Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Wed, 28 Jun 2017 15:35:52 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Copyright 2017, Sutherland Innovation Labs - Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. How Human Evolution Influences Good Design Wed, 28 Jun 2017 12:38:49 +0100 How Human Evolution Influences Good Design

Americans toss over 38 billion plastic bottles into landfill sites annually where they then decompose over the course of a century. Solving the problem of water bottles is going to be significant to the environment, so it is no wonder that designers have been looking at alternative solutions. Most recently, the clever people at Skipping Rock Labs in London have come up with the “Ooho,” a kind of edible water balloon that looks a little like a friendly jellyfish and more than a little like an A-Cup silicone breast implant. The idea is that you bite into the bubble, drink your fill and then either eat the remaining algae-based skin or toss it away to rapidly biodegrade. No waste, no fuss.

Landfill site

The size and shape are a bit of design genius, calling on human nature to communicate the Ooho’s function. These little bubbles are a lot more appealing to look at than a bottle. There is an innate urge to pick one up and bite into it that relates back to our evolutionary ancestors and their instinct to snatch up similarly sized fruit. The same attraction is why so many decorative soaps come labelled prominently with warnings not to eat them and why so many addictive sweet treats are small and brightly coloured. We may live in cities, dress in clothes, and talk on cell phones but the vast majority of our brain remains pure primate. Beyond the unnatural desire to gobble soap, our hold-over evolutionary responses shape a huge amount of modern design.

For example, bright colors are fundamental to how we design things. Our eyes are drawn to bright colours in favour of dull ones regardless of the shapes and speeds of the objects that are coloured with them because plants that tasted good to our ancestors just happened to be those colors. We dress in colorful clothes. We paint our faces in bright colors. We drive in cars that are brightly colored. We paint our homes in bright colors. The Nest smart thermostat is a prime example, it changes color according to the current temperature to give users an intuitive understanding of the situation without having to examine it closely. Providing information at a glance.

Illustration by Monica Giunchi

Illustration by Monica Giunchi

What we consider to be intuitive design, particularly when it comes to computers, also relates to our sense of pattern recognition. The same logic that we use when we look at a patterned wallpaper and see faces hidden in the design shapes our understanding of new systems. Both of these weird abilities stem from our ancestors’ talent for detecting patterns in nature that might indicate a predator. The primates who lacked that talent didn’t live long enough to become our ancestors.

Although websites and apps have only been around for an incredibly brief time in human history, there are already preferred patterns for user interfaces. Certain Design Patterns are already being codified as the “best practice” because of their inherent familiarity.

So between familiar patterns and bright colors we find the vast majority of human centred design. Every new idea presented as part of a design is dressed up in either one or the other to prevent us from experiencing that last evolutionary hold-over from when we were hunted as prey, fear.

Disruption to the pattern around us was lethally dangerous when we lived in trees and we still experience a terrible lurch in our stomach’s when something isn’t where we expected it to be. There is nothing more difficult for a designer than to make their product intuitive. Using the right color for the context of the product, using a pattern that is familiar to the audience while smoothly introducing any new elements can be almost impossible without a deep understanding of the cultural significance of those colors and patterns in different places around the world, which is where our natural instincts end and Design Research takes over.

Wholefoods, Amazon and the Future of Your Groceries Tue, 27 Jun 2017 15:40:04 +0100 Wholefoods, Amazon and the Future of Your Groceries

Amazon’s purchase of the upscale grocery chain Wholefoods created quite an uproar this month. For many people the takeover has been a source of confusion too, why would the online retail behemoth have any interest in purchasing a swathe of food stores in the physical world?

Wholefoods - London

Online grocery shopping has become absolutely vital to many people, particularly those who live in food deserts, the elderly, disabled people and, in particular, people who like to meticulously plan out their week’s purchases to manage their budget. However, for the vast majority grocery shopping remains one area in which they prefer to visit an actual store. The resistance may be rooted in a lack of trust in employees’ abilities to handpick the specific goods required, the loss of tactile sensation with no chance to squeeze the fruit for ripeness, or the lack of the surprise and delight that people experience as they are exploring a grocery store and making impulse purchases.

Wholefoods - London

The obvious step for a company trying to capture both the devoted online shopper and the dedicated resistance is to create an omnichannel experience, combining the online and physical stores. Amazon’s bookstores are the most obvious example of this, with the online reviews of books displayed in store and price-matching available. Some grocery stores offer a “click and collect” option, where you make your purchases online and then visit the store to pick them up. Something that has been particularly helpful for adult children helping their internet-averse parents.

To picture what an Amazon run Wholefoods is going to look like, and to imagine how it is going to lead the industry in new directions, we only need to look as far as the three key areas where Amazon has already been experimenting and excelling.

One of the big pain points in the grocery shopping experience is the checkout so in an experimental store that is only open to employees of the company Amazon eliminated them entirely. Staff would present their identification on arrival and the AI running the store would keep track of what they picked up from the shelves using unobtrusive cameras and sensors dotted around the shop floor. When the shoppers left the store, any items they had been observed picking up were charged to their account. The technology is still in trials, but it doesn’t seem implausible that Wholefoods will become the first cashier free grocery store chain in the USA.


An area where Amazon’s online presence absolutely excels is list-making, their wish-list system is so beloved that it has been expanded to include products that aren’t even sold by Amazon. A shopping list making application that could be kept updated with stock levels and arranged it items by location in store would be of great appeal to the hyper-organized type of person who just wants to get their shopping over and done with as quickly as possible while still allowing for the enjoyment of impulse purchases. People are already using the Amazon Alexa to create orders from the website verbally, integrating smart fridges which can order groceries for collection would be a simple task and Amazon have already rolled out their “Dash” buttons which can be fitted around the house so that you can just tap them to order specific products. The groundwork for a local omnichannel store has already been laid down.

