Case Study: How the U.S. Air Force Is Changing Recruiting Through UX
The U.S. Air Force was facing a problem all too familiar to organizations that have a lot of information online: how can we ensure that a user finds what they’re looking for?
Gone are the days when users would spend hours sorting through web pages hoping to discover a nugget of relevant information. The personalization and customization of an experience has become commonplace, replacing generic user experiences and conventional advertising and search techniques.
As algorithms become increasing complex, so too does the data. This means web teams have the ability to capture more user data than ever before, ultimately helping designers create more targeted and anticipatory experiences.
That’s where MediaMonks comes in. Together, with creative agency GSD&M, the creative production company was tasked with redesigning the U.S. Air Force’s website to create a smarter, richer experience that helped potential recruits find the information they were looking for while meeting the Air Force’s deliverables.
The Air Force’s Challenge: Information Overload
For organizations like the U.S. Air Force, bringing relevant information to potential recruits is imperative. There is a lot of information for a potential recruit to sift through, including more than 200 career specializations requiring various levels of education. From emergency management to aircraft maintenance to pharmaceuticals, the sheer amount of data can be overwhelming.
“Pretty much for every user we encounter, there’s a specific path that they probably need to walk through to get to know everything that they need to know to join the Air Force, but these paths are wildly different,” said Martin Kool, UX Director at MediaMonks.
The Air Force knew from the numbers that users were unlikely to create an account. The challenge was figuring out how to design a catered experience without forcing users to provide information they weren’t willing to give. That’s when they realized they we were dealing with “the UX of data.” MediaMonks began looking at what a user’s behavior could tell them about the user’s aspirations, and how the site could react in return.
Using Simulations to Inform UX
Using computer simulations, MediaMonks began to map out potential user paths and behaviors, helping them to determine where the users would go and what they would do once they got there. It was great for mapping, but challenges emerged.
“We started to run into a lot of issues like how we can figure out if you’re a man or a woman, which is still very important to the Air Force. Being a military branch, they need to communicate differently with men and women,” Kool said.
There were also other variables at play that the simulations couldn’t navigate.
“It was to the level where if we know someone is adventurous, we want to push them to the information that’s about bases outside of the U.S., and the travel opportunities and opportunities for adventure. Where if somebody is a working professional in the medical field, then we had to make sure they were moved towards commissioned officer careers and information that was applicable to them,” Kool said.
Beyond this, a user’s profile was constantly evolving.
“What you learn about the user as he enters the website and moves around will change during his visit on the website, and it will also change on his next visit, a week or a month after that. The formula quickly gets very complex.”
Making the Decision to Involve the User
At one point, the team made the decision to involve the user by creating an optional form that would fast track the user to career options and information that better suited their interests. Knowing that users were unlikely to create their own profile, the team decided to take a more emotional approach.
“If we keep it more on an emotional level then it’s very easy for the user to choose to interact with it if they like it, and it also gives us an extra dimension of information that we also get from things like the pages that you visit or the order in which you’ve done it, or the page in which you entered the website,” Kool said.
“What we really tried to do was make sure Air Force users would be guided through the different layers from the story level to the decision or research level in depth, but also in width when it comes to general information about the mission of the Air Force or very specific information about a career or living on the base, all the way to practical things like what the requirements are.”
Redefining the Form
MediaMonks created a basic anonymous form in order to give the user a more personal experience. The form asks users to make selections based on pre-programmed responses that are intended to guide users in specific directions, yet are open enough to create a variety of paths.
Users are asked to select if they are:
- A: guy or a girl
- Who is: in high school, a high school graduate, currently in college, a college graduate, or a working professional
- Wanting to: get an education, make money, get career training, advance my career, travel the world, or find security
- And: serve my country, utilize the latest tech, or seek new adventures
When you hover over the question mark that appears at the bottom in light grey, a small window says, “An experience built for you. Make selections and save your preferences to receive content and suggestions just for you.”
The tone of the content is natural, accessible and serves as an extension of the site’s mission to create a more meaningful user experience while being transparent about the fact that they are collecting data.
The Next Phase: Identifying Content Gaps
This project is still in development and being rolled out in phases, evolving as the team gathers more data about the users and the paths they take, including where users look for depth and where they stay on more high level content. This will inform any information gaps for the Air Force.
“The Air Force is a branch of the military that can tell amazing stories through visuals and videos on a lot of things from the mission to the training to the quality of life. But it’s obviously a huge investment to create all that [content],” Kool said.
“On the other hand, there’s also a lot of topics that they could go in real depth, almost at a level where you start to feel like you’re speaking to one of the recruiters that tells you all these details and will learn about your specific situation to figure out what you need to know.”
After all, recruiting is a key component to the Air Force’s success, so why not create an experience that empowers potential recruits to advance the process?
Media Monks is a member of SoDA, an invite-only network of top digital agencies from around the globe. Adobe is the founding organizational sponsor of SoDA.