Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Thu, 23 Mar 2017 14:08:31 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Copyright 2017, Sutherland Innovation Labs - Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. The UX of Mum Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:46:24 +0000 The UX of Mum

When it comes down to it, Mums have a lot in common with Design Thinkers. A day doesn’t go by that a Mum doesn’t use her deep behavioral understanding to prevent problems before they can develop. Helping both her clients (those delightful children that you can see screaming in the back seat of the car), and the end users (every unsuspecting member of the public who those children are going to be inflicted on over the years).

Empathize and Ideate While Hiding Carrots on the Plate

When a Mum first starts out, her role is pretty straightforward: milk goes in one end of the baby and, failing any hiccoughs in the process, comes out the other end in a less pleasant form. If that was all that motherhood entailed then there would probably be a lot more of it going around. After just a few short months of peace with a nice cuddly warm smelly lump in a blanket, the user requirements begin to change. Milk is no longer appropriate, so the “baby” project needs to be changed to include a catering service. Environmental modification, covering sharp edges, moving ornaments gradually higher, becomes the next pressing concern, not to mention the multiple training programs that have to be offered.

A few years later, the “Mum” service has turned into a full-time occupation for a team of at least three people, including a dedicated taxi service, a psychologist and a full-service cleaner.

Prototype, Prototype, Prototype… with Poster Paint

Any mother can tell you that a child in school is always only 24 hours away from a crisis, ranging from minor to major. Normally this takes the form of a school project that was forgotten until the night before it was due. Thankfully most schools seem to acknowledge the tight deadlines that Mums are forced to work to and the majority of projects like designing robots or rocket-ships require nothing more than a model made out of whatever recyclable items are lying around the home, normally followed by a reverse engineered design document.

If the good people of the Fast Moving Consumer Goods industry thinks that they can turn around a fast prototype, they have never seen a mum armed with only a cardboard tube, some tinfoil, tape and a determined look in her eyes.

Child playing with toys

Deep Dive Research: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Pokemon

As with any other client, children are not a “one-size fits all” proposition. Every one of them comes with their own unique set of requirements, or more accurately, demands. A meal that was announced to be the best thing ever a mere week ago may now have become disgusting. The best friend that’s been scheduled to attend a party may have become a mortal enemy, due to a slight that adults cannot even decipher.

No moment in a child’s life more clearly displays the level of attentive research that a Mum undertakes as clearly as birthdays when, somehow, the exact gift that the child has been silently pining over, appears neatly wrapped before them.

Loving the Problem (Child)

If a child appears, fully dressed and not obviously starving at school every day, then it is likely that their mum has put together some sort of schedule for them. While the school run may start out as an intimidating flurry of early-morning tasks, it takes barely any time for a Mum to adopt a system of journey mapping to minimize stress and maximize every user’s experience on a daily basis.

Some Mums go a step further, helping to plan out their best results for their children’s entire future. The end result is the lesson that all experience designers learn eventually; no plan, however perfectly laid, survives unchanged after contact with the users.

So Happy Mother’s Day to all of you design thinking Mums out there, none of us would be here without you.

The Aversion to Innovation Thu, 16 Mar 2017 18:29:07 +0000 The Aversion to Innovation

There is a restaurant that never changes its menu. Every month it has fewer and fewer customers but the regulars like getting exactly the same thing every time they visit. Without the ever-dwindling number of regulars the whole place would go under. But of course it is already going under, slowly but surely.

Restaurant sign

To someone on the outside the solution is obvious. This restaurant needs to update their menu to something from this decade and bring in new customers. But to the restaurant owners it isn’t that simple. They know their regulars, they trust them to show up on schedule and any changes might disrupt that comfortable cycle.

Humans have a natural aversion to change. Change is frightening and change that comes with any element of risk is even more of a psychological problem. In psychological studies, subjects have been observed to choose the course with the minimum of risk, even when it eliminates any possibility of reward. Fear is a paralytic, it overwhelms the rational desire to make necessary changes and leaves you serving out the design equivalent of fondue.

In larger organizations these problems persist. In more complex corporate environments they worsen, especially when nobody is aware where responsibility for innovation falls. There’s a tendency to assume that coming up with solutions to the obvious problems is someone else’s job. Another set of psychological studies describe this as the “bystander effect.” The more people around who can take action, the more likely an individual is to absolve themselves of all responsibility. When you introduce formal structures like a corporate hierarchy, this effect is amplified by the assumption that decisions are either made higher up the chain of command or are the responsibility of some other branch.


We find that organizations often need to bring in outside consultation to make changes even though they already have all the necessary skills and information to resolve their issues within their own house. It is also the reason that an empowered executive, a Chief Experience Officer, is being added into organizational charts across the world with a remit to make the vital changes required.

