Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Sun, 23 Apr 2017 13:45:27 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Copyright 2017, Sutherland Innovation Labs - Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. The rise of high speed learning in the digital world Fri, 21 Apr 2017 13:39:12 +0100 The rise of high speed learning in the digital world

The world is accelerating and the speed that we learn about it will need to speed up too. How can we gain new understanding and develop new skills at the same pace that the world is rushing forward?

Humans are adaptable and so are our brains. One adaption that guaranteed our species survival was our capacity to forage for food, and it seems now we are in the verge of a new adaptation essential to our existence, our capacity to forage for information.

In comic books, Superman used his incredible sense of hearing and his ability to speed-read to give him the advantage over his opponents. Super speed is possible for us mere mortals too. There are countless programs to improve reading speed and comprehension, all of which rely on engaging our brains with the material we are trying to understand instead of passively absorbing it.

When it comes to listening, research has shown that brains of some people who are blind can adapt to comprehend spoken language at a rate of 22 syllables per second, quite a bit faster than the average of 8. In practical terms this means that they could listen to 3 audio books in the time it takes a sighted person to read one.

App for high velocity learning

Here is a sample of speech at 16 syllables a second, well beyond the average person’s ability to understand, but to someone with impaired sight, it is simple enough:

If your brain hasn’t quite adapted to that rate of listening yet, there is still hope. About 10% of the people who watch the educational videos of Khan Academy view them at a higher speed than they were recorded at. 50% of podcast app users listen to their programming in what is known as “smart speed” an accelerated playback that eliminates moments of silence. There are even brain-training apps out there that boast improvements to your listening speed by up to 10 times, although even experts on the subject recognize that anything above 5 times the speed ceases to be enjoyable.

User listening to a podcast

Wouldn’t all this rushing hurt your comprehension? Researchers from North Carolina and Florida Universities found that people listening to scientific information at 1.5 times the usual speed retained just as much information as people listening to it at the normal speed.

Speed alone isn’t going to be enough to keep pace in the new 1.5 speed world. Clive Thompson of goes a step further saying, “We need tools that nimbly parse multimedia.” Voice dictation software that can simultaneously create audio transcripts, podcast apps that automatically remove every moment of dead air and speed reading apps that can track the speed of your eye movement to keep text scrolling at the same pace that you are reading are just the beginning.

While we can train our brains towards faster information foraging, it is no easy task and any glitches could lead to permanent and even fatal errors in judgement and decision making. We need our brains to learn faster, retain more and filter wisely. In the world of fast food, speed dating and speed learning we need a 1.5 performing brain!

Labs Life: Getting to know Vanessa Sevilhano Tue, 18 Apr 2017 17:29:51 +0100 Labs Life: Getting to know Vanessa Sevilhano

Each week we try to give our readers insight into the inner workings of Sutherland Labs. This week, we’re talking to Vanessa Sevilhano, Sutherland’s Design Strategy Manager, a Star Wars fan and the proud owner of a timeshare stake in two dogs.

What does a Design Strategy Manager do?

Vanessa: My job is to influence clients to always think about users first, and help them define the best strategy to go about designing, developing and delivering new services and product design. I work in a collaborative environment spread out across four different time-zones. Mornings are usually the busiest time, fielding conference calls with clients around the world, remotely attending staff meetings and responding to all the vital emails. I get to focus on projects in the afternoon, working on new proposals, planning workshops or getting my head down to research and analyze data.

Please explain the dog situation.

Vanessa: I love animals, I even wanted to be a veterinarian when I was younger, but this job comes with a lot of travel, which isn’t ideal for pets. We have one dog in Brazil that our friends are taking care of and a part-time dog here in Boston that we take care of when our Argentinian friends are away travelling for their work.

Vanessa's dog in Brazil

What did you do before you came to Sutherland?

Vanessa: I have fifteen years of experience working on the client side of things, mostly in fast moving consumer goods, working with companies like Kraft Foods and Philip Morris. Fast moving consumer goods companies have a long history of doing work the way we do at Sutherland, applying consumer insights to drive new product development, innovation and marketing initiatives.

I first joined Sutherland in the Innovation team because I thought it would be good to get some experience in the service industry and move away from manufacturing. My jobs before were all in market research and consumer insights so applying the same approach to Design Thinking, which is all about focusing on the user, felt completely natural.

Vanessa laughing at workshop

What do you do for fun?

Vanessa: I like to watch movies, drink wine, travel and food. Not necessarily in that order. I love films that are based on true stories and documentaries but my all time favourite of all time has to be Star Wars.

I get a lot of inspiration from new cultures and new flavours. I am not a foodie, just a regular person who enjoys trying new dishes, new street food and new restaurants wherever I go. I even like to visit the local super-markets when I am away from home to see what new and interesting things they have available.