The final area in which the mail order juggernaut is probably going to find itself excelling is, ironically, in fresh produce. Several major grocery retailers in Europe have begun using machine learning to predict purchasing trends and adjusting their stock levels accordingly and it has reduced wastage on fresh produce by almost 60% in one year. Considering the massive processing power at Amazon’s disposal it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that there will be exactly the right number of apples on the shelf each day for everyone who visits and not one more.

Even if Amazon make absolutely no changes to the way that the individual stores are run and Wholefoods continues as normal, this deal has provided Amazon with an amazing spread of property located primarily in high-income areas which they can use as an ideal staging grounds for the rollout of their drone delivery services. Having said that, it seems unlikely that a company like Amazon won’t make use of the massive toolbox of cutting edge technologies that they possess to improve the grocery shopping experience and completely disrupt the market.

Guiding Principles of Design Thinking Workshops Thu, 22 Jun 2017 10:52:32 +0100 Guiding Principles of Design Thinking Workshops

When recently running onsite workshops, such as those for Lawrence General Hospital, we started thinking about general rules of thumb for the Design Thinking workshops that we run for clients. A framework that we can all use during these vital visits.

The purpose of these workshops is to provide clients with the tools that they will need to move forward, spreading design thinking throughout their organizations, to help break down the barriers between different parts of a big business to improve to flow of communication and understanding and to foster empathy, both towards users and co-workers.

Delegate writing down ideas

Communication is Key

The first thing that we need to establish before we can even run a workshop is that we are talking to the right people and giving them information that they can understand and use. It is important for some of the people involved in the workshop to be able to actively influence the way that their business is run. There is no point in providing all the tools to make fundamental changes to an organization to somebody who doesn’t have the power or influence to make any changes.

Set Context and Expectations

While we always try to set expectations and establish the context of Design Thinking within the larger framework of an organization ahead of time, the first part of every Design Thinking workshop always has to be devoted to ensuring that the information that we have collected reflects the realities that the participants have experienced. It takes time for people to commit and engage with the contents of a workshop, so taking the time to develop some understanding in both directions is a great way to establish the trust needed to move forward.

Delegate presenting their thoughts

Think About Stakeholders and Participants

It is vital to invite participants from across the whole of the business, not just the executives. Large organizations have a tendency to stratify and form into small groups that speak in their own jargon and communicate poorly with other groups. By bringing in participants from the front-office, back-office and a few wild cards who interact with everyone you can ensure the best breadth of experience about the business, changing the dynamic of the workshop and adding insight from outside contexts.

Outline the Next Steps

Providing the workshop attendees with tools like journey maps and personas to better understand their users is a great way to build empathy, but it doesn’t necessarily provide them with the tools to fix the problems that they use that empathy to identify. Setting some time aside at the end of the workshop to brainstorm solutions to the specific problems while attendees from across the business are still present and able to give feedback is a great way to ensure that the next step is positive for everyone involved.

Delegates in discussions

Purpose of Place

When setting up a workshop it is important to ensure that there is access, space and facilities to suit everyone who is going to be attending. To lay out the seating in such a way that people can work in small groups but also easily communicate with the whole group. And to ensure that there is somewhere to attach all of the copious number of sticky notes that are required to capture every data point, thought and planned action.

Design Thinking requires a complete change of outlook from the traditional ways in which businesses and organizations are run and there is no way to cover all of the complex ways that human psychology and behavior interact with organizations, hierarchies and technology in a single day, but if the people in attendance can be convinced to start looking at the way that they run their business and start placing humans at the centre, change will ripple out and affect everything from the top to the bottom.

Inside the Labs: Customer Journey Mapping Tue, 20 Jun 2017 15:25:34 +0100 Inside the Labs: Customer Journey Mapping

One of our most commonly used tools is Customer Journey Mapping – it’s a great tool for understanding how your customers are really experiencing products and services, where there are pain points and opportunities to innovate.

But exactly what does the journey mapping process look like? Simon Herd and Imogen Clark from our London Labs took some time to walk us through the process.

SFDW: Strategic Planning vs. Too Many Futures Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:37:17 +0100 SFDW: Strategic Planning vs. Too Many Futures

Just when you thought that San Francisco Design Week couldn’t get any more exciting, along comes a whole new future to shake things up. “Workshop Your Futures” will delve into the shameful truth that all of the tech gurus and futurists in the world are trying to hide… there is no way to predict the future!

Instead of trying to guess at things that you have no way of predicting, the “Workshop Your Futures” event instead gives you the skills and tools that you need to analyze current trends and plan strategically for many possible outcomes, and the many possible futures that can spring out of each new development.

In this workshop, you will learn how to use classic strategic foresight techniques, design thinking and your own powers of innovation to prepare for the possibilities of the future. Formulating contingency plans to give you insight 5 years, 10 years or even 20 years ahead of the competition.

Led by the authors of the internationally beloved personal futures workbook “What The Foresight” Julia Rose West and Alida Draubt, this event will help you to prepare for things that are impossible to prepare for. So if you have an interest in technology, design education, product development or you are just curious about the possibilities, come on down to:

Sutherland Labs
128 Spear Street
Level 3
San Francisco, CA 94105

Between 18:30 and 21:30 on Tuesday the 20th of June.

Tickets for the event can be found here.

Design thinking to improve candidate experience Thu, 08 Jun 2017 15:21:26 +0100 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 +0100 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 +0100 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 +0100 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 +0100 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