Sutherland Innovation Labs Service design to improve customer and employee experiences. Sat, 02 Jul 2022 10:51:49 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Copyright 2022, Sutherland Innovation Labs - Sutherland Innovation Labs Service design to improve customer and employee experiences. Gotcha: What’s Your SAP? Mon, 20 Jun 2022 15:46:14 +0100 Gotcha: What’s Your SAP?

Superheroes, secret spy agents, and comedic sitcom stars all have one thing in common: they all have fantastic catch phrases. What makes these phrases so iconic? They’re short, snappy, and shaken, not stirred. But celebrities and our favourite writers don’t have a monopoly on cool catch phrases. As UX researchers, we have our own favourite phrases we turn to when encouraging participants to share their experiences. Our VP Head of Design Research, Andy Swartz, asked our US and UK based researchers what their go-to short affirmative phrases (SAPs) are.

‘Gotcha’ – Used by a few of our American based researchers, ‘gotcha’ is short, sweet, and to the point. It’s a quick and informal way to acknowledge what your participant is saying. Before turning to this SAP, consider who your audience is. Some participants and stakeholders might find it a bit too casual.

‘Cool’ – Kick it back old school style with this fundamental SAP. You can update it with ‘coolio’ or one of my favourites ‘cool beans’. Again, a bit more on the casual side.

(Jake Peralta, star of Brooklyn Nine Nine, is the king of the SAPs ‘Cool’, ‘Toit’, and ‘No doubt’. Source:

‘I understand; That’s interesting; That makes sense’ – A few different SAPs that demonstrate you’re listening and that your participant is providing useful information. This is a neutral-positive way to encourage your participants to keep sharing.

‘Thank you for sharing that with me; That’s exactly what we’re looking for’ – These SAPs offer a bit more depth and acknowledgement that your participant is on the right track. They can give participants who are a bit more nervous or new to research the boost they need to continue providing great feedback. Be careful not to overuse them though. It can start to come off as disingenuous. It can also make participants nervous, feeling that everything they say must meet a certain standard.

(A positive SAP from Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother, but it might be a bit too over the top for a user interview or stakeholder meeting. Source:

‘Awesome, good stuff!’ – This was my SAP as a fledgling researcher. As an American working in the UK, I had to adjust my mannerisms to match my participants’ expectations. I was informed that using these SAPs sounded disingenuous and overly excitable. I’ve since dropped these from my interviewing vocabulary, but turn to them regularly with friends and colleagues.

‘Mmm *nod*’ – A SAP can be more of an utterance combined with body language. Sometimes it’s best to refrain from using words and create space for the participant to continue speaking.

These are just a few SAPs that came out during our exercise. When coming up with your own SAP, think about your audience, intention, and identity. If you’re interviewing young people, for example, don’t jump straight to ‘totes!’ or ‘that’s lit!’. Use what you’re comfortable with and you’ll probably be fine! Now I want to know: What’s your go to SAP?

Show Up for Fem Gamers: Improving Your Social Support Tools is Good for Business Tue, 10 May 2022 16:44:52 +0100 Show Up for Fem Gamers: Improving Your Social Support Tools is Good for Business

There are many terms for  women and girls who game, some of which have negative and exclusionary connotations. In an attempt to be as inclusive as possible I will be using the phrase “fem gamers” in this piece to include all gamers who identify as female, and who come from a wide variety of identities and backgrounds. Being a fem gamer myself, I decided to focus on this demographic  because that’s the population I know best. I hope this piece inspires others to write about their experiences and share advice on how to make the gaming universe more inclusive.

The global gaming market was valued at 173.70 billion USD in 2020 by Mordor Intelligence. In such a competitive and lucrative market, expanding and maintaining your playerbase (the total number of active players in your game) should be a priority. Some tried and tested ways to increase player numbers are fixing bugs, adding content, and releasing downloadable content (DLC) . However, there’s an important piece to the playerbase retention and growth puzzle that many online gaming creators and publishers are missing: robust social support tools. Seeking social support is one of the strongest motivators for humans seeking out humans and is one of the main benefits of human relationships. There’s a wealth of research that shows online interactions, including via video games, is an effective way people seek out social support. Creating a positive social experience for your players requires fit for purpose social support tools e.g. code of ethics and reporting. Good social support tools could be the key to grow and support fem gamers and will also benefit your entire playerbase.

