Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Sun, 18 Mar 2018 17:34:59 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Copyright 2018, Sutherland Innovation Labs - Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Design Thinking 101: Recommended Events Thu, 15 Mar 2018 14:33:19 +0000 Design Thinking 101: Recommended Events

Welcome back to another exciting edition of Design Thinking 101, where we point you in the direction of the best resources to educate yourself on the subject of design thinking and then let you do all of the heavy lifting.

Design thinking is a very social discipline, built around communication and sharing of diverse viewpoints. So take off your pyjamas, put on some outside clothes and get ready to attend some of the Best Design Thinking events that the world has to offer!

Designers and Geeks – USA

Designers and Geeks run events throughout the year, and across the USA, covering a wide variety of design thinking related topics. Their speakers include thought leaders across many industries and while not every event that they run is going to be a great introduction to design thinking on the whole, almost every one of them has gone in depth into a specific aspect of experience design. Well worth making a trip out for, even if not every aspect of the talk is directly applicable to you.

An image from a Designers & Geeks event

Design Futures – Worldwide

While many of the Design Futures Council events seem to be based in New York, they have the odd one appearing worldwide, with an interesting one about Architecture taking place in Venice later this year. With an ongoing mission statement that “the status quo is no longer acceptable,” each of these events explores the possibilities of design centred thinking and how it will apply to different aspects of modern life.

Global Service Jam – Worldwide

Rather than just one event, this service design jam actually has many interlinked events happening all around the globe, all at once. It is a brilliant way to get hands on experience with design thinking, as you dive right into the deep end with some guidance from professionals as you all work to produce solutions to a real problem in the world. Last year we ran one of the events in our San Francisco Lab and it was amazingly fun as well as educational.

MUXL – London

Some of our team were lucky enough to attend one of their events recently and they had a wonderful time. There are multi-track lectures to attend that get booked up early, but even if you don’t get a spot for the particular speaker that you wanted, grab one of the other ones, because there is just so much raw knowledge on display!

An image from a MUXL event

UX in the City – UK

Slightly outside of our usual haunts, we found the excellent “UX in the City” events. With contributors from all across the UK’s UX community and locations outside of London, they are a brilliant opportunity for people just dipping their toe into the industry to meet some of their peers and learn a little bit more.

This is far from being a comprehensive list of all the design thinking events around the world, with a pretty heavy emphasis on the ones that are local to the Labs. Even beyond the geographical restrictions, many other great events have probably slipped under our radar.

Come back again soon for another round of Design Thinking 101!

The Triumphant Return of Voice Wed, 14 Mar 2018 16:00:05 +0000 The Triumphant Return of Voice

While we all like to think that new technology springs into existence fully formed and perfect, the truth is that almost every new development has a long and storied history leading up to this moment. More than a century ago, telecoms companies were poised to rule the world and the voice of the operator was so ubiquitous that that it was permanently etched into the public consciousness.

Fast forward to a decade ago and voice was dead. Digital age teenagers preferred text communication through SMS and messenger apps over talking on the phone to the degree that it became a running joke; you could tell how old someone was if they still used their phone as a phone. Given all of the benefits of text communication, and the creeping rates of social anxiety amongst the younger generation, it looked like we were going to be stepping forward into blissful silence, where the only sounds would be the gentle tapping of fingers on touchscreens.

That is why the resurgence of voice tech in its latest form is so significant. Digital home assistants like Google Home and Alexa are a new application for a neglected part of human interactivity. Serving as an AI hub, voice assistants have the potential to liaise with smart home appliances and render the whole home voice controlled.

Needless to say, we’ve plenty to say about voice, and so does Sutherland Digital president Andrew Zimmerman in this white paper “Voice is Back: This Time It’s Louder“:

The evolution will not be televised: The history of UX is a story of social change Mon, 12 Mar 2018 13:18:16 +0000 The evolution will not be televised: The history of UX is a story of social change

When you look at the big picture, the history of UX tells a story of significant social change. The industry has brought together behavioral science, psychology, human-computer interaction (HCI) and linguistics to establish user centered design as a critical part of modern product and service development, and in doing so, transformed our relationships with business, public institutions and each other. It’s worked behind the scenes, too, so you may not have noticed… I recently sat down with some of the Labs team who shared their insights about the early days of an industry that quite literally, changed your life.

