Sutherland Innovation Labs Service design to improve customer and employee experiences. Fri, 19 Jul 2019 12:10:12 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Copyright 2019, Sutherland Innovation Labs - Sutherland Innovation Labs Service design to improve customer and employee experiences. Labs Life: Meet Belinda Deschamps Wed, 17 Jul 2019 12:00:35 +0100 Labs Life: Meet Belinda Deschamps

Welcome back to Labs Life, our ongoing interview series where you get to meet the people behind the scenes at the Sutherland Labs. This time we are have tracked down the illusive Belinda Deschamps, a Design Researcher who was born in France but is now nestled comfortably in the heart of the London Labs.

Belinda Deschamps

What did you do before you came to the Labs?

Belinda: I graduated with a Masters in Industrial Design from Central St Martins, then spent six months acting as a Design Research intern at an ergonomics agency in London before joining the labs team. My experience in setting up communication and creative strategies has been very useful in designing and delivering research projects. I understand the whole process from end to end, from design research through to the creation of a working solution. I am a free electron.

What inspires you?

Belinda: My family and friends all have qualities that I admire so much. The authenticity and benevolence of my grandparents, the patience and humour of my dad, the braveness and empathy of my mum, the optimism and generosity of my brother, the cleverness and joy of my friends. Just spending time with them is inspirational.

Travelling around the world to meet people from completely different cultures, who have completely different needs and problems, and being able to solve their problems through design is pretty inspirational too!

Belinda Deschamps

The Labs have just invented an incredibly chic time machine, and we have travelled back to ask the ten-year-old Belinda what she wants to be when she grows up. How would she answer?

Belinda: During the holidays that I used to spend on the South West French seaside I always wanted to make the most of my time by planning my everyday activities. This was not easy, because the weather at the seaside changes very rapidly. I knew that I could not control the sky, but I could predict the weather by studying the patterns of the clouds. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that I wanted to be a meteorologist!

My grandpa spent a summer teaching me how to recognize the different types of cloud and how to predict the weather. When the stratocumulus clouds were dominating the sky, it was not a good time for the beach! I would stay home, drawing and painting, building and crafting, and playing games. I opened a restaurant with my grandma, I created a range of jewellery, I organized fashion shows, I was a postman – to deliver my creations – the list of different roles that I assumed was endless, but through them all I realized that I did not just want to study things and predict their outcomes. I wanted to create. I wanted to be an inventor!

As a design researcher at the labs, I get to do both of the things that filled my holidays. Studying to predict and inventing new solutions. If I had to explain my job to little Belinda, then I would say that I am something a little like a doctor, but instead of repairing people, I fix the things around them to make their lives better.

Will Belinda ever learn to control the weather? Will that time machine of ours ever come out of beta testing? Come back next time for another instalment of Labs Life, to find out all of these answers and more!

Designing for New Realities: How AR Changes Everything Thu, 11 Jul 2019 13:33:25 +0100 Designing for New Realities: How AR Changes Everything

Some technologies transform our everyday behaviors, habits and social rituals, and the new wave of mass market immersive visual technology (IVT), including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and augmented virtuality (AV), are another behavioral game changer. As designers, this makes AR, VR, MR and AV fascinating new technologies because they might just define a new normal, and that hasn’t happened for a while.

Image by Jamie Blackett

Image by Jamie Blackett

The last new normal game changer: The smartphone

It’s easy to forget that just fifteen years ago people took pictures mostly on cameras. The first commercial mobile phone with a camera appeared in 2000, and it took years for them to challenge traditional cameras and camcorders as our go-to image capture choice. The convergence of cameras and mobile telephones, with the growth of radio bandwidth for bluetooth and data transmissions, plus wifi, and a bunch of new technologies like IOS and Android, combined with open-source databases and APIs transformed our daily lives, disrupted business empires that had stood for most of the 20th Century, and created new global giants that connected us together in new ways.

