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United States Space Force

Reinventing the traditional military information portal

Summary

We quickly launched a minimum viable portal to help the United States Space Force (USSF) better disseminate mission-critical information to service members.

A Space Force guardian navigating a web page.

The challenge

The United States Space Force, the U.S. Armed Forces' newest branch, was created with the mission of protecting American interests in space and developing a variety of space capabilities.

With over 15,000 service members (also called Guardians) and growing, the USFF lacked a central place to share announcements, resources, and other mission-critical information with personnel.

Instead, service members had to rely on easily-missed emails or newsletters to disseminate information. They had to use an array of disjointed tools to get help on essential topics such as health insurance information (milConnect) and basic allowance for housing (the BAH calculator). The diffuse nature of these tools made it cumbersome for service members to manage their lives and careers. Remembering what tool to use, and where to access it, presented a major pain point.

To commemorate their first anniversary, USSF set out to address this gap by working with Skylight and partners at Alaska Northstar Resources to build a modern portal supporting the needs of the growing organization. The team targeted launching a live portal within eight weeks, by January 1, 2021, to provide Space Force personnel with immediate access to resources and information that would allow them to be more effective Guardians.

The solution

To address this challenge, our team partnered with Space Force leadership to design and develop a minimum viable product (MVP). We worked quickly to meet the deadline, building the site in under two months.

Even with the short deadline, we incorporated research activities to test content and design with users. For example, interviews with high-ranking military officials, such as a four-star general, provided the opportunity to understand what leadership needed in a portal from an organizational perspective.

While putting a satellite into orbit requires everything to eventually be perfect at launch, software, on the other hand, is never really done. Therefore, it was important to introduce USSF to an agile process that involves continually iterating to improve on the initial MVP, even after launch. Additionally, because we had a mandate to reinvent the traditional portal, we implemented user-centered processes along the way — to show them how to build software with not for users.

Rather than cluttering the portal with links, the team identified the highest priority content needs, starting with announcements, human resources information, and career opportunities. Incorporating best-practice design patterns from the U.S. Web Design System helped accelerate the process.

The MVP marked a significant departure from the status quo. As one service member described it during a usability testing session, "I don't like most military pages, tiny hyperlinks because the page is so full. This is different to what I'm used to seeing, for ease of use, the cleanliness is nice. This is the cleanest thing I've seen." Space Force leadership similarly celebrated what we built.

Coinciding with the organization's one-year anniversary, the launch symbolized a new approach to digital for the USSF — one that’s not only modern at its core, but also human-centered and accessible, meeting the everyday needs of an important new branch of the U.S. military.

The results

  • Launched an MVP portal in under two months to share critical information organization-wide
  • Partnered with Space Force to design an intuitive user experience, modern look and feel, and easy-to-find content
  • Laid the groundwork for a broader portal buildout in the future
  • Received positive feedback and recognition from Space Force service members and leadership