Digital Systems Integration Laboratory

Empowering Australian industry with greater opportunities to deliver valued capabilities to the Australian Defence Force

Research | UX Design | Lean Delivery

In a sector where the phrase "Human-Centred Design" often draws blank stares and confused looks, a challenge as complex as distributed systems integration could have resulted in the type of solution that checked engineering boxes but didn't deliver an intuitive experience.

I led a human-centred design process for our client to understand user needs, commercial and technological requirements, and to design an intuitive software and cloud computing marketplace for organisations within the defence industry.

My Role

Responsible for research, conceptualisation, IA, UX Design, and design validation. Support for UI.

The Team

UX Designer, UI Designer, Product Owners, Systems Engineers, Front-End Engineers


Defence | Hardware & Software Virtualisation


Responsive Web | VMware


We began by working with our customer to build a shared understanding of the challenge space, potential customers, use cases and what success would look like before defining a product vision and identifying gaps in our knowledge to explore with further research.

Key challenges

The state of product development in the defence sector

Access to data and third-party tools

Due to rigorous security protocols, the high opportunity cost, and the market influence of large established defence primes, sovereign SMEs often find it challenging to access industry-standard data, simulations, tools, and compliant compute resources.

Perceived quality of market solutions

Historic partnerships with large international primes mean the sovereign defence industry hasn’t had a real chance to demonstrate the breadth and quality of their sovereign solutions.

A complicated relationship between sovereign industry and the ADF

While there is a concerted push for the ADF to procure Australian, it is difficult for sovereign SMEs to break into the defence sector, leaving the ADF more reliant on international capabilities.

How might we
Enable easier access to industry data and tools;
So that
Australian sovereign industry has greater opportunities to deliver valued capabilities to the ADF


Understanding product development in the defence industry

Product development is complex in any industry, and those complexities are compounded in defence environments. Through user and stakeholder interviews, I explored how defence SMEs currently undertake product development for defence, the challenges they face, and their unique needs.

I validated and further developed key use cases, such as geographically distributed systems integration, with potential customers and platform partners. This allowed me to focus design efforts where they would have the most impact.

The findings allowed me to map process flows to identify and document user tasks, pain points and opportunities to better support customer needs.

What we learned

Access to suitable tooling is a universal challenge not only faced by smaller organisations.

Inability to integrate and test remotely with representative tools significantly impacts the ability to iterate rapidly.

Travel and freight costs are very high when the only way to integrate is physically in-situ. The effects of COVID-19 compounded this further.

Remote systems integration empowers teams to iterate more effectively — a solution that allows teams to test early and often is a potent risk mitigation tool.

Access to high-performance compute, data, and simulation is heavily use case dependent — There may be some common use cases, but flexibility and extensibility of the platform is the most crucial factor.

Adequate documentation in context is required to empower effective collaboration and ensure all contributors are on the same page.


Harnessing the insights gained from research, I began to explore and define what the solution could look like to craft an experience tailor-made for the audience — a simple yet powerful platform customers want to use, not just need to use.

Design principles

  • — Flexible

    to support a wide range of diverse services and use-cases

  • — Extensible

    so it can grow effortlessly as the platform develops

  • — Useable

    so the platform empowers, not hinders users

  • — Approachable

    guidance and intuitive interfaces for complex concepts

Evolving the solution

Key features

1. Organisational admin and user permissions control

Due to the sensitive nature of development and testing on the platform, I designed a transparent and systematic approach to user permissions.

The outcome leveraged and extended upon the capabilities of the VMware Aria Suite (vRealize Suite).

2. Cloud computing and software marketplace

To help Australian firms overcome the opportunity cost of developing solutions for the ADF we'd need an intuitive way to browse and discover cloud computing and software solutions.

This is, after all, how users will find cloud computing resources and defence-specific software and virtualised hardware solutions to enable their product development.

To ensure a coherent service browsing experience for users, I also developed a content guide and recommendations for service providers wishing to include their solutions in the marketplace.

3. Flexible deployment process

Due to the vastly different types of cloud computing services envisioned, it quickly became clear that I'd need to design a flexible deployment configuration process.

One capable of handling anything from a simple Windows or Linux machine right through to defence-specific emulation powered by networked cloud resources.

It would also need to capture perspective requirements to provide accurate cost estimates highlighting the value of a 'pay for what you use' pricing model.

4. Powerful deployment management and reporting

Depending on requirements some organisations would need to manage large volumes of deployed cloud resources across multiple teams and projects.

To facilitate this, I designed intuitive interfaces to monitor, manage, and optimise these resources and their cost.

5. Support and guidance

This niche platform would be entering a market defined by big players such Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

Because of this, I had to take care to optimise for consistency and standard heuristics for cloud platforms while also catering for a range of support and guidance materials to help users new to the domain as well as for more case-specific or divergent user interaction patterns.

Challenges designing in the defence sector

Through this project I had the chance to work with incredibly knowledgeable subject matter experts engaging them from research, to design validation and approvals. All were very technical thinkers, largely engineers and many from a military background. 

Getting them engaged in the design process was a real challenge at first, but over time I learned to adopt a more technical vernacular and show I’d done the work to understand their domain.

Over time this helped to build trust and facilitate more open and effective conversations.
But there was still one major process challenge to overcome... design feedback.

The state of design feedback:

During design reviews, I struggled to maintain the attention and engagement of key stakeholders.

Feedback was often not forthcoming or not entirely relevant to the design phase or challenge being presented.

Many stakeholders would remain completely silent, waiting for the slightly more forthcoming team members to voice their opinions.

How might we
engage a diversity of thought and experience to gather valuable and relevant design feedback from everyone in the project team so that approvals aren't delayed, and fewer future change requests are required.

To achieve this I designed a new review process and living artefact for future design reviews. This new process got everyone in the team involved within a structured design critique framework leveraging:

  • Collaborative workshop-style Miro board,
  • Clear and engaging instructions including focus areas for feedback, questions and approvals,
  • Time-boxed 'working alone together' activities to hold all team members accountable for their involvement, and
  • Simple next steps and action items aligned with the approvals workflow.

Final thoughts

Designing within the Defence industry was a completely new challenge for me. It stretched and developed my research, and facilitation skills further than any project I'd previously been involved in. But it also reinforced that when you approach any new challenge with empathy and a curious and open mind the design process holds up in even the most challenging of environments.,

The platform's final design supports organisations by providing secure environments in which to develop, test and integrate products. The marketplace model would help overcome the opportunity cost that currently prevents many organisations from working in the defence sector.

Leveraging a human-centred design process allowed me to understand the needs of end users and the full context in which they would engage with the platform to design empowering experiences. Designing a flexible and scaleable platform framework means it can support organisation large and small develop and collaborate more effectively with access to a powerful marketplace of virtualised software and hardware solutions.

Project status

A functional proof of concept was developed internally by our client for validation with industry partners in 2022. Further development is pending based on the outcome of this validation process.


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