A brief history of evolution

Everybody knows that a lot of everyday stuff began life as part of a cutting edge military research project, academic research or as some engineering tool that was never designed to be a consumer product. Velcro and teflon came from the NASA space programme; computer graphics and 3D came from missile guidance systems; SMS messaging was originally a telco engineering test tool; cabin sized suitcases with a built-in trolley handle and wheels were exclusively sold to airline crews before the 1980s; the internet was a US Department of Defense project and the world wide web was invented by academics for academic use; modern computers and software were first invented by the US Navy; mobile phones using radio frequencies first developed from German public railway projects in the early 1900s… and so on.

Where these familiar stories get really interesting is the less well known work of the first UX professionals who played a vital role in enabling the transition of these technologies into the consumer realm, because that UX design process caused a shift in social and economic norms. That sounds like a very bold statement but it’s an accurate description the world of digital channels and self-service interactions we all take for granted today. Consider how the one-size-fits-all giants of publishing, broadcasting, telecoms and retail – who monopolized the economy last century – have lost out to more personalized experiences from digital newbies like Google, Amazon and Netflix. Also, how many of your interactions with public institutions and infrastructure are now available on your smartphone, when it suits you, as opposed to at the end of a long queue in an office when it doesn’t? The balance of power within these commonplace – but nevertheless important – social relationships has shifted from governments and corporations to their users and customers. It’s easy to forget that it’s users who put the demand into on-demand, not the providers.

Image of vintage phone

The revolution will not be televised (for about 30 years)

In 1970, when Gil Scott Heron released the classic song ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ the social commentary reflected a world dominated sales-driven consumerism where the public had little choice in what they watched and consumed, and their opinions and needs were irrelevant. At that point in time, the UX industry was still in its infancy. The evolution of UX was driven by the military, who invested heavily in engineering but barely recognized the need for good design. However, they realized there was a need to improve ‘man-machine interfaces’ (MMI) to reduce the accidental loss of expensive hardware (jets, missiles etc.) by human error.

When I first started, working at the National Physical Laboratory – a government think tank – in the late ‘80s, behavioral science was seen as a soft skill. Our job was finding workarounds for the flaws in machines after the engineers were done, not designing the flaws out of machines before the engineers got started.

Owen Daly-Jones, SVP Global Head of Sutherland Labs

The early years of UX design in America and Europe after WW2 was mostly concerned with putting buttons and levers in logical places, minimizing accidents, and improving basic interface design within an engineering-dominated industry. In the corporate world, as computers and software started to spread in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, a similarly low priority was given to design. Systems were often complex and required extensive staff training before they could be used effectively, but the employee-user had little say in the matter, so UX remained less of a priority than system engineering.

However, in 1980’s Scandinavia, trade unions in Norway and Sweden had been engaged since the ‘70s in participatory design projects with employers to make software, computers and equipment more user friendly. The Scandinavian model saw system usability as part of the employer’s responsibility to provide decent working conditions, so UX wasn’t a design issue so much as workplace right akin to reasonable working hours, breaks, sick pay and safety equipment.

There was an understanding that technology could be socially transformative, and also a sense of the tension between using design to benefit people versus benefitting companies and governments. The early Silicon Valley pioneers like Xerox, HP, Apple and Microsoft, saw the Scandinavian UX experiments had a positive effect in terms of productivity and employee engagement, which is why UX began to really take off in the USA.

Andrew Swartz, Director of Design Research, Sutherland Labs

The revolution was designed

The moment the UX industry really began to eclipse engineering as a central part of product  design was with the rapid digitalization of modern life after the internet, PCs and mobile telecoms arrived. The emergence of the digital world fundamentally changed the balance of emphasis between engineering and design, because where employees had little choice over using badly designed engineering, customers did.