Mobile devices were a game changer.  Within a decade, we had selfies, duck face, the Kardashians and Instagram. Beyond that, chat had become something we did mostly with our thumbs via apps, rather than voices via phones. We shop, watch, listen, play, chat, work and pretty much everything else on our mobile computers we nostalgically call phones. However, beyond mobility, the smartphone developed in tandem with tablets and laptops, innovations like touch screens and cloud based software that made everything omni-channel. We went from a world of print, pens and paper to a world of screens in the matter of a few decades.

Breaking down the screens

For all the huge benefits we’ve enjoyed in our screen-heavy world, from watching Netflix on the commute to video conferencing with offices around the world, or replacing tons of paper with digital documents and becoming 24/7 contactable via email and messaging, there’s also a downside to the screen – it’s a physical barrier between us and other people.

Humans collaborate, connect and engage with other humans, and too often the screen can get in the way.

If you are familiar with Dilbert cartoons, they are set in this Kafkaesque bureaucracy where everyone works in cubicles. That style of office was bad for employee morale, and there’s been a shift towards more open plan designs, which is great, except you soon realize that we’re not looking at each other, we’re looking at screens. It’s a virtual cubicle. Similarly, on the train, all those people eyes-down on their devices are not interacting socially, they are in a screen enabled mental cubicle. You’ve probably seen people walking down the road, thumbing their phone oblivious to the world around them, again, mentally walled-off from their environment by a screen.

None of that is inherently bad, we all need privacy sometimes, but it’s important to remember that work is also a social interaction, as is sharing a public space. Humans collaborate, connect and engage with other humans, and too often the screen can get in the way.

Image by Jamie Blackett

Image by Jamie Blackett

The future is looking up, and looking deeper

The power of looking up, and seeing all that screen-based information in context, applied to the world around you is part of the promise of AR, VR, and MR. However, what these technologies also offer is the ability to make our use of screens much more effective too, giving them greater utility. What both looking up and looking deeper means for people is a whole new experience of daily life, and new normal behaviors. So let’s consider where these tools might take us… sooner than you think.

What both looking up and looking deeper means for people is a whole new experience of daily life, and new normal behaviors.

#1: Looking deeper: Transforming retail habits

The transformative potential of AR, VR and MR is most easily expressed in its ability to visualize environments. As we’ve discussed previously, apps like Ikea Place or Ace & Tate’s virtual eyewear try-on tool  will become more complex and widespread.

We should expect MR apps everywhere, that enable much greater ranges of context when it comes to digital shopping experiences, for example:

  • Apps that lets you see yourself in virtual clothes (we have this now, but it will become more complex and realistic as the tech develops, plus you’ll be able to see it in AR enabled mirrors) In-store, we will also experience more integrated MR experiences. Last year Coty launched a magic mirror that enables users to visualise their make-up in multiple shades and styles, virtually. Just apply one tester, then augment your image to explore the whole range. Also, in various high tech stores, there are mirrors that also use cameras to show you your rear image too (does my bum look big in this?) That kind of tech is a game changer for expensive designer items, and also offers the ability to 3D scan yourself, and re-use that data for both online and offline retail contexts.
  • Apps that overlay virtual clothes over your photos so you can see how you would have looked in different contexts (weddings, parties, work etc.) to help you choose new outfits for occasions based on your actual experiences, social network and cultural identity.
  • An app that allows you to change fabrics, lighting, background, etc. to explore your clothing options in greater depth, and make more choices based on visualizations on a screen rather than in your imagination.
  • Imagine similar functionality for furniture, where you can take pictures of your current home and then swap items around, change wall colours, flooring, reconfigure layouts and so on.
  • Gift apps where you can take a picture of a friend and select clothing gifts that you know will fit, or find a perfect vase for your mum’s dining table and know how it will look before you place it there.

#2. Looking up: Contextual information and better human connections

Right now we rely almost entirely on written words and sounds to comprehend data from dozens of systems we take for granted (like email, messaging, social media, system notifications, deliveries and news alerts) but humans process simple, non-verbal visual data much faster and more intuitively (which is why warning lights on dashboards work so effectively). The obvious power of immersive visual technology means visual overlays could become the new normal in many contexts.

