Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Sun, 17 Jun 2018 21:53:34 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Copyright 2018, Sutherland Innovation Labs - Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Journey Maps: Navigating Multi-Organizational Friction Fri, 15 Jun 2018 22:14:52 +0100 Journey Maps: Navigating Multi-Organizational Friction

The process of our work might seem very linear. We do the research to identify the problem, we identify the best means to remedy it, we design the solution, we implement it. In a perfect world, it would be that simple, but sadly we live in a world full of shades of grey, where the simple solutions rarely address all of the variables.

We frequently use a technique known as Journey Mapping when we are designing user experiences. In it’s most simplistic form a journey map follows a potential user through the experience of a service, highlighting any issues that they might encounter and the ways that the existing process can guide them through those issues.

But what happens when there are blank patches on the map?

We live in a world where there are multiple entities involved in many interactions beyond just the user and the service provider. When you order a package from Amazon, your experience isn’t shaped solely by the online platform and the ecommerce experience, there are other forces at work that can completely alter the outcome of your purchase. If the delivery service that the package is outsourced to fumble their stage of the journey, it won’t be them that catches the brunt of the user’s ire but it will be the lasting impression your customer has of the service as a whole.

Airbnb is another organization that constantly suffers as they are caught as middlemen between the users of their service and the owners of the properties that they rent out. Whenever a user is
unhappy with the property they are using, Airbnb receive the complaints and have to provide the
compensation. Whenever a property owner is unhappy with the state that the property is left in
after a visitor has departed, Airbnb receive the complaints and have to provide the compensation. Worse yet, they sometimes get trapped as mediators in disputes between the two parties.

A person writing on a post-it note

How can you control what happens outside of the user experience that you have designed?

It’s not easy. But journey mapping can at least provide a holistic view of the customer experience in it’s entirety – and while you cannot control things outside of the user experience that you are designing, you can certainly design with those elements in mind. If your product or service is meant to be used on the move then it should be built with interruptions in mind. If you know that a delivery service runs slow, then you should provide users with accurate timescales upfront.

When a user complains, AirBnB are the ones forced to provide a refund, even when they know very well that the source of the problem is actually the property owner. Even if the designer knows exactly what the problem outside of their control is and cannot address it directly, a better understanding of the customer journey can reveal other places were these problems can be remedied. Ways that allow the user can feel like their concerns are heard and vindicated. Studying the problem areas can actually provide the insight required to create a moment of delight elsewhere in the journey.

Some things will never be under your control, and you need to accept that and build flexibility into your designs so that they can exist in a real- world setting, not a hypothetical utopia. It isn’t
necessary to assume the worst about the other organizations that might impact your service, but it is necessary to be realistic about the problems that can occur and design practical solutions to
problems that you didn’t create.

TV Ads vs Human Behavior: Hitting the moving target Fri, 08 Jun 2018 16:11:47 +0100 TV Ads vs Human Behavior: Hitting the moving target

There was a time, long ago… ahem… okay not that long ago… let’s say anytime up to 1999 when watching adverts on TV was more or less unavoidable. However in the twilight of the 20th Century, the advent of the digital ‘PVR’ or ‘personal video recorder’ came along in the shape of the iconic TiVo. It was a pivotal moment in both television and tech history, because it showed how dramatically digital technologies can change human behaviors, and throw established big bucks business models – like TV advertising – into chaos overnight.

What happened to the TV advert?

Behavioral psychology was highly influential in the format of TV ads, because humans love to be entertained, and develop emotional connections with branding. The advert battleground wasn’t just for eyeballs, it was for hearts and minds. Remember the Apple sledgehammer? The Coca-Cola Real Thing jingle? That guy pulling his Levi’s off in the launderette? Rutger Hauer (directed by Ridley Scott) selling Guinness? Volkswagens dropping from the sky and so on? TV ads launched the careers of Oscar winners, made No.1 pop records, created globally recognized catchphrases and iconic images.  Advertisers strived to make you stay glued to the TV to catch that new ad everyone at school or work was talking about, hence the big budget, big name, Hollywood A-list adverts.

The reason for this was simple: if you wanted to skip the TV ad break, you’d do so by leaving the room (to make a cup of tea or visit the loo, etc.) This well known  behavior placed a premium on the TV ad slots immediately after an ad break began, or immediately before the ad break ended, to catch viewers before they leave the room and when they come back into it. Big budget ads in the middle of the break helped keep eyeballs on the screen – partially – but our natural tee-and-a-pee behavior created the premium ad slot, and that remained unchanged for around 60 years. Until TiVo. Because the moment it became possible to ditch the ads altogether, people voted with their fast-forward button… and that was the end of the golden age of advertising.

