for women veterans. We  designed the approach to  each layer of communication through the lens  of our design  principle of respect & appreciation, trauma informed culture, transparency & privacy and agency restoration.

communication with strangers

“I’m a women veteran, and I served my country with pride. I understand that there is social bias. However, I would appreciate it if you don’t question my authenticity.”

communication with peers, colleagues,  etc

“I’m a veteran and can’t always share my experiences. However, if I behave in a certain way you don’t understand, I would appreciate it if you would communicate with me.”

communication with family,  partners  and  close friends

“I’m a veteran, and I’ve been away. It’s ok that we don’t understand each other right away. Let’s rebuild our
relationship together.”

This level focuses on the communication of women veterans have with themselves

“I’m proud of being a veteran in the civilian world, and now I’m able to embrace my civilian identity. I accept myself the way I am and am open to sharing my entire identity. ”



Having created a framework we tested our approach strategy by setting up  a workshop. We used this  workshop as a provotype to create discursiveness around concepts of intention manifestation and visualization of unspoken words.

The workshop was divided into three parts and was designed to engage both veterans and  civilians  in-order  to test both concepts. Both had a slightly different journey which we guided them through.

The workshop was divided into two different levels, one designed for veterans and one for non-veterans.



Engaging with Narratives

The first step was the introduction of the context and images of crisis we created  from our interviews. Then we asked  them to share their experiences and the scenarios  they found relatable.

Self reflection and hope for the future 

Having picked out a scenario they participated in a self-identity exercise where they reflected  on their  current behaviour and defined what they would like their future self to look like. They defined the image of change as a narrative that captured  how the future situation would  play out with  their changed behaviour.

Object Making

Finally, they were asked to determine an object that would be play an important part in the scenarios and would act as a reminder of their intention to change. This object would represent a visual manifestation of their intentions.


visualization of unspoken words

Engaging with Narratives

The first step was the introduction of the context and images of crisis we created  from our interviews. Then we asked them to select a scenario that they felt strongly about.

Self reflection and hope for the future

Having picked out a scenario they participated in an identity exercise from the perspective of the non-veteran  civilian  in  the scenario. They reflected  on the current behaviour and defined what they would like the future self of the civilian character  to look  like. They defined the image of change as a narrative that captured  how the future situation would  play out with  their changed behaviour.

Object Making

Finally, they were asked to determine an object that would be play an important part in the scenarios and would act as a reminder of their intention to change. This object would represent a visual manifestation of their intentions.


The veterans shared emotional moments with us. This helped us realize the  importance of the entire process as opposed to creating just an object.

Examples of many objects were generated, however, we realized the need for homogeneity of the object to make them more representational for all women veterans.

We decided that we needed to make the entire workshop more gender specific.



Based on the  insights we gathered from our workshop we concluded that the prototype should include two components.

We created rough sketches of prototypes and we tested them conceptually against the images of  crisis and deliberated  on how  it played out in each  case. Additionally we  got feedback from  our guide  and  peers. Based on which we came up with the  following functional guidelines for our prototypes.

Prototype 1

The bracelet would have  multiple beads. One represents a part of their veteran identity and the rest represents the component relevant to that -  physical and mental health, emotions, intentions, etc.

Prototype 2

A bracelet or necklace with  detachable parts. The veterans would give these  parts  to their trusted civilians. It would also include a  stamp which you help veterans stamp safe spaces.

Prototype 3

A necklace which  included a morphable shape that  would be 3D printed based on the questions they answered of self-identity.



The  workshop has to create a platform to work through the various  levels of communication. It has to be engaging and reflective in nature. It has to be  accessible to all women veterans in-term of location.


It should be representation of identity for women veterans for veterans and civilians alike. It should be a conversation starter. It should be portable. It  should something that  would blend in with ones attire  and yet stand out.




Our final  proposal is a program called LINK

We designed the program to serve as a bridge between women veterans  and non-veteran civilians. It directed toward the women veterans. It is positioned right after the TAP program in the transition stage to help engage in conversation about identity  and interaction with non-veteran civilians. It is a guided process that could be facilitated  either in peer groups or can  be taken online through digital medium.


We imagine the necklace to a  representation of the community of women veterans for both veterans and non-veteran civilians.

The design of the necklace is inspired by the  circles of communication.

It has 6 components, the  four  pendants, the chain that ties  together the  components, and the hook that connects the  pendants.

Women veterans assembles these components to create the necklace themselves as the progress through the  LINK program. This helps them associate each component  with a deep meaning.


During a program over 8 weeks women veterans follow a step-wise guide to help them think  about  their identity and role in the  civilian work after military.



For our next steps we will first need to get feedback from the women veterans and service providers who  participated in our design process. We will need to improve the content for our Journal of Change and refine LINK’s program structure.

Secondly, we want to pilot test the program. For which we intend to collaborate with the Combat Female Veterans Family United (CFVF), a VSO that we have been in  contact with for our primary research. They have been very cooperative and generous to share their experiences and insights with us. They currently have a transition  program in place.

We intend to approach Sandra Robinson, CFVF’s founder to help us pilot test  this program as a part of their transition  program module. We are very excited at the  possibility and look forward to seeing what our project might manifest into.