Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Fri, 15 Dec 2017 06:18:45 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Copyright 2017, Sutherland Innovation Labs - Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Meeting tomorrow’s talent: A Day with UCL’s Interaction Centre Thu, 14 Dec 2017 16:04:46 +0000 Meeting tomorrow’s talent: A Day with UCL’s Interaction Centre

This past Tuesday we hosted 50 eager students from the University College London’s Interaction Centre. The day’s events were designed to introduce the students to user centred design in the commercial world.

Over the course of the day we explained the need to achieve a balance between the business goals of our client’s and the goals of those using their products or services. Starting from discussion of the common tools and methodologies that we use, like service safaris and experience groups, we then moved on to talk about a typical research project. Or more specifically, the fact that there’s no such thing as a typical research project with research engagements varying wildly to reflect anything from one-day of user sessions to a full programme of work over months.

After a whistle-stop tour of the labs, the students got the chance to conduct some hands-on research, running a user session in one of our labs. Everyone got involved in planning and preparation, and those not involved in the moderation itself, watched and engaged in a rolling analysis, putting pen to post-it and identifying key findings as we went.

Students from UCL working in the workshop

Don’t worry, we didn’t abandon these fresh-faced students to the madness of the labs all by themselves; myself and Jennifer Walters were on hand to give guidance and support throughout the day; answering any queries the students had about the session at hand and what it is like to work in a design research agency.

The day was a big success and the students all seemed to enjoy themselves. Just like every other time that we have had student visitors, our guests hit us with a few insightful questions that still have us thinking about our work in a new way, even days later!

Labs Life: Introducing Julie Yessin Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:24:22 +0000 Labs Life: Introducing Julie Yessin

We like to give our readers an insight into the inner workings of Sutherland Labs. Julie Yessin joined the San Francisco office in January this year, but she didn’t waste any time getting settled in, leading the Global Service Jam in prototyping methods in February and bringing her own fresh perspective to all the work that we do.

What does an average day in the life of a Senior Design Researcher look like?

Julie: Depending on the stage of the project, I might observe people to understand their behavior and the meaning behind those behaviors. I could also be combing through all the data we have collected to uncover insights and looking for opportunities to make the subjects’ lives better, through products, services or experiences. I’ve been working with a range of clients across different industries, including healthcare and technology, and it is fascinating to see the creative cultures that are developing in many companies and how they looking to us to bring new perspectives to old problems.

I understand that you used to work on the design side of things?

Julie: I worked as an industrial designer for many years which consisted of design thinking and design doing. The thinking part involved a lot of research – a necessary component in identifying and understanding problems. The longer I worked in design, the more time I spent studying users’ reactions until I decided it would be interesting to focus on the discovery phase of the design process.

Julie travelling

Do you prefer working in research?

Julie: I will always be a designer; it’s in my blood. I’m just applying the same methodologies I developed as a designer to a broader range of challenges. Across different industries you can find researchers and designers working together in tandem, and I can speak the language of both which is helpful. Technology is advancing rapidly, giving us more tools to collect data and produce relevant results at a much faster rate. The demand for design is exponentially growing, so new and unique opportunities are constantly arising.

Why am I being told to ask you about chia pudding?

Julie: When I was young I wanted to be a French pastry chef because of the intricacy of its aesthetics. Over time, I became interested in learning about preparing healthy foods in interesting way and am amazed by the possibilities of my high spend blender. I am known for making the best chia pudding in town using my homemade almond milk.

Julie's Chia Pudding

What else do you do for fun?

Julie: I like travelling and learning about different cultures. I fell in love with hiking when I lived in Colorado but I have just started to get to grips with all of the trails around the Bay Area. San Francisco is like an outdoor gym, just walking along the sloped streets is enough to keep any of us locals active.

How has it been settling into Sutherland?