The moment it became possible to ditch the ads altogether, people voted with their fast-forward button… and that was the end of the golden age of advertising

Fast-forward to the future… TiVo

If you recorded a show on your VCR (video cassette recorder), you could fast forward through the ads but, as most of us remember, VCR visual searching was clunky. Also, capturing TV broadcasts often required arcane timer programming, clock-setting, codes printed in the TV Times magazine and so on. VCRs limited the amount of recording people actually did through poor usability, not to mention the expense of bulky cassettes, and the need to remember what was on them (so you didn’t record the FA Cup over your wedding video by mistake. Sorry darling).

When TiVo arrived, it did what digital devices do best: It simplified. It removed the need for consumable media (no tapes, no pain); the interface made it intuitive to record not just one TV show, but entire series with one click; the timer on TiVo was always right, so it didn’t top or tail recordings by mistake; TV shows were offered-up in a simple, searchable electronic programme guide (so no missing a show due to a lost TV Times mag) and all TiVo’s recordings were visually organized, not a jumbled stack of identical tapes underneath the telly. But most significantly, you could easily timeshift through the adverts. The effect of that simple innovation, was huge.

A video tape

Human behavior transforms industries overnight

TV networks took an ad revenue hit. Ad agencies took a beating too because the return on investment of TV ads was decimated. Premium time slots became far less valuable (because the tee-and-a-pee factor no longer applied) and big budget, and high calibre creative ads gave way to duff muzak, annoying jingles, the Crazy Frog and Barry Scott of Cillit Bang! fame. Fortunately, some bright spark (a UX researcher, probably) noticed that as humans timeshifted through the ads, they used certain familiar branded ads as visual markers: i.e. When they recognized a branded ad that used to occupy the old prime ad slots, they’d stop timeshifting in anticipation the ad break was ending.  So…

This influenced the creation of the premium show sponsorship that tops-and-tails ad breaks with glossy branded content. This is now commonplace on all commercial channels and pretty much all TV shows, and why? Because when you see the rugged SUV on Discovery, even at x12 speeds, you know part two of Wicked Tuna is starting. And when you see the meerkat in the red velvet smoking jacket on ITV, Coronation Street is back. And so on. The sponsorship ad is a visual marker, to enable the user to hit the end of the ad break, a moving target that’s moving in time, instead of space.


The real moving target… is you

This is just one of many examples you can find, when a new technology drives a change in human behavior, which in turn causes dramatic shifts in established markets. In much the same way that chat messaging apps hit telecom company call revenues; and downloads crippled high street DVD and CD retailers; the behavioral shift enabled by the digital PVR killed the TV network’s advertising cash cow.

Ironically, the TiVo concept feels curiously old fashioned today, because the broader television broadcast concept feels positively ancient. These days television isn’t so much a standalone device as an app channel, it lives on your laptop and in your pocket as well as the living room screen. The broadcasting schedule isn’t something you have to organize viewing time around anymore – except for live events – it’s just a curated playlist of shows, available 24/7 on-demand in most cases. And this all adds up to a world where you can make a cup of tea or take a pee whenever you like, and take your TV shows with you when you do.

A smart TV

Today, more and more brands are making (or financing) their own content, and broadcasting via their own cable channels, Youtube, streaming media partnerships and social networks. Without the TV ad break middle-men, brands have a more direct connection to the viewer and in a way, have become their own TV networks. Which means it’s possible the TV advert itself is probably heading the way of the VCR, the mixtape, and sitting by the phone waiting for your buddy to call. The moving target in all of those scenarios, is the human. Understanding customer journeys – and reducing the friction of using products and services – is a hugely powerful force for economic change. That’s all TV ads were: Friction points encountered by customers while consuming entertainment.

So what’s next for on-screen advertising?  Well as they used to say in the TV ad business, stay tuned, don’t adjust your set, it’s coming up after these important messages from our sponsor…

The Chicken and the Egg: Prototyping and Testing Thu, 07 Jun 2018 11:47:42 +0100 The Chicken and the Egg: Prototyping and Testing

Recently in the Labs, we encountered a little hiccup. A client wanted to start market testing a new product, but they didn’t have a working prototype, or at least, they didn’t have a prototype that could accurately convey the things that made their product unique.

The earlier into the process of designing a new product or service that you get that product into testing, the sooner you can get the vital feedback to help steer it in the right direction, or to alert you to the fact that the project is probably not going to succeed in its current form. But how soon is too soon?