Women make up 45% of the global video game player base and are disproportionately affected by harassment in the games community, particularly in online games. In Europe’s Video Games Industry’s annual survey in 2020, only 23% of women reportedly play online games. Limelight’s 2019 white paper The State of Online Gaming indicates that men are more likely to play online than women. This disparity could be due to the amount of gender based harassment fem gamers receive. While men also experience harassment in online games, fem gamers disproportionately experience harassment due to their gender. 77% of women stated they have experienced at least one form of gender-specific discrimination which include things such as  their skills, gatekeeping, patronizing comments, and unsolicited relationship asks. To decrease the likelihood of being harassed, 59% of women hide their gender while playing online. In a thematic analysis of an online forum for fem gamers, users shared their strategies to reduce the likelihood of being harassed while playing online:

“A lot of the time I end up playing as male characters in MMORPGs so people don’t realize I’m a girl.”

“We try to hide what we are so people don’t flirt with us, send us stuff, send us messages we really don’t want, or pictures.”

“Better to play alone than subjecting myself to potential toxicity.”

These strategies are disheartening, to say the least, and may illustrate why numbers of online fem gamers are so low. Strategies that involved using social support tools were rarely mentioned, and many fem gamers  viewed them as being largely ineffective. For one such tool in a popular team based first person shooter, you can block someone and decline their friend request but they are still able to spam you with invites to play a custom match. In MMORPGs, it’s easy to create new accounts and characters after being blocked to continue harassing other players. These cracks in the social support system deter fem gamers from playing your online games. This could eventually lead to a shrinking playerbase and reduced revenue.

When you block a player but they still have the ability to harass you - based on a real fem gamer experience. Illustration: Jamie Blackett.

When you block a player but they still have the ability to harass you - based on a real fem gamer experience. Illustration: Jamie Blackett.

While game publishers can’t control other people’s behaviour directly, they can work towards improving their games’ social support tools to make communities more positive and inclusive. The quality of these tools impact the quality of play. Small tweaks can make a big impact on player retention and growth. Arguably, one of the best people to make these changes are the people affected by it. Which means you should be hiring more fem people. Including more voices and lived experience in the design and development process leads to more inclusive and successful outcomes.

An alert received after reporting a player with an inappropriate name - based on a real fem gamer experience. Illustration: Jamie Blackett.

An alert received after reporting a player with an inappropriate name - based on a real fem gamer experience. Illustration: Jamie Blackett.

User research is a cost effective way to identify the best ways to improve your social support tools. Gamers spend hours of their free time in your virtual worlds and are eager to help you create friendlier and more enjoyable virtual worlds. They are keen to let you know where the biggest pains in the social support journey are. Conducting this form of research will save your product and development team time and money by reducing guesswork and failed prototypes. One research method you could use is conducting a journey mapping workshop with fem gamers on how they really use your game’s social support tools. You can also conduct a daily diary study and follow up interviews to measure community satisfaction of these tools. Finally, an ethnographic field study where you immerse yourself in their world is a sure way to generate key insights into what draws in and pushes away fem players from participating in your franchise.

We are hopeful that the gaming world will make the changes it needs to become more inclusive.  if you need help conducting your own gaming research then get in touch with us! Our research team has decades of combined research experience in the gaming industry and we’re also gamers ourselves, so we get your playerbase!

Get in touch with us for free consultation by contacting Mark Brady.


Thank you to my colleague Jamie Blackett for the amazing artwork that accompanies this post! 

Selling Users Short: Frictionless UX Isn’t Always Better When It Comes To Investing Tue, 29 Mar 2022 15:02:37 +0100 Selling Users Short: Frictionless UX Isn’t Always Better When It Comes To Investing

Cooped up at home during lockdown, many of us dabbled in new hobbies. But with no access to a garden and, frankly, no desire to bake, I decided to turn my hand to investing.