Brazilian chocolate

What do you think the future of your job will look like?

Vanessa: Artificial intelligence, technological breakthroughs, economic power shifts, sustainability and changing demographics are going to disrupt every industry. Flexibility and adaptation are going to become more and more important. Designers value adaptation and prototyping, we embrace change and risk instead of shying away from it.

Designers value adaptation and prototyping, we embrace change and risk instead of shying away from it.

I think that the design industry is going to be changing too; we are going to see over-use of design thinking concepts and terminology by people who don’t really grasp what they mean. I once joined a 5-hour long design course where the instructor promised that at the end of the day all the participants would be ready to apply Design Thinking and create breakthroughs services and products. If everyone can take a half-day course and come out as a “Designer” then over-simplification and trivialization of the whole industry is a real risk. It could lead to design practices being misused and discredited. We might have to re-design the whole thing!

Dogs with flexible working hours, trans-continental super-market snacking and working in four time zones a day are just part of what makes life interesting. Come back next week for more Labs Life!

The Easter Bunny and Product Evolution Thu, 13 Apr 2017 14:53:04 +0100 The Easter Bunny and Product Evolution

Once upon a time there was a rabbit who laid eggs. Not chicken eggs, or rabbit eggs with little rabbits inside, but chocolate eggs. This rabbit would hop around laying chocolate eggs in hidden places all around the world for children to come along and find. If any part of that story doesn’t make sense to you then you are not alone.

The Easter Bunny that we all know and love is the product of natural selection. It started off life back in the pagan festivals of the spring equinox as a huge hopping hare of a fertility symbol.

Then along came Christianity, and our mad March hare transformed into an innocent little bunny rabbit. That was the first evolution that our furry little friend had to make to survive. Despite having no link, however tenuous, between a rabbit and the Christian holiday of Easter it somehow snuck by unnoticed. The Bunny was eventually assigned the job of delivering eggs all over the world, co-opting some of Old Saint Nick’s shtick to ensure that children had a vested interest in continuing to believe in it. Even though the eggs themselves have a very shaky connection to the religious celebration.

Wooden rabbit in plant pot

A further evolution mainly hit the rabbit in the wardrobe department as Lewis Caroll’s Alice Through The Looking Glass gained popularity. The White Rabbit, lagomorph style icon, was in as much of a hurry as a Bunny trying to deliver chocolate to every child in the world. People made the mental connection and the Easter Bunny started sporting some rather fancy Victorian waistcoats.

The journey of the Easter Bunny could be seen as a classic example of Darwinian evolution being applied to a concept rather than a creature. Yes, it has adapted through centuries of cultural changes to remain relevant, but survival is the absolute lowest benchmark of success. Evolution does not produce good design; sometimes you are left with dozens of hold-over features, many of which interfere with the smooth running of your concept. None of these faults are serious enough to stop the creature from reproducing, or the idea from propagating, but they do nothing to help it either.

Humans may be forgiving when it comes to their ritual behaviors having underlying logic, but when it comes to technology, the Easter Bunny equivalents are in some serious trouble. The addition of new features can leave us with legacy systems and inertia, with floppy disk save icons and typewriter features on our keyboards. Precisely why we need design thinking instead of product evolution. Design thinking encourages us to consider, through the customer’s eyes, not only what functions to include but equally what to omit or remove to improve overall customer experience.

Easter bunnies in flower boxes

In the Easter Bunny ‘experience’ redundant features like fertility symbolism are just a nuisance to navigate around. Add-on features like a chocolate delivery service are great, but when you get to the stage of adding steampunk aesthetics in a desperate bid to make your product relevant and hip it is probably time to close up shop.

In nature, the creatures which fail at evolution collapse under the weight of their own useless features and go extinct. In a competitive market, there is no niche for poorly evolved products like dapper rabbits that plop out chocolate eggs.

Labs Life: Getting to know Imogen Clark Tue, 11 Apr 2017 14:58:06 +0100 Labs Life: Getting to know Imogen Clark

Each week we try to give our readers insight into the inner workings of Sutherland Labs. This week, we’re introducing you to Dr Imogen Clark – a Design Researcher, Anthropologist and Soprano with a plan to hike up every single mountain in the world, both literal and figurative.

What does a Design Researcher do?

Imogen: Exactly what it says on the tin. I research designs. Nothing beats sitting down and spending time with the people who use a product or service to really understand it. My findings then feed into the design process. This could be making improvements to existing designs, or designing something from scratch.

More broadly, though, I look at how people use things to transform their worlds. These could be little, everyday transformations, or big game-changing alterations. At the end of the day, it comes down to examining that interface between ourselves and the world around us. What relationship we have with it, and what relationship we want to have with it.

