build networks &
Military veterans have
no home on the internet
I'm leading an effort to change that.
This is an early look at the Echo Project, an initiative I founded to build a dedicated social network where military veterans and service personnel could share stories, photographs, and memories. My father was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and died in 2008 from complications related to Agent Orange exposure. The Echo Project began with an effort to comply with a request from the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide first-hand documentation that my father's service requirements had brought him into regular contact with the carcinogen. That search introduced me to a vibrant but impossibly scattered online community where veterans struggled to tell their stories, share their photographs, and connect with old friends in the absence of a dedicated, customized, and welcoming online space where they could do so.
In two years of searching, I could find no viable option on the market for veterans seeking a unified digital home for networking and sharing stories with an entire career's worth of friends. A military career tends to carry service-members through a remarkable number of duty-stations, units, campaigns, and training-sites, each of which tends to have its own distinct home on the internet. As a result, a veteran's online presence tends to be a motley mixture of Facebook groups, purpose-built (and often clumsy) amateur websites, few email chains, and a huge array of message boards, all of which are walled off from one another and have their own communities, standards, quality levels, and degrees of privacy and security.
I founded the Echo Project to create for the internet what the American Legion and the VFW had long ago created in the built environment—a dedicated, welcoming home where military veterans could gather, share stories, and find comfort. I brought on two brilliant partners—a software engineer and a specialist in digital-startup operations—to build a prototype MVP.
My market research indicated that potential users were especially interested in finding and sharing photographs related to their time in service. We determined that a our early design efforts should focus on giving early-adopters the capacity to upload photographs and tag them with locations, dates, and profiles. The long-term ambition is to create a fully searchable database of every photograph ever taken of military service-members in the line of duty.
I sketched out an interface where each photograph would have its own dedicated page displaying links to the profiles of each person portrayed in or related to the image, the date the image was taken, and a map showing its location. Using Axios, I transformed those sketches into a clickable, functional wireframe of a prototype photo-page to demonstrate basic functionality and test the user experience.
I wanted to this early front-in and UX work to be governed by a specific, coherent branding strategy, and worked from the outset to design a suitable graphic language that would distinguish Echo from other military-related web properties while also creating a familiar, intuitive visual experience. My preliminary designs for a logo sought to portray the letter "E" while drawing inspiration from the sound waves of echoing noises, the chevrons and hashmarks of military insignia, and the open pages of books.