Researching Veterans' Needs

Participants marked up the existing portal page.

Participants marked up the existing portal page.


Portal Design Research


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs


Facilitator, UX lead, user researcher


VA's Human Factors Office chose not to invest in primary user research to inform the redesign of a well-trafficked benefits portal. Instead, they asked us to combine two things they valued, usability testing and focus groups, a combination that would have provided neither meaningful data nor guidance for improvements. 


Rather than wasting time and political capital arguing with our stakeholders about the efficacy of group usability conversations, I took advantage of the opportunity to talk directly with veterans. I converted the six half-day sessions (two meetings with each of three groups of veterans) into a participatory design exercise.

In the first round, veterans individually marked up the existing portal and we discussed their feedback. I had the group then design a better solution.

In the next round of meetings (held two weeks later), I had each team critique the designs of the other teams. I then facilitated as the team revisited and revised their earlier work.

This approach delivered extensive, detailed data (along with powerful quotes) about what veterans and their families needed from VA and what they expected from a benefits portal.