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ux case  study 1

AUS Navy - Student Resource App


Roles & Responsibilities

The Australian Navy at HMAS (Her Majesty's Australian Ship) Cerberus was trying to find ways for their engineering students to learn the course content more effectively. The reason behind it was not only to modernise their teaching delivery methods but make them accessible remotely using their own smartphones and tablets.

Introducing: The Navy student resource app.

The app was set up on internal servers at HMAS Cerberus but it is available to the students 24/7 from the comfort of the bunks or the library.

Role: UX Designer, UI and Graphics

Role: UX Designer, UI designer, and graphics.

I performed the following tasks:

  • Understanding the needs of the user through needs finding – Asking stakeholders, instructors, and students

  • User Interviews – Arranging interviews (often guerrilla) with students

  • Questionnaire development – Formulating relevant and pertinent questions

  • Paper prototypes – Low fidelity prototypes focusing mostly on main content and information architecture

  • Creating Personas – Trying to form an objective picture to our typical user if that is ever possible

  • User Journey mapping – Before class, during and after class activities to establish ‘frame of mind’ and ‘how’ this app is going to be accessed.

  • IdentifyingTimelines – A simplified version of journey mapping highlighting ‘main’ steps to accomplish or understand how micro-tasks are performed e.g. marching to class.

  • Prototyping – Clickable prototypes to use for feedback and testing.

  • A/B testing – Presenting design options with varying elements such as menu positioning, colours, and different look & feel.

  • Co-presented our designs to stakeholders and shared other design resources to help them understand why we took certain direction

  • High Fidelity Visual Design – More advanced prototypes with branding and design

  • Dev team handoff – I worked closely with the dev team for all things design-related issues and tasksEnsured the developed designs were aligned to the mock-ups. Provided visual libraries and design assets for developers to use.

Problem Statement

Some of the learning content such as Engineering Drawing, Mechanical Engineering, Mechanical Fundamentals, Metal Fabrication, etc. proved to be difficult for some students because, they have no mechanical experience and trying to explain some of the subjects also proved difficult and simplifying it in a way they could understand it better is what we tried by basing the information found in the workbook, but we tried to make it interactive.

Another difficult area we tackled was the knowledge of technology itself, e.g. some of the students come from rural Australia and even more remote parts like the outback so they don’t have the technical knowledge which makes learning a challenge.

Also, the Navy branding had to be strong because of the variety in. ethnic and gender mix of the students. , For example, an Australian female from far North Queensland will have different mental models and outlook compared to a Muslim male from Parramatta, so the way it was built was colourful yet very conservative in other aspects.

Making this material accessible online would be a good choice because most of the students have smartphones and tablets where they can access this material, and the navy will have to introduce new servers in order to support the app.

Just having a workbook sometimes is not enough, and further references are needed, our job was to bring it all together for a better Learning Experience (LX) for the students.

User & Audience

The Navy student resource app was designed only for the Australian Navy recruits, but now that the Australian Defence Force is combining its training which now includes both the Air Force and Army.

Demographics were diverse, mostly males between the ages of 17 to 55 which comprised 65 – 70%, and females between ages 17 to 40 making up the rest.

The majority were either school leavers or someone starting out in the job market, for example, retail assistants, factory hands, TAFE students, or security guards.

The few under-aged students were a few but a strong reason to produce something engaging and relevant for that particular age group, it is important to support them from an early age in order to give them a great start to their careers.

Depending on where in Australia they came from, they joined because there were no job prospects, and some of the students I spoke to in this category were from the Gold Coast in Queensland which is a beautiful spot but industry and business is rather limited, and the most common form of employment is in tourism and other peripheral services.

Students from Sydney and Melbourne, on the other hand, were apprentices, university or TAFE students who wanted a ‘sea change’ and that is why they joined.

Western Australia and Northern Territory had farm hands and agronomy-related workers and quite a few high school leavers.

A few of the older students were from main cities and had existing trade certificates but joined the course as a ‘formality’ while their documentation was being processed, we were told.


Helping him learn

This is a persona of one of the most common users or learners.

He is a young man wanting to get a mechanical apprenticeship he can use after his time in the Navy comes to an end, he has hopes and dreams, these are also important to keep in mind to enhance the LX or Learning experience.

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Journey Map

Learning the content

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This is a persona of one of the most common users or learners.

This particular one is about learning hand and some power tools which to someone who has never used them before can be overwhelming.

Scope & Constraints


Initially, the student resource app was going to be about a single subject hosted on the base's intranet at HMAS Cerberus. The subject was going to be 'Mechanical Engineering' or MEC02.

And slowly, it grew to include all of the ITT (initial technical training) subjects, e.g. Engineering Drawing MEC01, etc.

Word got around, and the other faculties like seamanship, signals, etc. showed interest and wanted to be a part of it. They saw the use and merit of allowing students to access course information from the comfort of their bunks using smartphones, tablets, or from the local library.