Needless to say, I wasn’t the only one.

The pandemic has seen an explosion in investing. According to the most recent figures from the UK Financial Conduct Authority, 7.1m investing accounts were opened in the first 12 months of the pandemic. Many of these first-time investors were under-30, with one in six between the ages of 18 and 23.

Man looking at financial information on mobile phone

Their presence brought a new dynamic to the market, crystallizing in last year’s ‘memestocks’ craze. What started as a discussion on Reddit about untapped value at GameStop morphed into a crowdsourced campaign to bring a hedge fund to its knees.

In many ways, this was nothing new: hedge funds make losses all the time. But the fact it was engineered by retail investors was unlike anything Wall Street had seen before.

A key enabling force in all this has been the rise of app-based trading platforms. Offering commission-free trades, no account minimums and a slick user interface, these platforms have removed virtually all of the friction from investing.

However, while app-based platforms may make investing easier than ever before, they also bring new and unique risks.

The Dark Side of Experience

As we know, a good digital experience can be all-consuming, absorbing your attention and even encouraging unintended behaviours. Invariably, this is the result of specific techniques by product owners. While this may be seen as broadly acceptable in e-commerce or social media, when these same techniques are applied to investing, things start to get a bit problematic.

That’s because techniques such as gamification can distort the true nature of the market, resulting in warped decision-making and excessive risk-taking – neither of which are helpful when it comes to investing.

In fact, according to many experts, the best way to invest is to do as little as possible.

The Importance of Being Idle

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my short time in investing, it’s that it pays to be lazy.

Indeed, the world’s foremost investor, Warren Buffet, is such a fan of lazy, or ‘passive’, investing, that in 2008 he bet a hedge fund a million dollars that over ten years they wouldn’t be able to beat the performance of an index passively tracking the US stock market.

In the end it wasn’t even close: Buffet’s S&P 500 index fund returned 126% over the decade, compared to the hedge fund’s paltry 36%. If the bet symbolised a clash of two distinct investment philosophies – active versus passive – passive won. Easily.

But despite the unambiguous superiority of passive investing, many still believe that they can beat the market. And by encouraging short term trading, as opposed to long term investing, brokerage apps encourage them in this belief.

The Value of Friction

There is therefore an argument that by removing the friction from trading, investment apps are actually undermining the wealth creation of their users.

Perverse as it may sound, then, brokerage apps would do well to reintroduce an element of friction into their user experience, both from an ethical standpoint and a financial one.

This could range from a holding screen prior to completing a trade to encourage reflection, or even limiting trades to one per day/week/month. Gamification could also be employed, albeit biased towards long term wealth creation rather than the short term wins it’s used for currently. For example, users could be made to progress through the levels before they earn the right to trade more frequently.

Undoubtedly, there is a balance to be struck. Superior UX is the reason trading apps have attracted so many new investors, yet they also have a responsibility to help their users achieve their ultimate goal: making money.

Empathy As A Skill: How Social Work Helped Me Become a UX Researcher Tue, 22 Mar 2022 11:00:19 +0000 Empathy As A Skill: How Social Work Helped Me Become a UX Researcher

Before I began life as a UX Researcher, I spent a number of years working as a social worker for children in an inner London borough. My mission was to empower children who were experiencing significant harm. There are a few things that children need to thrive. There’s basic needs such as access to school, healthcare, and a safe home environment, but my goal was to go beyond securing a child’s baseline needs.

I worked hard to gain the child and family’s trust with the goal of cultivating resilience, repairing familial relationships, and helping them to realise their goals and potential.

Achieving these goals was quite the challenge. Children who are looked after have experienced significant trauma, making trusting new people difficult. It’s also uncommon for social workers to be involved in children’s lives, creating a sense of stigma. I needed to work hard to ensure I established rapport, identified the right problems, and asked the right questions to ensure I was promoting the most effective kind of change. Sound familiar? These are the skills that I utilise everyday as a user experience researcher.