Julie: I am really enjoying it. Sutherland brings together people from different backgrounds so every time you encounter a problem, there are all these fresh eyes and new perspectives to help approach it. I really enjoy the moment when all the fuzzy pieces of data that you have collected start to pull together into something tangible, when you can visualize your findings and use that as the seed to create something new and meaningful.

Will anyone else ever come close to taking Julie’s crown as the chia pudding queen? Can anybody walk through San Francisco without passing out from exhaustion with all those hills? Come back for another instalment of ‘Labs Life’ to find out all these answers and more!

The Diminishing Returns of Customer Satisfaction Surveys Thu, 07 Dec 2017 11:57:59 +0000 The Diminishing Returns of Customer Satisfaction Surveys

After returning from a holiday I was hit with feedback requests from the travel agent, the airline and all three of the hotels that we stayed in. All of them were perfunctory; demanding a response within a limited time, one of them was intrusive; a text message, and every single one of them conveyed absolutely no sense of gratitude or personal benefit for me if I filled them out. So I didn’t.

The other day I got an email from a grocery store asking me to rate how satisfied I was with the six eggs that they had delivered to me. Both on the quality of service I received and the quality of the eggs themselves. Were they good eggs? The eggs were fine. They were eggs. But I am starting to suspect that we might have hit a point of diminishing returns with Customer Satisfaction Surveys.

The Steady Decline

NPS and CSAT questionnaires were one of the most important developments for getting the quality of customer experience onto the agenda of big organizations at every conceivable touchpoint. They gave even the most disinterested corporation the feedback that they needed to respond to the needs of their users. However, we’ve now reached a point where their effectiveness is in danger of decline as users are constantly bombarded with feedback from every organization that they deal with. As users tire of this treatment the response rate to questionnaires is inevitably going to decline and they are going to fall out of use

It is understandable that we’ve reached this point, as the implementers of these tools are often data focused rather than customer facing, but that doesn’t excuse it. The satisfaction questionnaire may be the final touchpoint with an organization. Making this experience a bad one is not a good plan for customer retention.

Unless a worldwide consensus to stop abusing the questionnaire can be reached, there is very little that can be done to prevent this decline, but as an individual organization, there are a few possible remedies. All of which start with reforming your attitude towards CSAT or similar surveys. Stop treating customers as a free data source for process improvement!

Customer experience emojis

Complete The Loop

Complete the loop when feedback is provided. Even a simple follow up to say thanks or indicate that the feedback has been taken on board would be enough incentive in some cases. If they are seething with anger and using the questionnaire to flag a problem, contact them and fix it.If you don’t, then the questionanaire is only going to frustrate them further.

Acknowledge customer effort in contributing to your process improvement by paying for it. Entering respondents in a prize or cash draw doesn’t have to cost a lot and it is sending a clear signal that you value their input.

Make the customers feel good about responding. It can feel like responses are going into a black hole, so there is little sense of benefit. A generic statement about valuing customers and improving customer service really is not enough. Why not give them an example or two of changes you’ve made as a result of customer feedback?

Turn Down the Pressure

Do not tell customers about your survey timelines. They don’t need to know the survey will only be open another 5 days. Telling them that is putting implicit pressure on them, which you should be very careful about doing. It may produce a small uptick in your response rates, but many others are being offended by your demanding tone.

Think hard before using intrusive mechanisms such as SMS or automated calls. They are potential irritants. Be careful about when you send these out for this same reason.

Think hard before using intrusive mechanisms such as SMS or automated calls. They are potential irritants. Be careful about when you send these out for this same reason.

Respect Your Users’ Time

Keep your feedback questionnaires short and punchy. Fight hard against requests to add additional questions. Each extra question carries a cost to your customer relationship.

Consider introducing complementary mechanisms to determine the customer’s satisfaction levels and emotional state at different points in their journey without putting the burden on them to give you that feedback. Assess the emotions on their face at the point of contact using facial scanning, or have your staff provide feedback on their perception of the emotional qualities of an interaction before they can move on.