  • The AR enhanced home and workplace could become an important IoT (internet of things) interface to enable interactions with automated objects, and optimize energy efficiency, safety and process design. It also offers contextual real world help as opposed to manuals and screen based training tools, giving us hands-free support with visual guides.
  • There will also be an AR-enhanced view of the office. Taking current screen based project management and productivity tools into a AR, VR and MR space could transform human efficiency. Look up and see who is free, who is busy, and who is working in different teams or projects. Look around the room, see who you need to talk to, see which rooms are free, or who is leading a project, or knows a client. In that office, you could share files by handing over virtual items, and collaborate on shared documents like working on a whiteboard.
  • AR, VR and MR enables people to connect in-person but also remotely, so you can have a sit down chat between two people in different locations. Immersive tools offer us a world beyond Skype or conference calls, because freeing us up from looking at a screen (with AR eyewear for example) potentially creates a world where meetings could be anywhere, anytime, and involve as many or as few people as you need. They could become more spontaneous, last as long or as short as you need, and you could pass documents or tasks around like handing out biscuits. In your pyjamas, on the beach…

Finally, changing the place also changes pace

We had email before we had smartphones, in fact, before most people had mobile phones. That tool didn’t change between one platform and another, but having email in your pocket transformed our relationship with it, and created new working behaviours as we collaborated and communicated more effectively between our homes, workplaces, and while travelling. It’s that context that means AR, VR and MR will transform our normal habits by taking familiar tools and by transposing them from a screen into glasses – or taking data and overlaying it on the images and videos we capture on our mobile devices.

Perhaps we’re not that far off looking back and laughing at GPS Sat Navs that you had to look down at, taking your eyes off the road ahead; or buying clothes from a picture on a catalogue model as opposed to seeing it on yourself, from multiple angles; or assembling some flat-pack furniture with an AR guide and laughing about incomprehensible Ikea instructions; or remembering the bad old days of conference calls where nobody spoke, and emails cc’d to everyone in the office, or chatting with someone a couple of desks away on Slack rather than actually speaking to them.

What all these examples share, is using the tech to reduce user friction, and specifically the friction that is caused by having to look down at a screen, or at a monitor, when as humans our natural inclination is to be social, and mobile.

Watch this space? Yes. Literally.


This piece would not have been possible without input from Imogen Clark and other London Labs team members.

4 AR Innovators to Watch Mon, 01 Jul 2019 13:01:15 +0100 4 AR Innovators to Watch

With all of the rapid development ongoing in the Augmented Reality sphere right now, it would be remiss of us not to mention some of the innovative organizations that are currently laying the groundwork for what we believe will be the next great design evolution. So, without further ado, here are the four innovators that we think are shaping the landscape of tomorrow, today.

Image credit: Opaque Media

Image credit: Opaque Media

Opaque Studios

As the entertainment industry has moved further and further from the physical realities in front of the camera to all of the visual effects added in post-production, the producers and directors have lost control of the creative vision of their films. Everything involved in visual effects has to be carefully planned out in advance, and there is no opportunity to make decisions rapidly to match changing circumstances. In turn, this places limitations on the live action performances, with reduced opportunity for ad-libbed content or adjustments to highlight specific elements of a performance. Opaque are working to reverse that trend, giving film and television professionals the ability to go “inside” the VFX scenes that they are creating the same way that they would a live action set, allowing relighting and redressing of sets from inside the simulation. Ultimately, what has us most excited about Opaque Studio’s plug-in technology is that it will be applicable to so much of design outside of entertainment once VR and AR become mainstream, allowing unparalleled live collaboration on digital prototypes.

Image credit: Vertebrae

Image credit: Vertebrae


One of the biggest bug-bears surrounding AR experiences from a business standpoint is monetisation. How do you make the application that you have designed to help smooth some of the sharp edges off real life into a money maker so that you can go on making new apps? At Vertebrae, the proposed solution is to import the advertising economy of internet browsing into the augmented world. Introducing real life “product placement” and native advert insertion for AR experiences. While the start-up is still in its early stages, working out the best way to deliver 360 video, they have already attracted the interest of a whole crop of blue-chip clients. While we aren’t certain that the advertising systems of the past are going to function as a primary revenue source in AR when the trends in related industries seems to be hinting at micro-transactions leading the way, it is good to see that someone is looking at the practical solutions to making AR functional in an economic as well as technical sense.