Time - I had a short turnaround time to deliver the designs. Even though there were some delays such as subject matter expert availability, I was able to deliver the designs on time.  We had to wait for a while for direction, resources, and advice from Subject matter experts (SMEs).

For example,  I kept the project moving forward by finding defence photos from the Australian Defence Force website to use on many parts of the app. I even redrew diagrams, charts, and training aids so they could be used not only in the app but in other teaching aids and presentations.

Finding stock photos was a challenge due to the strict security protocols in place, but I was able to bring in stock photography resources that saved us time and frustration due to a slow internet as well as strict security protocols.

I was determined not to waste time waiting so I produced digital and print assets that could be used in a variety of materials which helped the Navy be prepared for future design projects.

The Process

What was important to me was to 'fail fast' in order to see what worked or what didn't and focus on a positive outcome without wasting any time.


My research method was a combination of Behavioral (A/B testing), Qualitative (Usability testing), and Attitudinal (User interviews).

It all started with interviewing stakeholders and users to learn more about the course and asking about any sticking points or hard-to-grasp subjects that were compared between the two groups. I learned that  it was an 80% match which gave us a great start to map out what content was to go into the app and what content was more important for them to learn.

I used a reference and a workbook that went with the app we were building. So I used it to inform the information architecture of the app and followed the way the subjects were listed in order.

I also thought it would be great to highlight trouble subjects and have them separate yet visible for ‘quick access’ to the students, which would save them time finding particular sections, especially because the Mechanical module is quite comprehensive, clear and easy navigation was critical, so card sorting was an exercise I used in order to help with the information architecture. The result was we learned that some subjects could potentially be arranged more efficiently but that would mean they could either be repeated or could be out of sequence with the workbook.

One issue that came to light as we started the prototyping phase was that If we were to design a mobile version of the student resource app, the content had to be carefully selected because not all content was able to be fit in the smaller device, or the tablet.

This was a major consideration for us and this is where I worked closely with the subject matter experts to understand which content was the most relevant and what content to leave out.

As the sole UX designer, I  created prototypes in order to test them with the users and subject matter experts. 

The testing helped me and the team understand which areas of the app needed to be iterated upon. Understanding the context of where the app would be used was important for the scalability of the app. 

At the beginning of the project, communication with the development team was a challenge because of priorities, but as the project progressed we built a solid foundation of trust so we were able to make quick progress to complete the app.

Once we overcame our communication issues, the stakeholders started to show more interest and excitement when prototypes were produced, things were ‘clickable’ and they fully understood how everything was likely to work, but it was a bit of an effort to get there.

The news of the success of this app spread quickly and other departments such as Comms, Catering, Medics, and Electronics wanted to be included within the app as topics to learn, etc.

After the surge, we believed maybe remaining true to the reference and workbooks, was the best way to move forward, there was no real reason to reinvent the wheel, the students were familiar with the content, and changing the order would do more harm, especially if they are accessing the app and have the book with them as a backup.

I redrew a lot of the graphics and visual materials since those digital assets were used not only on the app but were going to be included in the book and both would be complementary, including PowerPoint presentations.

I was able to follow the Navy branding guidelines to make sure the right colours, fonts, logo placement, etc. were according to standards. I was also able to suggest updates such as using new vibrant colors to give the app a personality and make it easy and fun to use.

Freehand Sketches

Why did I do it?

To help the Navy increase the ITT (Initial Technical Training) increase its pass rate from 70% to 85% and help instructors deliver the content.

Outcomes & Results

The goal of the project was to help the Navy increase the Initial Technical Training (ITT pass rate from 70% to 85% and help instructors deliver the content.


The feedback I got from the stakeholders was positive and very appreciative and that encouraged me when it came to deliverables, as they were impressed by the simplicity and grace the student resource app presented to the audience and stakeholders, it has a ‘whimsical’ yet professional feel to it.


The prototype proved successful, as for implementation, I was assigned to another project so I had to hand it over, and not sure if this was completed.


What did you learn?

  • I learned to liaise with stakeholders from different industries and address their unique needs. To take a deep breath, inject an element of 'fun' in order to keep students engaged, during the research and prototype stages

  • I was able to deliver despite strict security protocols in a military environment when internet speeds are not ideal due to heavy traffic.

  • I learned to work around resource constraints e.g. the stock photography and other relevant software were not available, so I transferred files via USB to keep the project moving forward.


I was not around to see the final result, as i was pulled from the project for other more pressing projects, as the Navy was non-committal in the end, perhaps it had something to do with the changing of the guard, as Officers have limited tenure in certain posts before having to move on to a different post, but I am sure this effort was not totally lost.

Every 'experience' (No pun intended) helps us grow as designers, and by using this as a 'template' for any future UX work, will help me lay a solid foundation whenever designing something that will not only be functional but help users achieve their tasks.

Thanks for reading my case.

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