Imogen Clarke writing on post-it notes

What did you do before you came to Sutherland?

Imogen: I studied for a doctorate in Anthropology. My research looked at how Tibetan refugees living in settlements in the Indian Himalayas created a home away from home using material culture, or physical things: architecture, interior design, clothing and the physical landscape. It might sound worlds apart from my current role, but really it’s about the same things: creating and transforming people’s experiences.

How does being an anthropologist help you in the world of Design Research?

Imogen: I remember that when I interviewed for my current post I talked a lot about empathy, and I think that is one of the core things that studying anthropology drills into you. There is a whole lot of difference out there in the world. Sometimes that seems to equate to a whole lot of problems, but if you think about it, it also means there are a whole lot of solutions as well, just waiting to be matched up.

I spent a lot of time in the Pitt Rivers Museum as a student. It’s organized in a way most museums today aren’t: it doesn’t group objects by culture or geography, it groups them by purpose. So you’ll have a whole case full of pottery from all over the world, another full of amulets, another of combs. This kind of ‘typological’ arrangement actually does a lot to show you how similar we all are the world over, not how different. We’ve all come up with varied solutions to the same problems. Problems and solutions are now my stock-in-trade, except that I’m looking at digital things rather than pottery or clothing or fire-making equipment. But at the end of the day it’s all technology.

There is a whole lot of difference out there in the world. Sometimes that seems to equate to a whole lot of problems, but if you think about it, it also means there are a whole lot of solutions as well, just waiting to be matched up.

Stack of Imogen's books

What do you do for fun?

Imogen: I sing soprano for the choir of St Alfege’s in Greenwich, this gives me my English choral music fix on Thursdays and Sundays! Otherwise, I can’t get enough of the outdoors. I’m currently planning a walking trip to Fort William to finally do Ben Nevis, I’ve also hiked in the Himalayas and Myanmar. The GR20 on the island of Corsica is on my bucket list too.

Beautiful landscape scene

Can you name a service that would benefit from design thinking?

Imogen: The postal service. Post is magical, there is nothing like a real, goddamn, handwritten letter and I would hate to see us moving entirely to Whatsapp or email out of sheer frustration. There are so many pain-points in using postal services the world over that are pushing us away from this tangible contact form. A bit of design thinking could work wonders.

Will Dr Clark’s choral career crescendo? Will she complete the GR20? Come back next week for another installment of ‘Labs Life’ to find out these answers and more.

Mew-X: What cats teach us about design research Thu, 06 Apr 2017 13:42:19 +0100 Mew-X: What cats teach us about design research

After spending some time with the people here at Sutherland, you notice one thing that our researchers, in particular, seem to have in common. Cats. Not all of them have cats, but they are all cat people. Not cat human hybrids, we don’t do that kind of research, but those people who are just really into cats.

All of which makes perfect sense when you consider how similar design research and cat ownership really are. Just like most of the users we study, cats don’t communicate with you, they don’t fill in surveys, and they vote with their feet. It also highlights the difference between immersive design research and only looking at sales figures.

Pablo the cat hiding in a brown bag

When you put a bowl of food down in front of a cat, they will either eat what’s in the bowl or they won’t. If you don’t know the cat, then you would assume that the cat doesn’t like the food. However, if you have taken the time and done your research, you might discover a whole host of other possibilities. For example…

Some cats only eat at a certain time of day, when they will happily swoop back in and demolish the bowl of food, which you’d assumed they’d rejected. Some cats won’t eat if they consider their food bowl is too close to their litter tray. Rearranging furniture is often enough to get them tucking in quite happily. Some cats won’t eat while a human is in the room. Some will only eat if a human is in the room. Other cats will only eat if there’s another cat is in the room, who’s threatening to eat the food they’ve just turned their nose up at.

Pablo the cat sat on top of microwave

Some very particular cats will only eat food with certain flavours. But, by their nature, cats normally like to cycle through different kinds of food, meaning that food they’re offered one day may be unacceptable the next, or their favourite food today will be a source of disgust tomorrow. There will always be outliers, like the cat that only eats food with cheese grated on top or the cat that will only eat tuna, but for the most part cats are complex little creatures with their own distinct personalities. Just like users.

Cute kitten in blanket

If you were only using sales figures, then the bowl of food that you just put down in front of the cat is an absolute failure. The cat didn’t want it. But if you learn to understand the cat, you can find out what changes need to be made to satisfy the cat’s needs, or you can learn that you don’t need to change anything at all. That your service or product is just being offered at the wrong place or the wrong time, or alternatively that you need to give your users a scratch behind the ears before they are ready to tuck in to their dinner.

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
Creating a global entertainment experience Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:37:27 +0100 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