Image credit: VR Scout

Image credit: VR Scout


Each of these innovators has provided some big idea to AR development, but AfterNow are the organisation that seem to be working the closest to reality. Their projects are not about huge sweeping changes, they are the minor improvements to day to day life that AR is actually going to be used for, from tinting the colour of lighting to suit the users taste, through holographic restaurant menus and even an app for spatial audio mixing. Each of these small self-contained AR applications show the potential of AR not just for creating sweeping changes to the way we interact with the world, but for customising the experiences of every single user to suit their preferences. AR offers the potential for everyone to live in a bespoke reality that suits their aesthetic needs, and from a design perspective, that is absolutely fascinating.

Image credit: Inverse

Image credit: Inverse


We would be lax if we went through a whole discussion on AR innovators without mentioning the companies that are trying to push beyond the limits we haven’t even reached yet. The Neuralink project sounds like something from science fiction, an interface between our brain and our computer. The initial uses for this technology will obviously focus on medical aid for people with degenerative neural disorders, but the long-term potential once brain activity can be read by a computer is essentially limitless. From an AR perspective, it would mean the elimination of the requirement for any special equipment, memories and moments could be freely shared without the need for any interpretative technology. It is a distant dream, but it is still on the same spectrum of ideas as all of the other AR innovations on this list.

Augmented Retail: Beyond Physical Limitations Wed, 26 Jun 2019 13:05:08 +0100 Augmented Retail: Beyond Physical Limitations

The way that we shop has been drastically altered by the advent of ecommerce, but despite the many benefits that online shopping offers, there are still brick and mortar stores everywhere that you look. 

This does not represent some luddite fringe who are scared of computers or even a generational issue, there is an experience being provided in physical stores that cannot be matched by any online product, and that experience is what has kept the retail industry alive in its current hybrid form. Still, there can be no denying that online business has cut into the bottom line for these physical shops, and that they are now scrambling to adapt and stay ahead of the curve.

Retail AI

Which is why it’s so vitally important for retail businesses to get ahead of the next great innovation to reshape that experience, Augmented Reality.

We are already beginning to see AR being adopted by some of the most technologically savvy companies, with branded pop-up stores incorporating AR being operated by Nordstrom, and new marketing opportunities being developed, like the Christmas events at the Galleries Lafayette in Paris that utilized AR to add to their already sumptuous displays.

But these little add-ons are just scratching the surface of what a full AR experience can look like, there’s an opportunity for some of the oldest and most fundamental elements of retail experiences to change in the face of AR.

Showrooms and shelf-facings are always going to be limited by the most expensive and immovable investment that any business runs up against; floor space. But with AR, the necessity of massive and sometimes confusing spaces to browse become a thing of the past. Instead of having a colossal showroom to grant customers a glimpse of every product, you might have a small “click and collect” space with tailored AR displays showing both the full range available at a glance, but also removing the irrelevant products so that the experience is more focused. Clothes shopping with only your size being displayed. Mirrors that can show how you would look in any given outfit.

This is not the death of the add-on purchase, but a new dawn for Amazon style “you may also like” additions to every main product, alternate colour options, a far wider variety of options under each product’s umbrella and migrating sales opportunities that could put some of the current generation of online storefronts to shame. Omnichannel experiences taken to their natural conclusion.

On the subject of Amazon, their forays into physical stores have been just as limited in range as the existing retail experiences, but through AR, could they finally have a storefront capable of displaying all of their products? On a smaller scale, companies like BMW have no way to showroom the 1,500 variations that they offer on their range of cars, but through AR they could all be projected onto a single model and changed on the fly.

