U.S. Air Force ECHO

When it comes to finding that sweet spot between our ideas and the brand, we’re lucky. The Air Force is the most advanced branch of the military, so they expect us to bring them digital experiences that reflect that positioning.

- GSD&M Team

Can you describe your project and the concept behind it?

Most military marketing efforts feature adrenaline-type depictions. So, when we were tasked to create an interactive experience that shows the value the U.S. Air Force puts on mental acumen, we were drawn to how cognitive skills represented something deeper and more universal than book smarts. That’s why we created E.C.H.O., which stands for Enhanced Cognitive Human Ops.

Tell us about your initial moodboard, wireframe, or prototype. How did things change throughout the process?

Initially we started in a very futuristic, technical place to reflect the tech-forward positioning of the Air Force. But the more we delved into the true focus of the experience, which is the study of cognitive abilities, we evolved the look and feel to be more bio-centric. That’s how we came up with the term, “techno-biology.” It combines elements of the human mind and technology in a futuristic way.

What influenced your chosen technical approach, and how did it go beyond past methods?

Standard web design practice involves creating screens that work well on web and mobile devices. Adding on VR created another layer of complexity that affected our technical approach. We designed and built E.C.H.O. to account for all platforms, and tested as we went to ensure the experience not only worked seamlessly across devices but allowed users to have the same quality of experience regardless of the device used.

When did you experience a breakthrough or an "a-ha" moment during this project?

We struggled early on to find the right balance between being tech-forward and being true to the human mind where these cognitive skills exist. The breakthrough came when someone suggested the term “techno-biology.” From that moment on, it was our driving force behind the design as well as the games themselves. We wanted the user to feel immersed in a world that was technical, but alive, at the same time.

What web technologies, tools, and resources did you use to develop this?

Harnessing Active Theory's proprietary software allowed our 3D designers and technical artists to work alongside developers to build the E.C.H.O. experience. These included Hydra GUI which allows designers to create 3D scenes without writing code, Hydra 3D Engine that is optimized for maximum graphics throughput with reduced CPU usage, and Aura, a project encompassing our most recent accomplishments in running WebGL in native environments.

How did you balance your own creative ideas and technical capabilities with a fair representation of the client’s brand?

When it comes to finding that sweet spot between our ideas and the brand, we’re lucky. The Air Force is the most advanced branch of the military, so they expect us to bring them digital experiences that reflect that positioning. We push ourselves to live up to their expectations versus trying to sell them ours. Working with a brand that uses taxpayer dollars, the thing we’re most conscious of is being respectful of the budget.

How did the final product meet or exceed your expectations?

Within the first month of its launch, 68,803 players spent an incredible seven minutes and twenty-six seconds playing E.C.H.O., to better their scores and seemingly improve their cognitive abilities. In the process, we further positioned the U.S. Air Force as the most advanced, innovative military branch amongst problem solvers and STEM enthusiasts by focusing on their mental and cognitive development in a fun and engaging way.

Why is this an exciting time to create new digital experiences? How does your team fit into this?

There’s so much to be excited about working in this space right now. Consumers are so digitally savvy that we’re constantly having to challenge ourselves to come up with ideas they’ve never seen before — which is why the creative team has become so elastic. It’s an ever-changing formula of disciplines from traditional writers and art directors to UX designers and experiential producers in order to create the right spark.

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