Outside perspective and expertize are only some of the things that a team like Sutherland Labs can offer, we also provide a sense of safety while changes are being made, a roadmap to the new pattern of events. Change still sets off a primal reaction in our brains. There is no way to avoid the fact that as a species we hate to see familiar patterns being disrupted but, with immersive research and thoughtful design, our experience designers can predict the patterns that will replace them. Giving peace of mind as well as qualitative improvement.

Experience design is all about understanding human nature, so pretending that people are going to act against their nature isn’t an option. Once you realize that you are bound by the same constraints as the people that you are researching, it is possible for you to start making changes to your menu.

The Digitalization of Dining Wed, 15 Mar 2017 14:25:56 +0000 The Digitalization of Dining

As the days are getting longer and friends have started to reawaken themselves from winter hibernation I’ve started to go out more for meals out after work and during the weekends. Since moving to London in 2007 I’ve seen a massive change in how my friends and I eat. Options for eating have never been more extensive.

There are a myriad of apps for booking restaurants, ordering delivery, groceries and pre-prepared meals. With all the apps on the market, how could potential developers design a competitive app? User research (such as user-testing or in-context interviews) can help us understand what people’s real needs are and how to design for those requirements.

One of the ways we can gather data is through vox pops. We went out on the streets of Covent Garden to ask how people eat today, and when they do what is important to them. Here’s what they said:

Trusted recommendations are important

People will base their restaurant choices on trusted recommendations – from either friends or family, and then secondly from sources that they hold in high regard – such as food blogs and magazines.

Because of this, when designing an app, consider thinking about including verified recommendations from a friend’s social media account or trusted sources

Include useful but necessary information

People commented that some of the apps they use do not give information such as whether a place is child friendly, has gluten free food, is vegetarian or caters to religious dietary requirements. This could deter them from visiting, meaning the restaurants miss out on potential customers. Making more search options or filters available would help.


Create a fuss free booking experience

People want to book restaurants quickly and without signing up to anything. They also like to be shown if tables are available up front, i.e. before they start the booking process.


Special thanks to Jennifer Walters for her help on this post. 

Who To Follow On International Women’s Day Wed, 08 Mar 2017 15:16:09 +0000 Who To Follow On International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is as important today as it was back in the early 1900s when it was first founded. Women around the world today are still fighting for the same basic rights as Suffragettes were back then and striving for respect, empathy, dignity and equality between all people.

International Women's Day - Sutherland Labs

To mark International Women’s Day this year we asked the Sutherland Labs teams which women they’d recommend you follow:

Kate Ancketill

The founder and CEO of GDR Creative Intelligence, a consultancy that aims to inspire innovation across industries and guides businesses through the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” where the digital and physical worlds will fuse.

Follow Kate: @kateancketill

Dinah Davis

A research and development director, technology evangelist and the founder of Code Like A Girl; an initiative to support women in the STEM and technology fields to support one another, and to encourage women to pursue a career in tech.

Follow Dinah: @Code_LikeAGirl

Jodie Fox

The founder of Shoes of Prey, a hybrid manufacturer and retailer that recognizes all of the pressures and problems that women face when it comes to their feet, and offers stylish fully customizable solutions.

Follow Jodie: @shoesofprey

Candy Chang

The creator of multiple urban improvement projects, ranging from community chalkboards that allow for local event organization in Johannesburg, South Africa to Post-It Notes in Brooklyn, New York that let people break the barrier of silence surrounding rent prices.

Follow Candy: @candychang

Sue Black

An advisor to the UK government, a tech evangelist and the founder of TechMums; a community of mothers who use their communal technical knowledge to uplift other women through education and a global support network.

Follow Sue: @Dr_Black

Jessi Hempel

The head of editorial at Backchannel, a news website that examines the culture surrounding new technology, considering all of the ways that it interacts with existing social structures and the ways in which it disrupts them.

Follow Jessi: @jessiwrites

Amy Cueva

The founder of Mad*Pow, an UX design agency that has consulted for some of the biggest companies across the American healthcare system to improve the experiences of both patients and medical staff.

Follow Amy: @AmyCueva

It is no surprise that the women at NASA are currently a big source of inspiration for the women at Sutherland, with many of them citing Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Johnson, Sally Ride, Nancy Grace Roman, and Mae Jemison. Women who were recently immortalized in the award winning film Hidden Figures and are now receiving even higher commemoration – in our opinion – in the form of Lego Mini-Figures.

Other, more contemporary, groups of inspirational women keep coming up in conversation too. The Ladies That UX (@LadiesthatUX) are a monthly meet-up of women in the user experience industry, promoting a sense of community and helping one another to progress. Women Who Code (@WomenWhoCode) are a non-profit organization devoted to inspiring women to excel in the field of technology, boasting over 80,000 members worldwide and spanning 20 countries.

Of all the people in Sutherland Labs that we asked about inspirational figures, almost every one immediately started listing the women that they worked with. So today of all days, it is important for women everywhere to remember that your excellence and successes don’t just benefit you, they are an inspiration to the women around you too.

