Following the success of a Design Thinking Workshop, DARPA engaged us for the design and UI development of Plan X—a foundational cyber operations program to build situational awareness and tactical response platforms based on modern web capabilities for the Department of Defense to assess cyberwarfare threats.
I served as Creative Director, coordinating design and collaborating with technology and PMO activities across 13 engineering and research vendors and 4 prime contractors during this 2 year, $100M+ project.
When we began on the program it had been in development for a year and had largely stalled. Teams were busy exploring how they could push their respective technologies and solve the “DARPA-hard” problems, yet no teams were addressing what their end users needed.
I led my team through an 8 week design research program, in which we talked to end users, understanding the differences in the way different branches of the armed forces handle cybersecurity operations and their unique pain points and opportunities. We ended this portion of the engagement which a strong outline of the user roles, hero flows through the larger system that addressed the unique views that each branch of service and each role within those branches would have as well as their individual tools and processes.
The theme of the first week was “incubation” and started with a two-day hands-on deep dive to immerse the team in the modern HTML5 web stack using a set of hand-picked tools and frameworks. “Execution” was the theme of the second week and comprised four days of intensive hackathon efforts to produce a functional cyber operations MVP demo utilizing all components of the Plan X system end-to-end.
The group had little exposure to our methodology specifically, and design thinking generally. We brought them through a series of exercises outside of their comfort zone. This exercise, called “Trendstorm,” was designed to match digital products with data sets to challenge the attendees to think of new product ideas.
With such a large group, teams become crucial in both keeping the event manageable, but also introducing game challenges and competition—crucial elements in accelerating progress for hackathons.
This led us to create a design language for the event, with 8 multi-disciplinary teams, each adopting the name of a type of data visualization. This system expressed all throughout the event in posters, branding within individual team rooms, name badges, printed material, video content, etc. By the second day of the event, the teams had fully adopted their new team identities and were pushing each other to produce more compelling software at a fast pace.
Eventually, our work was featured on 60 Minutes.
Because of our efforts, this program successfully transitioned to DoD and U.S. Cyber Command in 2017.
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