Testing a website

Kickstarter have recently introduced a new rule for their Product Design category; that you must have a functioning prototype before you are allowed to seek funding for your project on their site. While this was intended to prevent people with limited design experience from promising the world and delivering nothing, it also gives a pretty good guideline for designers regarding when they should be introducing their product to the general public.

Prototypes generally lack some of the features that the final product will possess, and product testing with users is a good way to determine which additional features would be a good idea, but they are still testable from the moment they have any unique feature.

The most important features to demonstrate relate to your prototype’s primary purpose. If you are demonstrating a singing toothbrush, even if you have developed an amazing AI DJ with a music library that puts Spotify to shame, you still need to remember to attach bristles to the thing.

Not every feature needs to be demonstrated in your prototype. If a function of your prototype has already been demonstrated elsewhere, either by one of your own products or by a competitor’s then it isn’t essential to have it implemented before testing, provided that the users who are testing it have a solid understanding of how the different features are going to integrate.


As anyone who has ever designed a product knows; time gets tighter the further you are through the process. Anything that you are introducing to a product after the prototyping stage is at risk of being cut to keep the scope of the project within its limits. So, a prototype is more than just a demonstration of the new features, it is also a statement on your intentions for the product.

The downside of this is that functionality tends to get heavily favored in the early stages of product design, with the end result that aesthetics, user experience and usability become “add-ons” that can be trimmed when the timeline is getting too tight. This is bad for many reasons, but the ones we are going to focus on relates to the prototyping stage. Users that are testing a product with poor ergonomics and UI are going to like it less than the finished products that they use on a regular basis. This may influence the responses that you get to the point that the data collected in user testing is all tainted.

The other downside of waiting until the second half of the production schedule before adding a little “sparkle” to your product is that the designers are also human, and they need a feeling of accomplishment in their work to maintain momentum throughout the project. If time is taken to make the prototype something to be proud of, the designers will be proud of it, they will be invested in the project and you will get better work out of them. This still holds true if there is only one designer, and that designer is you.

If time is taken to make the prototype something to be proud of, the designers will be proud of it, they will be invested in the project and you will get better work out of them.

Taking some extra time to make a prototype shine before sending it off for testing can completely change a project’s trajectory. It increases the investment that you lose if the product fails at an early stage, but it also increases the product’s chances of progressing to a later stage.

Finding the balance between being prepared for failure and planning for failure is essential to any project. Not just product design.

A Wine Paring List For Design Thinking Tue, 05 Jun 2018 12:29:40 +0100 A Wine Paring List For Design Thinking

A recent study at Mississippi State University revealed that drunk people are better at creative problem solving than their sober compatriots. In testing, a cocktail-free control group not only gave fewer correct answers, they also took longer to arrive at their wrong answers. We all know that alcohol impairs our mental faculties, but it also strips away inhibitions, and it seems that being willing to shout out the wrong answer is more valuable in a creative context than raw processing power.

Tragically, it isn’t socially acceptable or healthy for us to show up to work drunk, and we obviously aren’t recommending that every brainstorming session should take place in a bar. The negative impact of alcohol on the cognitive process may be balanced by the improvements to creativity in certain exercises but for the most part being drunk just isn’t worthwhile.

Having said that, we do use techniques in our regular practice intended to offer some of the same benefits as a few shots of tequila without the risks of hangovers or accidentally insulting somebody.

A fruity rosé pairs well with aha moments.

The biggest benefit of booze seems to be an increased number of “Aha!” moments, when concepts suddenly clicked for the participants. These moments frequently arise through intuitive leaps, when the irrational parts of our brain that are set loose by alcohol take control. Other studies into the effects of alcohol on cognition have discovered exactly the same thing: the loss of focus caused by alcohol means that people are suddenly forced to look at the big picture, since they are too bleary eyed to take in the fine details.

One of the way we can replicate this in the labs, is by using Customer Journey Mapping. By mapping the end-to-end user experience, people break out of their siloed thinking and consider a problem in its entirety instead of just the parts right in front of them.

Journey mapping

A dry white pairs well with outside the box thinking.

From a neuroscientific point of view, the drunk brain is more likely to display “spreading activation” where all parts of a person’s memory and thought processes are brought to bear on a problem rather than just the parts that are strictly relevant. This leads to “outside the box” thinking and superior free association. Of course, once you are past the free-form ideation stage, the ability to maintain focus for more than a few seconds at a time becomes vital again.