Keep your feedback questionnaires short and punchy. Fight hard against requests to add additional questions. Each extra question carries a cost to your customer relationship.

Look Beyond CSAT and NPS

The most important solution is to perform insight driven research alongside any form of direct data collection to include information that may not be captured in a survey, and to filter all the data points that you have collected in a constructive way. It is only through analysis that data gains value.

The NPS and CSAT questionnaires were an absolute gift to Design Thinking advocates, a way to demonstrate the success and value of their initiatives to those in power and to collect valuable feedback from users. It is truly unfortunate that they have been reduced to their current state; badgering people about their eggs.

It isn’t like customer experience is going to be forgotten overnight, we are just going to have to get a little bit smarter, and a lot more precise, about how we collect the information we need to improve.

November 2017’s Coolest Things Tue, 05 Dec 2017 18:11:09 +0000 November 2017’s Coolest Things

Every month there is a fierce battle amongst the people of Sutherland Labs. Their battlefield is our Slack Channel, their weapons are the coolest things that they have seen this month and their prize… Their prize is eternal bragging rights and as much immortality as a blog post chronicling the cool thing that you have found can bring you. There were some strong contenders over the course of November and the competition was tight, but victors have been declared and now it is time to bear witness to the Coolest Things that we have seen this month!

UX For Monsters

Halloween had just passed us by when the month began, and you can be sure that there were a great many spooky suggestions up on Slack, but this hot take on the best ways to make sure that your UX is inclusive to the humanity-challenged was inspired. Can a Vampire use a touch-screen with those long and nasty nails? What should the maximum capacity of a car-sharing app for Evil Clowns be set to? How can Freddy Krueger play your new mobile game if teenagers aren’t dreaming about it?

UX for monsters

David Yeo’s Tiny Animals

This project, more officially titled “Engineered by Nature” is a collection of pictures of miniature animals, placed in contrast with human designed items to give a sense of scale. Obviously not every one of these mini-animals is actually as tiny as it appears in the picture but no photo-manipulation has been used to highlight how tiny they are, only good old fashioned trickery. Mini-animals are bred purely for aesthetics, and Yeo’s collection is planned to show off the perfection of their design. Also; they are so adorable.

Credit: David Yeo,

Credit: David Yeo,

Stefan Draschan’s People Matching Artworks

We close out the month with another photo-set that does exactly what the name says. In this collection of snaps from galleries around the world are people who Draschan has captured looking at a piece of art that coincidentally matches the aesthetic and colors of their clothing. It is far from Draschan’s only project to include matching aesthetics, his “Cars Matching Homes” and “Matching Couples” series achieve similar goals, but it does an amazing job of contrasting these classical paintings, which everyone acknowledges as art, with the personal styles that the viewers have cultivated, something that is rarely acknowledged as an art-form at all.

Credit: Stefan Draschan,

Credit: Stefan Draschan,

The Loop- IBM’s Journey into DT

IBM is transforming the way that it does business by centring Design Thinking in everything it does. Introducing more easily accessible tools for software design, surveying other companies that have nailed their own design practices, and even transforming the language that they use to talk about their products to incorporate their new way of thinking. We understand that not every has twenty minutes to watch the whole thing, but if you are in a rush there is a great section at about 4 minutes in.

That is all that we have time for this month, out brave gladiators have been returned to their pens where they have already started frantically browsing through their social media feeds in search of new contenders for next month’s battle royal. Although it is hard to imagine how anything is going to top that picture of two teacup pigs in a top-hat.

Design Thinking 101: Recommended TV shows Part 1 Mon, 04 Dec 2017 15:50:42 +0000 Design Thinking 101: Recommended TV shows Part 1

We have been talking a lot about inspiration lately. Some people would consider slumping down onto the sofa to binge watch television to be inspiration’s antithesis, but we’ve gathered a few of our favourite series that explore the world of design thinking. And all from the comfort of your living room.