When I first started working in the industry, people viewed UX like the Greek myth of Procrustes, Poseidon’s son, who claimed to have a magic bed that fitted everyone perfectly… but in reality he cut his unfortunate guests legs off or stretched them to fit. UX was optional back then because users had no choice. As the digital world offered more consumer choice, ironically, it meant businesses had no choice about UX.

Anna Haywood, Principal Design Researcher, Sutherland Labs

As companies realized the huge cost savings and profit opportunities of digitizing sales and marketing, they also realized that customers wouldn’t accept bad UX. Suddenly, they had to collaborate with their users, because visiting a web store in your free time represented a raft of tasks that used to be solely the preserve of the shop staff. Things like browsing, locating stock, taking payment and arranging delivery, took a number of significant employee costs out of the company’s bottom line and put them into the new self-service digital customer’s free time… but wasn’t a one-way trade. It gave the consumer more power to demand better customer experiences and deals, because they wouldn’t remain brand loyal if there was a better offer just a search and a mouse click away, unlike in the pre-digital days when a better offer was hard to discover and in another physical location that was harder to get to.

More importantly, where companies used to control all the information the customer had access to about their customer experience (or lack of it) the evolution of social media has meant now the customer has all the knowledge they need, and a voice to call out bad design and poor service. It’s no coincidence that this consumer revolution has coincided with major social shifts in institutions regarding attitudes to diversity, with the democratization of broadcast media and publishing, and an ever increasing attention paid by product and service designers to the opinions of people they want to sell to.

Advertising and marketing used to manipulate customers into buying bad designs, but if they do that today it’s all over Facebook in seconds. Today’s engineer and salesperson have to co-create their products with the consumer – through design research and UX testing – because if they don’t develop empathy for their customers, they won’t have any.

Owen Daly-Jones, SVP Global Head of Sutherland Labs

The revolution is streaming on-demand

As we see the spread of collaborative tools in all aspects of life, from using the office Slack to work more effectively on projects to dictating our shopping list to Alexa, from paying our taxes online to catching-up with last week’s TV shows on-demand, it’s easy to miss what a huge social change that represents. It’s not that long ago that employees worked in silos and spent years in meetings, and never worked from home; when shopping was a time consuming trip; when paying bills meant posting cheques and dealing with the government was writing in triplicate and always inconvenient; and as for your favourite TV show, you had to watch it  when the TV company told you to… or fiddle with a VHS recorder, a VHS cassette and argue with the rest of the family if there was a viewing schedule clash.

Image of amazon echo

These might seem like minor individual changes, but on aggregate they represent a huge shift in the power of the ordinary citizen to shape their workplace, retail and civic experiences. In much the same way that in today’s cars, we have ergonomic seating and airbags… or head-up displays and audio warnings to improve driver safety… all of which come from jet fighters, where they were designed to improve pilot safety… which is where UX started.

Perhaps that’s the most interesting thing about the UX revolution, because at no point has it been an adversarial conflict between disciplines or a clash of philosophy. It’s a been a steady effort of collaboration and co-creation with users, that has evolved a new set of norms that have changed the economy and the experiences of ordinary people through design. Then again, if anything was going to transform society quietly without causing a fuss, what else but a discipline that’s built on empathy? It’s not so much revolution as evolution.

The evolution will not be televised. Groovy.

February 2018’s Coolest Things Wed, 07 Mar 2018 14:56:13 +0000 February 2018’s Coolest Things

Open warfare rages across the Sutherland Labs Slack channel. Each month our champions gather and clash in the only battle that matters; the battle to find the coolest thing that has happened this month on the internet. Usually we have a lot of strong contenders, but this month three of them really blew the rest out of the water. So, without further fanfare, here are the coolest things that we saw in February!

The Nordic Service Design Movie

It is indicative of the straightforward nature of this project that the name tells you almost everything that you might want to know about it. For all that it lays out its concepts in simple terms, this movie also explores the intricacies of the current Nordic model of Service Design, interviewing experts across Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway to give the viewer a better idea of what makes service design within those countries so unique. Looking to the way that new developments have struck one industry to extrapolate how those same changes will impact every other industry. With an emphasis on how to create value in a world where so many fundamentals of design have been overturned and revolutionized, this production from the Service Design Network is well worth the twenty minutes that it will take to watch, and it is available for free!