We use “game-storming” techniques to replicate this effect in our sessions, having participants approach a problem from different angles. For example, using a “design the box” technique to make decisions about important features and other aspects of a vision, or “Bodystorming” to put more colour on a problem and help work through it, or a mood board to convey the “feeling” of a solution.

A full-bodied red pairs well with collaborative sessions.

Before we begin a collaborative session, whether within the labs or in the context of a visit to a client, we try to foster an environment where people are not only comfortable chatting freely without the risk of embarrassment but also encouraged to push past the mental silo of their role within their organisation.

Icebreaker activities might be dreaded by anyone who has ever attended a professional conference but once you are past that initial barrier of embarrassment it becomes a lot easier to talk freely. Forcing people to confront that embarrassment up front saves a lot of time in the long run.

It is strange to think that so much of the creative process is restrained by our sober and rational mind, or that the majority of the knowledge that we keep in our memories is locked away behind our own inhibitions.

For this you can use improv activities to help break down these social barriers, little word games where the goal is just to provide an answer quickly, regardless of whether it is right or even sensible. That mindset of “no wrong answers” is more valuable to the process than any amount of sober clarity.

A rich port pairs well with conclusions.

The exercises that we conduct during a creative session are specifically intended to fulfil a similar function to a Martini. Engaging “spreading activation” and getting participants to bring in their knowledge of the world from outside their roles.

It is strange to think that so much of the creative process is restrained by our sober and rational mind, or that the majority of the knowledge that we keep in our memories is locked away behind our own inhibitions, but here at the labs, the complexities of the thought process are just another small aspect of the work that we have to take into consideration.

The Chelsea Flower Show: Sensory Design in Bloom Fri, 01 Jun 2018 12:08:02 +0100 The Chelsea Flower Show: Sensory Design in Bloom

In the digital world that we so often work in, it is very easy to forget that there are any senses except for sight, and occasionally sound. Haptic feedback has recently introduced touch back into the mix on certain devices, but for the most part, if it doesn’t go in our eyes and ears, we forget about it. In effect, we are only designing 3/5ths of an experience with considerable limitations, at best.

But experience design does not stop at the app store. Every interaction that people have with the world around them is an experience that can be deliberately manipulated to produce the desired impact and nowhere is that more apparent than the Chelsea Flower Show.

Event design is a whole discipline in itself but the level of complexity involved in the flower show goes beyond what anyone might expect to deal with. While almost anyone with a colour wheel can arrange displays so that they don’t clash, it takes a whole other level of careful attention to ensure that scents don’t clash.

The Morgan Stanley Garden designed to raise awareness of the work of the NSPCC won Best Show Garden. Image via the RHS

The Morgan Stanley Garden designed to raise awareness of the work of the NSPCC won Best Show Garden. Image via the RHS

Positioning flowers with a strong aroma away from the places where food is being consumed may seem like common sense, but when there are flowers everywhere it becomes a more difficult prospect. Displaying flowers with weaker scents in places where they will not be overpowered and drowned out by the more aromatic kin is already challenging before you take into account all the many smells that the visitors to the show are going to be carrying around with them, particularly on a hot afternoon.

Designing a regular event can be a logistical nightmare of soft-spoken sound systems and blaring speakers in all the wrong places, but in the Chelsea Flower show, sound design is only 1/5th of your problems, before you even take into consideration the fact that most of the attendees want to browse the gardens on display in quiet solitude. A little tricky when you have 165,000 traipsing through, chatting away to one another about which idea they want to steal for their own window-box.

Some of the individual designers involved in specific gardens at the show were certainly thinking about sensory input. Perhaps they were inspired by “The Mind’s Eye” which won the “Best Fresh Garden” back in 2014 and also gold medal at the show. It was designed specifically to be accessible to the blind, with a focus on the other four senses, using running water and different textures to guide the visitor through, and only a single small instalment at its entrance designed specifically with sighted people in mind. An optical illusion of a pit, both to give them a sense of how losing their vision might feel and to highlight that sight is not always advantageous.

The Mind's eye garden

The Mind's eye garden

Another garden from this year’s displays showed the necessity of focusing on user experiences rather than the aesthetic perfection in a design. The “RHS Feel Good Garden” was designed with mental health in mind, eschewing the pruned perfection of other displays in favor of more naturalistic messy design and untidy growth.

When you are designing anything, it is important to have a holistic view to perceive the thing you are creating in its entirety, but when you start talking about experience design, that becomes even more vital. Sensory input is the most easily manipulated facet of a designed experience and it should not be ignored.

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