Happy International Women’s Day from Sutherland Labs.


Thanks go to our team for all the contributions and nominations that make up this post.

Splittable: The house-sharing app that does the maths Thu, 02 Mar 2017 16:07:23 +0000 Splittable: The house-sharing app that does the maths

Since leaving home ten years ago, I have moved house 12 times. In fact, 2017 marks the first year that I will have lived in one place for over twelve consecutive months. My residential experience has run the full gamut of: University halls, shared student houses, living abroad in short-term lets, living alone in a rented flat, lodging with a landlady and finally, my current shared house with housemates I met through the website

Splittable captures virtual IOU's using an 'All Squared Meter'

Splittable captures virtual IOU's using an 'All Squared Meter'

Most of these experiences have something in common though: the ever-present painpoint of sharing expenses.

With the best will in the world, it is easy to lose track of who bought what, and who owes what to whom. The consequences can also be dire – passive aggressive notes and Whatsapp messages, neglected chores, and an overall climate of bad feeling, all of which combine to make your home an unpleasant place to come back to. New app Splittable is changing all of that.

It’s all about transparency

Launched in April 2015 by co-founders Nicholas Katz and Vasanth Subramanian, Splittable aims to reduce household stress by making your transactions transparent. We’ve been using it in our house since August (2016), and we’re quietly impressed. Splittable, which has both an app and a website, allows you to create a digital ‘house’ and log communal expenditures – what they were, who paid and how much. The app then tallies the costs and divides them between the relevant housemates. Splittable’s ‘All Squared Meter’, a running total of IOUs, is surfaced in the home screen making it easy to see at a glance who’s in debt to the house. No more sticking receipts on the fridge or wrestling with your housemate’s inability to enter data on the group spreadsheet.

Splittable’s approach appears to be paying dividends to its users already. In a recent survey Zoopla found that the average renter is unaware how much he pays per month on rent and utilities, often underestimating by a whopping ~30%. By contrast, Splittable users are able to estimate their running costs more accurately, to within 5% of the actual.

The app (which is mostly what we use) includes a whole bunch of useful features. It’s recently become possible to pay and request payment through it (managed by debit card and bank account information). If you prefer not to pay through the app, just ask your roomie for cash, log the payment and watch the totals tumble. Splittable is also in the process of rolling out a new feature, which will allow housemates to pay utilities costs directly through the app.

On web, you’re offered a bit more segmentation. Besides bank statement-style enumeration of your expenditure, you can group costs by type (e.g. see how much you’ve spent on groceries, or utilities). You can also add recurring costs and customize how costs are split (maybe you pay less rent because your room is smaller).

It’s also easy to set up and archive houses, add and remove housemates. In cities like London, where housemates turn over at a rate of knots, this offers a much more convenient way of sharing costs than setting up a joint bank account or trying to make sure everyone pays into a cash kitty. From this perspective, Splittable should perhaps be viewed as more of a hybrid fintech startup – more of a Monzo or an Uber – than an Airbnb or Spareroom (who they’re already working with, by the way).

Splittable App

Wider applications

Other opportunities for Splittable also spring to mind. Ever tried to organize a Stag or Hen party? What about group holidays? A Splittable-like approach to these could certainly to help manage communal costs fairly and transparently, not to mention de-escalate tensions.

Likewise, a number of potential hookups present themselves. Could fintech startups like Monzo offer a link in? Perhaps offering to push purchases made via a Monzo card to Splittable?  And what about adding a chat function? Currently our house’s chat takes place in Whatsapp. Links with retailers or takeaway delivery companies like Just Eat or Deliveroo could also offer value. Is there also scope for linking with IoT-enabled devices such as smart thermostats to monitor and manage energy outgoings?

House-sharing can present all sorts of benefits, but there’s no denying it can generate a whole lot of problems. By placing the user front and centre in its design, Splittable has produced a strong product with huge potential to disrupt financial decision-making in the home. I’ll certainly be watching this one with interest.

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
Creating a global entertainment experience Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:37:27 +0000 Creating a global entertainment experience

Sutherland Labs has enjoyed a long, fruitful partnership with a British media giant and enabler of global entertainment, helping to refine its customer experience, software, marketing communications and website.

Remote and screen


How effective is our on-demand download service? What typeface would work best on our new TV interface? How can our customers record their favourite shows quickly and easily? How might our website landing page work best? These are the kind of questions to which we have helped our client – over the course of many years – find inspired answers.


In-depth interviews. Focus groups. Filmmaking. Journey maps. We’ve applied numerous different methods to enhance user experience for this dynamic, long-standing client.


Our work has led to the introduction of compelling new interfaces, content cataloguing systems and other innovative features – such as the ability to download shows directly to a set-top box, which, at the time, was considered groundbreaking. Beyond this, we’ve nurtured a culture of design thinking within the company – one which now leaps to solve problems and find desirable solutions for its millions of daily users.

Workshop session