But of course, these agile abilities will not be limited exclusively to the store itself, with AR the experience can come home with the users. Ikea have already developed an AR app that lets you see how furniture would look in your home, but how much better will it be when that flatpack furniture comes with enhanced instructions that show you exactly which one is Tab A, and where the Slot B that you are meant to be inserting it into is hidden. We are already increasingly reliant on YouTube as a support tool when using DIY products, but with AR the guidance can be available in person and from whatever angle is required. More than just a guide through assembly instructions, AR would be able to provide users with the kind of aftercare that would usually require a visit from a specialist, for free with every purchase.

To support these new shopping experiences, we are likely to see a massive growth in warehousing, which will require a higher level of management and attention than ever before as the confusion surrounding that growth could easily spiral out of control. Even here, AR will serve its purpose, keeping staff updated of purchases, stocking and inventory in real time, using imaging technology to calculate the space available for deliveries and changing the end-to-end process of purchase through to delivery at every stage.

AR is coming, whether retailers are ready for it or not, and it could very well mark the end of the distinction between physical and digital stores. It is hardly surprising that retailers are seeking out designers now to start work on their AR offerings and future-proof their business.

Human-Centric Healthcare at Paris Wed, 12 Jun 2019 13:44:33 +0100 Human-Centric Healthcare at Paris

We are delighted to announce that our very own Belinda Deschamps will be presenting a masterclass in human-centric healthcare at in Paris this Thursday. From 3.30pm, in the gloriously named Galerie des Gobelins, Belinda will be explaining the concept of user centered design, referencing our joint project with Corporation Pop – the Xploro App – as an ideal example.

Being hospitalized is a very confusing and frightening time for children, being diagnosed with cancer at such a young age, even more so. All of the adults are talking over you in very serious voices, but nobody is talking to you. Nobody is explaining what all of the big words like oncology and chemotherapy actually mean, or what the treatment that is about to become a huge part of your life is actually like. The Xploro App is designed to convey that information to children in a friendly, easy to understand way, and alleviate their confusion and anxiety by giving them a road-map to their own recovery. (Futur en Seine) is celebrating its tenth year, and will be free and open to anyone who might be interested in attending. It is an event celebrating and exploring the possibilities of digital and sustainable innovation. It is the largest festival of this type in France, and possibly Europe, so anyone who can make the trip will find something worthy of their attention.

So, come along, hear what Belinda has to say and join in the conversation about the future of healthcare.

Find out more here >

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

Our parent organization, Sutherland, asked us to experiment with new ways of approaching existing recruitment challenges through a Design Thinking approach.

talent acquisition workshop


In an extremely competitive marketplace, how might we better attract the right talent? How can we improve retention by better understanding the end-to-end recruitment and employment journey of our employees? These are some of the questions Sutherland Labs have been tackling in our own organization – working alongside our Talent Acquisition teams.


We used immersive research to ‘walk in candidates shoes’ to understand a candidate journey throughout the recruitment process. We created behavioral personas, helping to segment, identify ‘star’ target audiences and better understand their idiosyncrasies. We also created journey maps that gave a visual representation which help to articulate pain points and crucial insight that often lead to ideas for improvements and solutions.

Talent acquisition journey maps


The insights helped our colleagues to reframe the story during the recruitment process, which in turn impacted their messaging, advertising and social media activity. The results have included a significant increase in social media followers and engagement, following a reworked advertising campaign. The project also contributed towards wider strategic goals of improving employee engagement, and aided a change of mindset within HR functions.

Rethinking in-hospital entertainment Tue, 14 Jun 2016 10:17:09 +0100 Rethinking in-hospital entertainment

Our client, global provider of hospital entertainment systems, asked us to analyze customer experience of their current system and inform the design of a cleverly user-centric new one.

TV remote and tablet


TV, radio, games, other interactive content: hospital bedside entertainment has the power to positively transform patient experience. But many patients in this study were not engaging with our client’s current system and opting instead to use their own devices. We were called on to conduct deep analysis of patient needs. Our findings then inspired the design of a revolutionary new system – to make hospital stays infinitely more entertaining.