User research, much like social work, is all about understanding why people behave the way they do, how they interact with the systems around them, and improving their experiences. In social work, we do this by asking questions to establish patterns of behaviour and difficulties they encounter, and then develop interventions to hopefully make positive change. In user research, we learn about users’ behavioural patterns both within and outside of a product or system, identify how those patterns impact their experience, then recommend changes to stakeholders to improve the user’s experience. People are a product of their environment, family history, and culture and understanding the systems that surround our users helps to develop deeper insight into how they expect products to work.

Two women sharing a conversation

To identify our user’s expectations, I routinely reach for empathy from my social work toolkit. Empathy is at the core of my everyday practice. It allows me to focus solely on the user’s experience with the product. It helps me step away from my preconceived notions and jump into uncharted waters without hesitation. Through empathy, I’m putting myself in the user’s shoes and yielding rich and actionable insights for stakeholders.

I just recently worked on a project with a car manufacturer. Personally, I just need a car that can get me from Point A to B efficiently and safely. If I went into my sessions with this mentality, it would limit the amount of insight I could gather. Our participants loved talking about their cars and purchasing journey. I made sure to drill down on what aspects they loved about purchasing a car, why, and how it could be improved. A pattern that emerged was a bit surprising. They extolled about the personalised details of their current cars, but when it came to sharing their car configurating experience, nothing was memorable. Talking about cars was exciting, but configuring a car was at best a forgetful experience, at worst a stressful one. We made recommendations to our client on how to make the car configuration experience enjoyable and memorable to entice car enthusiasts to purchase and share their experience with fellow gear heads. If I stayed in my lane (I couldn’t help myself!), I wouldn’t have uncovered what truly drove this segment of users to purchase cars.

Empathy is a powerful tool that should be in every user researcher’s toolbox. Use it to empower users to share their experiences and authentic selves. By employing empathy, you’ll deliver richer insights to stakeholders and make a meaningful impact for users. It’ll also enable you to be the best researcher you can be. You don’t need to personally experience every difficulty or success your users face to establish rapport and yield deep insights. Take a break from yourself and dive into the world of the person you’re speaking to head first. That’s how you truly understand their experiences and develop better ones.

A Masterclass for UX Leaders, from UX Leaders Mon, 21 Mar 2022 19:52:47 +0000 A Masterclass for UX Leaders, from UX Leaders

As regular followers will know, Sutherland Labs are part of an amazing network of global partners called the UXalliance. It’s a network based on deep working relationships. As well as providing high quality global research for our clients, we also collaborate behind the scenes to shape global best practice and respond to changes in our industry.

Following in the footsteps of the popular annual UX Masterclasses we’ve hosted for the past 12 years, the UXalliance are excited to announce a new series of online talks. UXMasterclass: Leadership Series will feature leading UXalliance partners and industry experts from around the world – who will share global perspectives on trends and challenges facing the UX and design industries.

Our first session will be on Thursday 31st of March at 9am CST/ 5pm CEST – click here to register !

UX Masterclass | Leadership Series

Join us for “Build better AI products with UX” with Gavin Lew – Managing Partner of Bold Insight US. Gavin will discuss core elements from his book, AI and UX: Why Artificial Intelligence Needs User Experience (Apress publishing).

Case studies will illustrate successes and failures of AI and present a UX framework to pave the way for AI to have success along three core dimensions: context, interaction, and trust. Gavin will share examples within healthcare, and other industries will be presented, to demonstrate how AI can overcome failures of the past and set a foundation for a better future.

We hope you will get as much enjoyment out of meeting the UXalliance community as we do. To join in the conversation sign up for this month’s talk, or follow our social channels hear about future events.

A Smarter Approach to Customer Support Tue, 28 Apr 2020 16:19:00 +0100 A Smarter Approach to Customer Support

Our client wanted their digital customer support to work better for customers.

They began by looking at the current experience in a holistic way, involving both their customers and their own support agents.

Customer Journey Maps and Personas identify pain points and reveal opportunities for innovation

Customer Journey Maps and Personas identify pain points and reveal opportunities for innovation

The Challenge

Our client, a major technology brand, needed to make improvements to the support experience for their digital work tools. While analytics had identified pain points in distinct areas of the experience they lacked a full picture of how customers were using their digital support channels, or the role that customer service agents played in that process.