This series is about the art of design. Each episode focuses on a single influential personality in a specialised discipline and goes through their career with a fine-toothed comb, examining every stage of their design process and their career. The fact that the show also highlights the human side of each designer, their struggles and their life, can make it a pretty inspirational experience for any young creatives too.

Chef’s Table

Fair warning, do not watch this show if you are hungry.  Chef’s Table, like Abstract, follows a single master chef through their career and the definitive unique dishes that they have created. Throughout the show you can see how their culture and history has influenced their creative decisions, but you can also see how those creative decisions have rippled out and changed the industry that they rule. Of particular interest is the episode about the farm to table movement; showing how Design Thinking can be applied to chickens to get the best eggs!

Tales by Light

Each episode of this series starts from a single image – the finished product of the photographer’s craft – and works backwards through the whole process that led to the moment being captured. This show doesn’t only show you the process and planning that went into the creation of iconic images, it also showcases the technical virtues that photographers pursue with expertly framed shots, stunning visuals and composition in every shot.

The Century of Self

Examining the ways that the acceptance of psychology fed into the creation of advertising. This series starts out following the life story of Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, who used psychological insights to market products to people using their deepest desires and impulses before switching track when the emergence of counter-culture began to disprove Bernays’ theories to examine the rise of the focus group and the belief in emotion as the driver for decision making.

Secrets of Silicon Valley

This British documentary runs a little contrary to many of the other documentary series. Taking a more cynical look at the “disruption” companies based in Silicon Valley and seriously questioning the worth of many of their inventions. It is a fascinating dip into the often overlooked ethical side of design. Asking not just if something can be made but whether it should be made.

If you liked our selection, you’ll be pleased to hear we had too many recommendations to fit into one post! Next time we are going to be moving out of old media and into the new with our recommended podcasts.

Design thinking to improve candidate experience Thu, 08 Jun 2017 15:21:26 +0000 Design thinking to improve candidate experience

Our parent organization, Sutherland, asked us to experiment with new ways of approaching existing recruitment challenges through a Design Thinking approach.

talent acquisition workshop


In an extremely competitive marketplace, how might we better attract the right talent? How can we improve retention by better understanding the end-to-end recruitment and employment journey of our employees? These are some of the questions Sutherland Labs have been tackling in our own organization – working alongside our Talent Acquisition teams.


We used immersive research to ‘walk in candidates shoes’ to understand a candidate journey throughout the recruitment process. We created behavioral personas, helping to segment, identify ‘star’ target audiences and better understand their idiosyncrasies. We also created journey maps that gave a visual representation which help to articulate pain points and crucial insight that often lead to ideas for improvements and solutions.

Talent acquisition journey maps


The insights helped our colleagues to reframe the story during the recruitment process, which in turn impacted their messaging, advertising and social media activity. The results have included a significant increase in social media followers and engagement, following a reworked advertising campaign. The project also contributed towards wider strategic goals of improving employee engagement, and aided a change of mindset within HR functions.

Rethinking in-hospital entertainment Tue, 14 Jun 2016 10:17:09 +0000 Rethinking in-hospital entertainment

Our client, global provider of hospital entertainment systems, asked us to analyze customer experience of their current system and inform the design of a cleverly user-centric new one.

TV remote and tablet


TV, radio, games, other interactive content: hospital bedside entertainment has the power to positively transform patient experience. But many patients in this study were not engaging with our client’s current system and opting instead to use their own devices. We were called on to conduct deep analysis of patient needs. Our findings then inspired the design of a revolutionary new system – to make hospital stays infinitely more entertaining.


From registering for the first time, to tuning in to the radio or finding a good film, we first identified key user tasks. We then conducted interviews with staff, patients and family members across different wards – Elderly, Stroke, Children, etc. – to find out how these tasks could be carried out most efficiently. Insights from discussions, interviews, focus groups and a visit to the client call centre were then translated into different personae and journey maps. The outcome? As many as 50 different propositions to guide development of the new system.


