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Providing a voice for aircrew in gear decision-making for the US Air Force


GearFit is a website that allows Air Force aircrew to submit feedback about their gear to decision makers. GearFit began in 2019 after a USAF event where female aircrew expressed the desire to be able to directly provide feedback on their gear to the people who acquire and sustain flight equipment, due to the amount of physical and psychological consequences of wearing gear that was never historically designed for them. The goal of GearFit is to ensure that systemic gear problems make their way fully up the chain of command. 

"The majority of the equipment currently worn by pilots was built off anthropometric data from the 1960s, a time when only men were in aviator roles."New direction for female-specific flight equipment

👩🏼‍💻 My role: Product Designer, User Researcher

👥 Team: 2 Product Designers, 1 PM, ~7 engineers (we had a large engineering team that frequently changed because of a pairing+upskilling model with BESPIN)

💼 Client/Partners: US Air Force (USAF), BESPIN

🕰️ Timeline: Projects were iteratively worked on and implemented from August 2021 to Nov 2022

Project 1: Impacting gear decisions


In March of 2022, GearFit received a massive spike in feedback submissions after relaunching on a new platform, the Air Force’s Cloud One, which enabled a more seamless login experience. With this login improvement, GearFit went from having 67 total submissions over 2 years, to a total of 740 submissions by the end of March.


I designed a data visualization to show the dramatic increase in GearFit user engagement

Challenge & goals

GearFit required a lot of extra work from acquisitions SMEs (subject matter experts); GearFit required SMEs to respond to and resolve each individual submission. With the influx of submissions, SMEs were completely overwhelmed with how they could process all of the feedback and help aircrew with their problems. Compounding the problem, our team had never built out features to process feedback in bulk because of low traffic over two years.


We were suddenly faced with the question: how can we ensure all of the feedback we received would make a tangible impact?


The goals of this effort were to:

  1. Better understand current processes for changing and improving gear in the Air Force so that we could understand where GearFit fit into the bigger requirements and acquisitions picture

  2. Create a short term solution to ensure that the feedback could be acted upon while we built out more functionality to handle higher volumes of feedback moving forward

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What the feedback view looks like for SMEs in GearFit when responding to a submission

My role

I led the research and design for the first phase of this effort, coming up with the research strategy and plan, running the research, and was the only one working on the product that came out of the research effort. I collaborated with the team throughout the research process, particularly with the other designer and the PM. The other designer led the second phase of research while I continued to work on designing.


I planned a generative & evaluative research effort to better understand processes for gear change and improvement and gather feedback on GearFit. I collaborated with the PM and other designer to align on what we wanted to learn and what assumptions we had going into the research.

We conducted semi-structured interviews with 13 people across a variety of roles. I planned and led synthesis sessions with the PM and designer to group what we learned into themes to put together the final report. I also created an assumption tracker to validate our initial assumptions after each interview, document what we learned over time, and adjust who we recruited and the questions we asked to fill in knowledge gaps. 

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Our synthesis process, which is intentionally low resolution to protect the data

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Our assumption tracker matrix


Our research helped us to have a more holistic understanding of how feedback can fit into existing processes around modifying existing gear and acquiring new gear. The bad news was that we learned the majority of decisions were made at gatherings that happened only twice a year, which gave us a strict deadline to create some sort of solution.

Since we would not be able to develop any features that could make a tangible improvement on understanding feedback in bulk within that timeline, I decided to experiment with designing a Quarterly GearFit Data Report to send to the people who make gear decisions.

I created a master spreadsheet to conduct analyses on the raw feedback and then organized the data into a report format. I aimed to conduct relatively simple analyses that would be feasible to implement as features on the website in the future.

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An example of the analysis conducted on the data. I read through the feedback for common sentiments and then automatically counted how many submissions talked about the issue using keywords to give a sense of the most popular feedback for any gear item with many submissions. This method wasn't perfect, but it gave a decent sense of what the feedback was saying at a glance.

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Example pages from the Data Report, providing an overview of the most popular gear items that aircrew submitted feedback about during that quarter and what the sentiment analysis looked like for a specific gear item


While our team was really excited about the data report, we weren't sure if it would be as impactful as we had hoped. We decided to send out the report to decision makers across the Air Force to gather feedback on if the report was valuable and if so, how to improve it.


We received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the value of the GearFit Data Report, which gave us enough validation to create another improved data report for the next quarter.  


Our two main learnings from this first round of feedback were that (1) the report was overwhelmingly long and (2) the presentation of data in charts looked pretty but was not particularly useful, decision makers preferred to just see simple tables with the data. With this feedback, I worked on streamlining the report, removing charts and trying to reduce the overall page count.

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New section design with tables instead of charts to display sentiment analysis


We sent out the second Quartlerly GearFit Data Report to an even wider audience of decision makers and conducted a second phase of research to understand how they were using the data in the reports and what data was most important to them, which the other designer led. 

