Real-World Adventure in the Classrooms
What if you could experience United States of America Army equipment in high school? This was the challenge presented by US Army National Guard to a UX team I once directed.
Once upon a time, the US National Guard was given a lucrative grant from the Department of Defense (in partnership with the Partners in Education Program) to connect educators and students to free education that included hands-on training with Army National Guard vehicles. Although this was intended as a way to boost the Guard’s overall visibility, the real goal was to provide valuable community service to high school students looking to gain new automotive skills.
It didn’t matter if these high school kids joined the Army or not. The idea was to use the latest US Army equipment as a way to inspire young minds with the potential of future opportunities. And there is nothing like a military vehicle to capture the attention of a high schooler.
Creating a New Classroom Curriculum
All of the creative work we were about to design would center around the first course that featured the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV or Humvee). As a fan of Hasbro’s G.I.Joe as a kid, and a Veteran, starting with the Humvee was an exciting way to interact with military equipment that was not easily accessible to everyday people. However, to effectively promote this program to both educators and Guard members, my team needed to fully conceptualize a classroom program that including designing engaging classroom presentations, developing all the marketing materials, and implementing the nationwide outreach strategy. This was a challenge since no one on my team (except myself) had ever seen a Humvee in real life. We had to go hands-on with the Humvee before we could ever expect the high school kids to do the same.
Crash Course in Rugged Technology
We asked our US Army National Guard representative to introduce my team to an actual Humvee at the local US Army National Guard armory in Maryland. I knew that before we could create a web experience that featured multimedia resources that would explore the program details, synopsis of the training, videos, and student signups, the team needed to get close to an actual Humvee — real close! At the National Guard armory, the team was exposed to life in the US Army National Guard, every aspect of how the Humvee operated, and even what it was like to ride in one. With this experience under their belt, we were ready to start designing.
Creating Special Access to Cool Military Vehicles
Our goal was to highlight a special mobile automotive after-school program that featured hands-on training with the US Army’s Humvee. To make this work, we added the US Army National Guard representative into our design session to better understand the user experience (UX) expectations. Out of these sessions, we mapped the program scenarios that would be our guide in designing the program’s brand identity, website design, multimedia concepts, and promotional materials.
Before School Starts
A big constraint for this UX project was the timeline. Both the grant and the pilot school needed a completed curriculum within 90-days. That didn’t give us much time and meant the clock was ticking for us to create, draft, and deliver the finished marketing collateral, lesson plans, and classroom material. To meet our deadline, we broke our UX design session down into one week worth of activities:
- Monday – Make an Experience Map and choose what Humvee experiences were the most important.
- Tuesday – Design scenarios and experience flows that could represent real classroom sessions.
- Wednesday – Get into groups and sketch out competing solutions, then present our solutions, find the best ideas and explore options.
- Thursday – Work out the information architecture (IA) and lesson hierarchy in inform realistic prototypes of the website and lesson plan./li>
- Friday – Test our concepts with the client and (if possible) high school students that have an interest in automotive subjects.
Monday is UX Research Day
We started our week-long UX design session by thinking through the pains and thoughts everyday automotive classes have to go through. Over the weekend, we had all been assigned the homework of going to a local automotive/autobody shop and asking to observe their observation. Some of us had the added advantage of seeing how car dealerships and tech schools trained their mechanic apprentices and what challenges come with learning about complex machines. This was enough information to work out a rough experience map that centered around the main components of a motor vehicle: body, engine/drive train, wheels/tires, suspension, interior, controls/operation, safety, and maintenance.
Tuesday is UX Scenario Day
Using our experience map as a guide, we started on designing scenarios and user data flows that could represent real classroom sessions. There were several different approaches to teaching each of these topics. Some of us focused on direct classroom lectures while others saw a need for more “hands-on” examples.
Wednesday is Sketch Day
When we put all of these scenarios together, we quickly discovered that both approaches were the solution. The instructor would first need to educate the students on the component and/or system, then move the class to the Humvee so they could see the lesson in action. In other words, learn the details first, then get their hands dirty!
Thursday is Information Architecture Day
We decided to take what we had learned from our scenarios and work through which lessons would be the most important and which could be consolidated or dropped. This is where we used a card sorting exercise with representatives from the US Army National Guard to get direct feedback. This moderated closed sort included words and concepts that included all the key elements we had created for the HUMVEE School Program curriculum. But it also included all the experiences, thoughts, and pains we had come up with during our field trip to the armory. After a few sessions we were able to compile our research into a draft IA hierarchy:
Friday is Prototype Testing Day
With our card sort completed, we had a draft information architecture that we could use to test our concepts with a target audience. Unfortunately, we could not get access to high school students. However, we did get access to junior US Army National Guard soldiers who gave us excellent feedback on our prototype. From the information we gathered during our prototype testing, combined with feedback from the client, we created the final version of the IA hierarchy that would be used for the website and the pilot Humvee class:
The IA design resulted in the creation of mockups to the UI of the website that includes five primary categories:
About the Program – An overview what what the program provide students
HUMVEEs in Action – Showing the capabilities of the vehicle
Careers Behind the Wheel – Jobs that where connected to each of the courses
Downloads – Sharable multimedia and course workbook documents.
Get Started – How to request the program come to your school
The final UI of the website, logo, and IA were all came together into a final mockup:
US Army National Guard HUMVEE School Program website prototype.Additionally, the HUMVEE School Program required the production of multimedia content. The decision was made to shoot short videos to highlight the program during presentations and on the website. We drafted the initial creative briefs, wrote content for the website, and produce the treatment materials that detailed the concepts for producing a series of 60-second videos. These videos were produced by a third-party company using my treatments. The following is an example of the final version of one of those videos:
VIDEO: Mac Beaton discusses the value that the HUMVEE School Program offers students.
Insight and Reflection
With the UI prototype converted into a WordPress website, we launched the website and delivered the entire pilot classroom curriculum to the US Amry National Guard representative before the deadline with high praise. Because it was completed before the beginning of the new school year, the HUMVEE School Pilot Program was ready to be added to the after-school programs in several local Maryland schools and included over 100 students within the first year it was presented.
Overall, this project was a great example in how getting out of the office and getting the team into the field is essential in understanding the problem. Solutions don’t come to you while you are sitting in the office. They come when you are riding on a train, walking around in an automotive shop, or riding in a Humvee.
Role and Acknowledgements
- The US Army National Guard presented the original problem to solve.
- I was a member of a three-person project team as the Interaction Designer (IxD) responsible for creating the user experience scenarios, information architecture, and website layout wireframes.
- I developed the clickable demo website (using WordPress) and created the first draft of the website that was delivered to the client.
#ux #ia #prototype #prototyping #project #humveeschoolprogram
Last modified: August 27, 2021