Finding Every Threat
Detecting Land Mines
Niitek is the company behind the Husky Mounted Detection System (HMDS), a hardware/software solution used for detecting and marking land mines. Since the late 2000s, this combination has been protecting convoys in the Middle East and Asia, saving hundreds of lives. While this is an amazing technological advancement for both military and humanitarian purposes, the interface was assembled as an afterthought. It was functional, but not user-focused.
“Landmines are among the most barbaric weapons of war, because they continue to kill and maim innocent people long after the war itself has ended.” - Kofi Anan
"When soldiers began using the HMDS in the field, Niitek quickly realized that there were too many distractions on the screen; the soldiers needed to see the IED data more clearly. In addition to that, the color palette didn’t provide enough hierarchy and contrast, especially in the desert sun. It was our job to design an interface for easy and accurate identification of threats."
Understanding the user
As with any new project, our focus was to understand the users’ main goals, motivations and behaviors. To start, we interviewed and observed soldiers so we could document every detail of ‘a day in the life of an IED detection specialist.’ The result of our research was a deep understanding of the responsibilities associated with mine detection, and it paved the way for a drastically improved UX. A soldier feels immense pressure to correctly identify mines because accuracy is crucial to the analysis of radar images. To allow for a more detailed view of the detection area, we maximized screen real estate allocated to mine detection by minimizing the space dedicated to program settings. We further elevated the usefulness of HMDS by providing historical data that helps soldiers discern new pings from previously reviewed materials.
A Day in the Life of a Soldier
Every day, IED detection specialists bear a tremendous load of responsibility. We rode along to document their daily activities and gain perspective of the complex thinking behind radar image analysis.
- Put on gloves and helmet (in most cases)
- Drive [carefully] to start point
- Stop in clear area for skyshot
- Perform skyshot
- Tests marking fluid jets
"Hanging off the back of the armored vehicle and user testing our UX with soldiers was an incredible experience. Knowing that the experience we created would have a direct impact on saving lives was a serious responsibility."
Our ability to get preliminary designs in front of actual HMDS operators provided insights that allowed us to close the gap on usability issues. Their feedback had a profound impact on the final product. When the government hired a third-party firm to test soldiers in the field, the redesigned UX received a combined mean System Usability Scale (SUS) of 91—an A+ in layman’s terms.
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