These propositions included: a friendlier, more accessible user interface; a promotional loop on the homepage to raise key feature awareness; a simplified VOC library structure to enable easy browsing; and extended account management features for families to enable them to make purchases on a patient’s behalf.

Hospital ward
Designing a better patient experience Tue, 07 Jun 2016 13:37:57 +0000 Designing a better patient experience

From billing and online payment to registration and insurance, effective healthcare requires effective administration. And, for a joint study by Sutherland Healthcare and its non-profit partner, this was a starting premise.

User on iPad


Our globally renowned healthcare client asked us to observe administration across its facilities and decipher what was working well, and where there was room for improvement – with a focus on billing, registration, online activity, signage and numerous other non-clinical issues.


Our starting point was to closely observe over 100 patients and staff in a variety of settings across its two hospitals and contact centre, considering factors such as environment, education and general operations in order to enhance day-to-day experiences. Our six main areas of exploration were as follows: transition from paper to online processes; online self-service; medical payment issues; education and awareness of costs in relation to healthcare; healthcare insurance; and the possible overuse of brochures and posters in medical environments.


Our research enabled us to identify pain points in the customer and staff journeys and to offer inspired solutions. These included: a new patient portal providing self-service registration and access to clinical information; text message reminders and late running notifications; a mobile app updating family members on patient status; cost estimator tools to make costs more transparent; online application and payment for financial aid; a loyalty programme; and a new strategy to increase awareness and uptake of health insurance exchanges.

Doctors walking in hospital
Designing a roadmap to customer loyalty Fri, 01 Apr 2016 13:37:40 +0000 Designing a roadmap to customer loyalty

Enhanced customer experience equals greater customer loyalty. And for one client, a successful pet services retailer, this is what we set out to achieve.

Pet store dog beds


What does the future hold? This particular client envisioned a future full of opportunity, one in which their loyal customers reaped the benefits of better services and experiences. But they needed our help in shaping this vision and transforming bright ideas into positive actions.


The challenge was to improve customer loyalty by identifying opportunities for innovation and better aligning customer experience, at the same as exploring the potential for moving certain services online. Sutherland’s ethnographic researchers sprang into action – observing and interviewing over 100 employees, partners and customers, at home as well as in store, to build up an-in depth picture of their experiences. Insights were then shared with the client through documentary film and behavioral profiles of common customer types.


Our research led to greater understanding of the drivers of customer loyalty, and provided the basis for suggestions on how to make pet-lover customers happier. These suggestions ranged from improved mobile scheduling and in-store product placement to the development of more effective employee training methods – illustrated through vision maps for a brighter, better future.

Dog check up
Bringing a health insurer closer to its customers Mon, 14 Mar 2016 10:16:54 +0000 Bringing a health insurer closer to its customers

A strategy for smarter, more concise digital communications and a refreshed, customer-centric mindset: this is what we achieved for this rapidly expanding health insurance multinational.

Journey mapping workshop


Our client, a global provider of health insurance, wanted to reconnect with its customers. Having grown significantly through acquisition, in order become a company that today spans cultures, countries and time zones, they asked us to help re-centre customer experience and restore coherence to their channels of communication.


You can’t connect with customers without understanding them, so our research team analyzed the personae of the company’s key customer groups, involving stakeholders across its business – from IT to sales, operations or customer service. Our creative team then presented initial insights via reports, films and journey maps, before validating them with customer focus groups.


We helped our client develop a customer-centric mindset internally, gaining deeper understanding of the needs and behavior of its predominantly senior customer base, while developing a brand new digital roadmap for the years ahead. And while education starts at home, we also delivered board-level educational sessions to raise awareness of the benefits of customer-centric design – leading, ultimately, to a more unified company vision.

Patient being examined