Human-Centered Design with America’s Veterans

Delivering better online services through Veterans Affairs.

United States Digital Service
U.S. Digital Service


By Lacey Higley and Lauren Alexanderson

One of the six USDS values. The best products aren’t created in a vacuum. Using empathy and curiosity, we can effectively address our users’ needs.

Veterans routinely interact with digital products and services created by private sector companies, such as banks. These companies rely on user research to ensure that they are delivering simple and streamlined digital experiences that keep their users coming back; this level of usability is a standard that Veterans come to expect from all websites and applications.

At the VA, customer experience is critical; any service Veterans engage with to access or manage their benefits must be intuitive and easy to use. The Digital Service at VA (DSVA) uses human-centered design to help VA solve its most important Veteran-facing problems. A central principle of human-centered design is that the users — in the VA’s case, Veterans, as well as their caregivers and dependents — are the most important members of any team tasked with improving an existing Veteran-facing service or building a new one. This means that DSVA teams have multiple touch points with Veterans each week to gather feedback on the products and services we support.

Veterans are a unique user population; as such, adopting an especially inclusive approach to human-centered design is essential. To achieve a top-notch customer experience at VA, DSVA conducts research with demographically-diverse Veterans, with varied perspectives, experiences, benefit enrollment statuses, and accessibility constraints. Veterans often face additional obstacles, and it is our duty to understand these obstacles to design better solutions. Designing for inclusion isn’t just about accessibility or 508 compliance. It’s about making the user feel informed, empowered, prepared, and in control of their experience. One of our user research participants said:

“As a disabled Veteran, it means A LOT to me that this type of site is being built up for us! It already appears to be more user friendly than [the old site] and that is going to be so helpful for the older disabled Veterans, like my father…. He is constantly asking me for help. I can start sending him to this site now. Thank YOU for this opportunity to help.”

USDS UX designer conducting user research with a Veteran

When designers conduct formative user research and evaluative usability testing to better understand what their users need, it’s an opportunity for design to improve the way the government delivers public services. It’s also a chance to see the impact to our society if people have better access to those services. To ensure we can consistently deliver this experience to all of our users, DSVA has partnered with Perigean Technologies and Rababy & Associates to help us identify Veterans, servicemembers, caregivers, and dependents to participate in future Veteran user research sessions. Our partners have been working with other teams within the VA for several years and have a strong Veteran network, which helps them find the specific Veteran profiles we often need to reach. Perigean and Rababy & Associates help us by recruiting, screening, and preparing Veterans for sessions.

If you, or someone you know is interested in participating in a future user research session, please visit to sign up.

Reference in this blog post to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the site’s visitors and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the US government.

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United States Digital Service
U.S. Digital Service

The U.S. Digital Service is a group of mission-driven professionals who are passionate about delivering better government services to the public.