SVA IxD collaborated with the New York City Department of Veterans Services (DVS) to help DVS tailor their offerings to help veterans find a firm footing in New York and provide assistance through each stage of life.


WHAT I deliverED

• Competitive analysis
• Use cases and design fictions
• Discussion guides for interviews
• Interview synthesis
• Final proposal deck design


Tasks: User research, interviews, competitive analysis, product design, strategic framing
Class: Design in Public Spaces
Team:  Ritwik DeshpandeDavid Mahmarian, James Vanié


The challenge

Our team was paired with Venkat Motupalli, Chief Information Officer at DVS, to:

  1. Defining the needs of NYC veterans in the National Guard, Army Reserve, and local community colleges.  
  2. Design a methodology and framework for DVS to continue ethnographic research after the project engagement.

At the end of the projectsAs I began interviewing veterans, gathering the best practices for speaking with veterans which would inform an online Toolkit that they could use and build onto. We also provided DVS with a Research Hub so that they could expand on the qualitative research that we had conducted. stories  there was a need for understanding the basic needs that veterans have at the

Learning about the the Veterans Alliance organization  in NYC and headed to Bronx Community College

Learning about the the Veterans Alliance organization  in NYC and headed to Bronx Community College

Previously, DVS had not conducted any ethnographic research as an organization – we saw this as a huge opportunity to supplement their quantitative data with interview insights and the difficult experiences that veterans have during and post-service.



Expert Interviews
From internal stakeholder interviews to regular check-ins with Venkat, we spoke with Entrepreneurs, veteran allies, and clinical psychologists to learn more about the needs of veterans in NYC.

Ethnographic Research
We attended veteran talks, observed them in their communities, and immersed ourselves in online communities to better understand their digital and physical communities. One notable event was with the The Veterans Mental Health Coalition of NYC where we learned about the unique realities of military culture that are challenges for providers to work effectively with veterans and military families.

Veteran Interviews
We spoke with a total of ten prior service military and active National Guard veterans.

Secondary Research
We conducted competitive research and analysis of the government's most innovative organizations that provide services and resources to citizens across the US.

Discussion guide for an interview with internal stakeholders at DVS

Discussion guide for an interview with internal stakeholders at DVS


WHY Bronx community college AND NATIONAL GUARD?

We chose to work with the veteran center in Bronx Community College because the community is largely underserved. We learned that there are many vets who attend BCC who are going through family, psychological, and economic stress

Me and two vets who work at the BCC vet center

Me and two vets who work at the BCC vet center


Many veterans who move to New York after service solely for the education benefits. A monthly stipend of roughly $3,600 is paid out to Vets who are enrolled fulltime in a University or college. This has created a significant increase of veterans who are in school, and are struggling with early signs of PTSD which can onset up to two years after separation from service.

The warm welcome into team RWB – an active veteran community in the NYC area 

The warm welcome into team RWB – an active veteran community in the NYC area 


Who we talked to and what we learned

After conducting the interviews with a range of vets from the National Guard and BCC, we synthesized it (final presentation can be found here) to the key themes it and presented it to DVS. From there, we learned that as DVS did not have an internal research team, nor they have an established system to document, share, and build onto qualitative research. We began thinking about what kind of create tools would help DVS capture qualitative research in a clear and succinct way. 

Images from ethnographic research and expert interviews

Images from ethnographic research and expert interviews


We realized we were working with people who had an implicit understanding of how to communicate with the people they’re serving but they didn’t approach research as a formal practice. They knew what questions to ask but they didn’t solidify them using concrete artifacts like discussion guides. They uncovered the needs of the people they were serving but they weren’t documenting these insights in a way that could be shared with the rest of the organization.

Presenting an update to internal Stakeholders at DVS

Presenting an update to internal Stakeholders at DVS



After multiple stakeholder conversations, we came to the conclusion that we had to create a research toolkit that could help them turn research into a formal practice. To supplement this effort, we also decided to create a research hub where they could store insights and turn them into action items that could be communicated to the rest of the staff.


dvs RESEARCH Toolkit

Check out the live link here


With DVS being just over a year old, there is still much room to solidify research methods internally. We uncovered insights that are influential for how DVS services and how they strategically position them into their existing offerings.


The research hub aims to help DVS staff capture insights and turn them into action items. In order to make it easy and usable, we made the decision to give them the ability to populate the hub through a technology they’re already extensively familiar with – a spreadsheet.

We used Airtable as a backend, where DVS staff could fill in insights about conversations. We built a functional prototype that showed how the data from Airtable can be pulled onto a webpage using the Airtable API. DVS staff can then access this information and sort it based on immediate requirements.

We used Air Table to populate the needs tracker

We used Air Table to populate the needs tracker



After gathering all of the research on the wide range of stories and challenges, we learned that the creation of personas would be undermining the complexity and needs for Veterans in New York City. We adopted the format of job stories, which puts the unique needs of the user at the center of how we rationalize initiatives and design solutions.

Crash slides on how to structure future DVS insights via job stories

Crash slides on how to structure future DVS insights via job stories



Marketing: Partnering with allies and influencers

  • There are already many players in the space of veteran services. Establishing a working relationship with trusted partners would not only increase user base, but also moments of collaboration to meet unmet needs
  • Build a presence on campuses throughout New York City
  • Building relationships with schools in New York City is a highly effective way to reach out the veterans who are 
  • Build a culture of two-way conversation
  • Content should not only inform, but invite audiences to participate in engaging with the Services DVS has to offer.

Strategy: Take on the viewpoint of others 

  • Putting New York City veterans at the center of the organization. Establish a validation with a veteran audience.
  • Uncovering micro-moments in the veteran journey
  • Looking at the specific moments throughout the day of a veteran when they are most likely to engage with DVS products+services.
  • Ship specialized + industrialized content experiences
  • Considering that some veterans will want a specialized experience whereas some may need an industrialized experience.

Design: Branded content unique across multiple platforms  

  • Tailoring content specific to platforms to fit the needs of veterans who frequent that platform.
  • Design for trust, autonomy, and community
  • Empowering veterans with products during key moments of their transitioning phases.
  • Designing for dialogue (content strategy)
  • Providing veterans with opportunities to share+build onto information, and discuss it with other veterans.




The overall impact for this project is still being realized for DVS. While some of the initiatives such as the Research toolkit and Hub will have an immediate impact on how DVS organizes their insights and gathers new knowledge, it will be an ongoing initiative to develop new initiatives based on the insights that we uncovered from our research.