We learned that the report wasn't usually identifying new gear issues for them, but was giving them a volume of data and evidence they hadn't had access to before to back up the problem, prioritize problems, and advocate for change. Additionally, since the data was already nicely "packaged" for them, they could easily put that data into a one pager to brief up to their leadership. 


The Quarterly GearFit Data Reports enabled our team to ensure we were impacting gear change with the feedback aircrew submitted to us, while also helping us to prioritize which data analytics features would be the most valuable to develop first. The Data Reports served as a no-code functional prototype for our data analytics feature; they were a relatively low-effort, low-risk way to understand if data analytics features would be valuable to users before sinking time into developing them. 


One piece of feedback we received from a decision maker sums up the level of impact these reports had on our users: "Please keep these quarterly reports coming so our A3/A5’s can gauge needs and voice of our supported personnel. I can see where these inputs will influence future APEC priorities as it’s the best data backed product we’ve seen."

What I learned & what I would have done in a perfect world

I loved working on this project because it was a chance to show that we don't always need to develop a new feature to deliver value to real people and solve problems. I also enjoyed practicing applying a design exercise to a very long document, trying to apply user experience best practices to the formatting of the report (being able to get back to the table of contents from anywhere in the doc, IA exercises, etc). Additionally, I really got to brush up on my Excel skills with this one (or really bending Google Sheets to my will). It was also a great learning experience to lead and conduct a more complex generative research effort, trying to understand the complex space of acquisitions, something people can devote their whole careers to.

At the same time, the research for this project made me realize how broken the acquisitions and requirements process is in many ways. It made me question how much a feedback application could really contribute towards making gear better for aircrew when it took over 10 years to go from a new requirement to gear being available to aircrew for use. So in an ideal world, I would have taken a tech-agnostic angle to the problem, rather than just throwing some tech at the problem and hoping it makes a dent. I wished I could've taken a holistic approach to understanding and improving acquisitions for gear in the Air Force, but unfortunately I was hired to design a feedback website so that wasn't in the cards this time!

Project 2: Component library

Context & challenge

When I joined the GearFit team in August of 2021, there wasn't an intentionally built or well-documented design system for the project. This led to two main problems:


  1. designers spent more time fiddling with Figma than actually making new designs, and

  2. designs were so hard to manipulate that there were great inconsistencies between the production website and Figma designs.


Ultimately, this was leading to the accumulation of design debt across the website, resulting in an inconsistent and confusing look and feel to pages across GearFit. 


Given the scope of GearFit as a project, I decided to build a new component library in Figma that was accurate to the website design in production, easy to maintain for designers, and up-to-date with Figma's newest features of variants and auto layout. Creating a fully fleshed out design system for GearFit would have been overkill given the team's capacity and the still relatively early stage of the product as a whole (it had been a project for only about 1.5 years before I had joined).

I conducted research on various popular design systems, specifically focusing on their Figma component libraries, to inform the organization and structure of the component library. I then conducted an audit of the existing website to determine what components would need to be built out.


Once I completed the first draft of the component library, we began using the new components exclusively in a new active design file and made improvements to them as needed as we tested how well they worked with regular usage. We found that we were able to dramatically reduce the amount of time spent making tedious changes in Figma files and that developers were less confused with new design changes since the designs accurately matched the current state of the website. 

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State of the design system when I joined the team in 2021

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Components were very simple and didn't take advantage of Figma's features, such as variants and autolayout

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Simple component examples in newly designed component library, with more robust component variety and organization through use of variants

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More complex component examples in newly designed component library

Project 3: Marketing assets & illustrations

Context & challenge

GearFit struggled to gain widespread adoption with aircrew. When we went on site visits or conducted research with potential users, the vast majority didn't even know what GearFit was. What we usually heard from aircrew was "I've never heard of it, but this is such a great idea that everybody should know about it!"

To try to improve awareness and usage of GearFit, we wanted to come up with ways to market GearFit virtually and in-person to aircrew and help to build their trust in the product.


We decided to revamp our marketing materials and branding to allow us to better catch the attention of aircrew. These redesigned marketing assets were to be used across a redesigned public landing page, print posters, brochures, presentation decks, and across educational features within GearFit. 

I designed all of the custom illustrations and assets, as well as all of the marketing materials themselves (print materials, presentation decks, landing page) using a combination of Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Figma.

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Custom gear illustrations for all major gear items worn by aircrew. These were created in particular for educational gear resources, since often aircrew were unfamiliar with the technical name for gear items and recognized them by sight instead (for ex: aircrew called "OTS gear" the "poopy suit")

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Informational one-pager (left) and print poster (right) I designed using new illustrations and branding styles

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Custom pilot illustration (left) and newly designed landing page mockups (right). The more complex illustrations with people included accurate visual representations of gear. We felt it was very important to get all of the details right with gear illustrations to allow aircrew to better trust our product and team. We used a hand-drawn style to allow for the fine details of the gear to be shown, while also still feeling friendly and approachable.

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