From registering for the first time, to tuning in to the radio or finding a good film, we first identified key user tasks. We then conducted interviews with staff, patients and family members across different wards – Elderly, Stroke, Children, etc. – to find out how these tasks could be carried out most efficiently. Insights from discussions, interviews, focus groups and a visit to the client call centre were then translated into different personae and journey maps. The outcome? As many as 50 different propositions to guide development of the new system.


These propositions included: a friendlier, more accessible user interface; a promotional loop on the homepage to raise key feature awareness; a simplified VOC library structure to enable easy browsing; and extended account management features for families to enable them to make purchases on a patient’s behalf.

Hospital ward
Designing a better patient experience Tue, 07 Jun 2016 13:37:57 +0100 Designing a better patient experience

From billing and online payment to registration and insurance, effective healthcare requires effective administration. And, for a joint study by Sutherland Healthcare and its non-profit partner, this was a starting premise.

User on iPad


Our globally renowned healthcare client asked us to observe administration across its facilities and decipher what was working well, and where there was room for improvement – with a focus on billing, registration, online activity, signage and numerous other non-clinical issues.


Our starting point was to closely observe over 100 patients and staff in a variety of settings across its two hospitals and contact centre, considering factors such as environment, education and general operations in order to enhance day-to-day experiences. Our six main areas of exploration were as follows: transition from paper to online processes; online self-service; medical payment issues; education and awareness of costs in relation to healthcare; healthcare insurance; and the possible overuse of brochures and posters in medical environments.


Our research enabled us to identify pain points in the customer and staff journeys and to offer inspired solutions. These included: a new patient portal providing self-service registration and access to clinical information; text message reminders and late running notifications; a mobile app updating family members on patient status; cost estimator tools to make costs more transparent; online application and payment for financial aid; a loyalty programme; and a new strategy to increase awareness and uptake of health insurance exchanges.

Doctors walking in hospital
Designing a roadmap to customer loyalty Fri, 01 Apr 2016 13:37:40 +0100 Designing a roadmap to customer loyalty

Enhanced customer experience equals greater customer loyalty. And for one client, a successful pet services retailer, this is what we set out to achieve.

Pet store dog beds


What does the future hold? This particular client envisioned a future full of opportunity, one in which their loyal customers reaped the benefits of better services and experiences. But they needed our help in shaping this vision and transforming bright ideas into positive actions.


The challenge was to improve customer loyalty by identifying opportunities for innovation and better aligning customer experience, at the same as exploring the potential for moving certain services online. Sutherland’s ethnographic researchers sprang into action – observing and interviewing over 100 employees, partners and customers, at home as well as in store, to build up an-in depth picture of their experiences. Insights were then shared with the client through documentary film and behavioral profiles of common customer types.


Our research led to greater understanding of the drivers of customer loyalty, and provided the basis for suggestions on how to make pet-lover customers happier. These suggestions ranged from improved mobile scheduling and in-store product placement to the development of more effective employee training methods – illustrated through vision maps for a brighter, better future.

Dog check up
Bringing a health insurer closer to its customers Mon, 14 Mar 2016 10:16:54 +0100 Bringing a health insurer closer to its customers

A strategy for smarter, more concise digital communications and a refreshed, customer-centric mindset: this is what we achieved for this rapidly expanding health insurance multinational.

Journey mapping workshop


Our client, a global provider of health insurance, wanted to reconnect with its customers. Having grown significantly through acquisition, in order become a company that today spans cultures, countries and time zones, they asked us to help re-centre customer experience and restore coherence to their channels of communication.


You can’t connect with customers without understanding them, so our research team analyzed the personae of the company’s key customer groups, involving stakeholders across its business – from IT to sales, operations or customer service. Our creative team then presented initial insights via reports, films and journey maps, before validating them with customer focus groups.


We helped our client develop a customer-centric mindset internally, gaining deeper understanding of the needs and behavior of its predominantly senior customer base, while developing a brand new digital roadmap for the years ahead. And while education starts at home, we also delivered board-level educational sessions to raise awareness of the benefits of customer-centric design – leading, ultimately, to a more unified company vision.

Patient being examined