To build an effective strategy for the future they needed to understand real customer behaviors around support.

The Approach

Over a series of engagements we helped our client gain a better knowledge of the end-to-end support experience of customers, as well as gather intelligence from their own customer support agents.

Workplace Shadowing with Agents and Home Visits with Customers

We spent time with both customers and agents in their own environments, observing each as they dealt with support issues in real time. Immersive research methods helped us to reveal both the issues users could vocalize, plus unspoken needs and desires. Furthermore we explored problem solving strategies and the language or terminology used by customers and agents to feed into the design of a future support experience.

Customer Journey Mapping and Personas

Our team translated research insights into Customer Journey Maps, providing a holistic view of support journeys for key customer types. These maps, alongside rich behavior based personas helped to identify further pain points and opportunity areas – such as the desire among users for greater self-serve.

Prototyping the Future Support Experience

To inform future design direction, our UX designers produced wireframes to be used as tools to illustrate, test and refine design recommendations as they might appear in future support journeys.

The Results

Our engagements have provided the client deep insight into what makes an ideal support experience from both customers and their own agents. This has been instrumental in shaping their future digital experience.

70+ design recommendations were implemented to improve the overall support experience, including navigation, page design, terminology, content.

40% reduction in support volume since improvements to navigation, self-serve channels and UI design.

Reimagining Graduate Hiring in Healthcare Thu, 21 Nov 2019 15:59:44 +0000 Reimagining Graduate Hiring in Healthcare

Our client wanted to rethink their entire approach to hiring graduates.

The global healthcare and pharmaceutical brand was investing in graduate programmes in EMEA, but a low proportion of these graduates converted into full time positions.

Graduate insights report

The Challenge

Leaders were questioning the effectiveness of graduate hiring in EMEA, and wanted to see a more strategic approach that would better serve the needs of the business. The hiring and retention of new capabilities is critical to the long term health of the organization and for building a talent pipeline for the future.

We devised an approach to help our client understand pain points in the current graduate experience, identify opportunities for innovation, and to build a strategic roadmap for the future.


Research activities

The Approach

Voice of the Customer Research

We knew that exploring graduate needs was important, but to improve internal confidence and create a shared vision for the future we wanted to view the challenge from many different perspectives. To gain a wide view we began with a ‘voice of the customer’ study, during which our teams carried out over 150 in depth interviews and focus groups with business leaders, HR and Talent leaders, graduates and hiring managers from 5 key sites across the organization.

Strategy Workshops

Next, we analyzed and unpacked these insights in collaborative workshops with the client, mapping out graduate journeys and creating behavior based personas. These artefacts were used as communication aids internally, and also helped to illustrate design recommendations to create a more user friendly user experience.

All activities fed into and culminated in a clear and executable strategy for graduate hiring, which was tailored to be delivered to different levels of the organisation.


“When you’re designing workplace systems to support graduates you need a deep understanding of their needs, behaviors and expectations.”

Anton Artemenkov – Creative Director, Sutherland Labs

The Results

Strategic Roadmap

We helped to develop a holistic, multi-year, EMEA-wide strategy for graduate hiring and development which received full leadership support.

Key insights were translated into workstreams spanning Planning, Attraction, Selection, Onboarding, and Development stages of the graduate journey.

The client has since launched a Planning Toolkit to help capture capability and business needs and ensure they are hiring strategically for the future. As well as, a  new ‘go to market’ approach on campus and a marketing campaign to enhance their Attraction strategy.

“The VOC Research has really helped us to accelerate this initiative and ensure we have the customer at the centre of our approach – thank you!”

Vice President HR EMEA, Global Healthcare and Pharmaceutical brand 

]]> An Employee Led Digital Workplace Strategy Wed, 23 Oct 2019 14:43:23 +0100 An Employee Led Digital Workplace Strategy

Our client had ambitious plans to improve the daily working lives of employees.

The financial institution had a workforce and working practices were disparate and varied, spanning 7,000 employees in 25 countries. They wanted to build a strategy for digital channels and workplace tools that would increase productivity, build community and lead to more contented employees overall.