Companies Changing the World

The 2018 NewCo Honors Nominees have just been announced, and while each of them are doing fascinating things and leading their own industries, the real reason for their nominations isn’t that they are “disruptors.” The NewCo awards are for companies that are working towards a purpose larger than simply increasing their stock value. Businesses that are on a mission to improve the world and leave it a better place than they found it. Whether it is AirBnB’s effort to relieve housing crises during disasters, Panera Bread’s massive donations to fight food insecurity or younger organizations like Brandless and Nurx; every nominee for these awards has combined philanthropy with their business model at a foundation level.

SpaceX Launch

An awards ceremony and a documentary may be extremely interesting, but it is hard to deny that this last entry into the Coolest Things contest has a little bit more flair. A mysterious light streaked across the sky above the San Francisco Bay, but before rumours of alien invasions could even get started the truth came out. SpaceX had launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Vanderberg Airforce Base. Successfully carrying a Spanish radar mapping satellite into orbit, this was one of the first clear indicators that sub-contracted privately-owned space travel might be an ongoing viable alternative to the national agencies of the past. There are already plans in motion to use the same style of rocket to deliver a series of satellites into orbit to provide a space-based global internet service.

And that is all that we have time for this month, come back in around four weeks-time to watch the next brave gladiators stride out into the arena of coolness!

Nurse Alexa: The Rise of the Voice Tech Carer Thu, 01 Mar 2018 13:30:18 +0000 Nurse Alexa: The Rise of the Voice Tech Carer

The accessibility applications of voice technology are only just beginning to be realized. A digital assistant like Alexa or Siri, when integrated into a home with other smart devices, can completely revolutionize the life of someone with a visual impairment or mobility issues.

Previously, dozens of individual adaptations would have to be made around the house to report information back to someone who had trouble seeing but now all that data can be filtered through a single central device. For people who struggle with dexterity, fidgety technical tasks like setting a thermostat or an oven can be eliminated. For someone who struggles to move around the home environment, being able to control devices around the building from anywhere in earshot of their digital assistant is equally revolutionary.

Physical disabilities are not the extent of the voice revolution’s impact on accessibility. Digital assistants were tested with users who had voice impediments to ensure that they would be usable, and while some effort was required on the part of those users to get the required responses, it was just part of the same learning curve that every new user was on when learning to use the technology. In the same way, people with cognitive impairments and learning disabilities found voice slightly more difficult to use initially but reached the same competence plateau as other users fairly swiftly.

For people with mental health concerns, digital assistants can provide a vital point of socialization. Allowing people who suffer from executive dysfunction as a result of depression or autism to do much more than they could previously with no emotional cost to asking an AI for assistance. Because digital assistants can also remove barriers to action for communications, they can be very helpful for improving socialization for people who have trouble reaching out.

Man speaking to an Amazon Echo

One of the most interesting areas that we have studied relating to voice driven digital assistants is their use in care for Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory loss. A digital assistant will never replace human carers, but it can fill several useful niches, and provide a useful tool to determine how some of these diseases progress. For someone who is struggling to recall information, being able to simply ask someone without any shame can provide a great deal of relief for dementia sufferers.

For carers, being able to check the search history on a device after a period of time when the patients have been left to their own devices can reveal how often they have acquired but failed to retain the same piece of information. In the same way that some parents use a child’s search history to monitor their behaviour and interests to ensure that they aren’t straying into dangerous waters, so too can the carers of the mentally ill or those suffering from dementia use that information to monitor potentially dangerous patterns of behavior.

Image of Google home

Digital assistants look like they are going to become the user interface for a wide variety of new technologies in the “Internet of Things,” including many technologies that haven’t even been developed yet, they seem to have been designed with accessibility in mind. It’s great to see that this new tech, designed for the convenience of the average user, is passing on an even greater degree of convenience to users with disabilities.

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