As part of our spotlight on user experience, we caught up with Steve Kato-Spyrou, UX Manager at John Lewis, to talk about his experience with this household name retailer. Steve has eight years’ experience within the UX field and is currently focusing on online and offline experiences. He's keen to promote the John Lewis brand within the digital world, as he feels the brand does not highlight every facet of its offering enough. He utilises his skill in service design to try to make any complex structure feel comfortable and easy for customers to digest. Some aspects of his role with John Lewis are discussed below.

What actually is service design?

Steve explains that he makes regular presentations regarding the definition of service design and that it relates the orchestration of a number of things, including products, communications, interactions, operations, culture and structure to create a cohesive organisation. He stresses that the key to this: "Is the orchestration of all that stuff and applying human centred design methods to all that stuff, so it all works together, hangs together. So, to me, that's what service design is. Jamin Hegeman puts it much more eloquently than I ever will".

How is John Lewis embedding service design into the UX team?

Initially, the momentum for embedding service design into the John Lewis ethos came right from the top. The Managing Director stated that: "We need to start experimenting, we need to test and learn, we need to change the way we do things."

Many of the teams in the John Lewis Partnership interpreted this as meaning that they needed to collaborate more and focus more on being productive in the manner in which tasks were carried out. Steve comments that: "Ultimately, the 2D production designer needs to sit with someone from partner capabilities, needs to sit with someone from buying, from merchandising, from trade, from online, from design. And at the same time, the research and the UX or service designer have pretty much been in there as well helping to orchestrate all those things by running workshops, ideation sessions, prioritisation sessions. The sort of thing you would expect a UXer to do in a team that is an online structured team and carry it all out at organisational level".

Examples of the type of regular tasks carried out by the cross-department collaboration team with the help of the UXer are: vision statements, high-level journey maps, service blueprints, hypothesis cards, identifying problems statements, research specific customers, 6 up sketching sessions, ideation sessions, teaching the team about agility and lean, because generally, the UXer has come from digital, so they become kind of an agile coach. Then, finally, trying to disseminate these digital ways of working into the rest of the organisation. Steve adds: "In fact, I'm pretty sure my catchphrase for the past year has been, "This works in digital. I don't know if it will work in a broader offline sense but ... " And then I say something, and we see if it works".

One current project is a new gifting proposition, which is being spun up to Experiment on new ways of working. In general, the role entails working on a range of micro-experiments on different elements to see how the design thinking process can be applied to a range of different propositions. Steve highlighted an example: "If we were to do a gift wrap station, we would need to test and learn quite quickly on what we think the price point should be. I've never done a test and learn on price points. So, we went away and did the classic design thinking around it. Desirability, viability, feasibility. And then we got to three or four ideas that we wanted to then validate with customers to see what worked, and what didn't work. I can't give you too, too much detail 'cause that's still actually in flux. It's still going on. It's like first time we've set up in these teams. And the general vibe is good, but there are some cultural barriers, and leadership barriers towards that way of thinking of course".

And, finally, he added that he's moved on to embed service design practice into the John Lewis UX team because UXers have about 80% of what is needed to become a service designer. They just need a bit of a push, opportunities and the shift in mindset throughout the rest of the business.

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What barriers have you had to overcome in the wider business?

One of the major barriers Steve faces in his role at John Lewis is the amount of red tape, particularly within financial aspects. Digital is financed in a very different way to the rest of the business. In some areas of the business, leadership is very hands-on from the top, with teams following direction implicitly. This isn't possible in the field of UX design, as it's more about problem-solving. This has caused some tensions in the past.

Another organisational barrier is communication, evidence and context-based design, and the concept of prototyping. While the shops are very positive about these aspects, there are organisational barriers at higher levels. Employees at store level are extremely customer-centric and have a greater understanding of what service design is setting out to achieve, but filtering this up the management structure can be more difficult.

One-way Steve's team try to overcome these barriers is to generate great PR for UX and using case studies is a way of doing this. This does cause some resourcing issues, however, ultimately digital is a big growth area so the team are fully stretched most of the time.

Prioritisation of projects

When it comes to prioritisation of the projects Steve has quite a mature online roadmap which highlights what needs doing and different timings and is in the process of passing this out around the business. One major thrust is moving into omnichannel and he is working on the strategies for this.

Skills of a service designer

Steve comments that growing skills within his team had not really been a critical factor as they are all up for just about any challenge. If he was given the time and chance he believes that working on facilitation and public speaking would be helpful, but they are not really essentials. He comments: "I think generally it's just the UXers want the opportunity to practice service design. I've got the .gov service designer job spec in front of me. And all my UXers hit each and every one of the high-level bullets that the .gov service designers want".

These include communicating information, digital perspectives, evidence, and context-based design, facilitating decisions and risks, leadership and guidance, prototyping, strategic thinking, understanding constraints, and user focus.

Although his team are working as service designers they are currently still working under the title of UX designer and we feel at John Lewis the service design practice is an extension of what a UXer can do.

Fulfilment of the team

Finding new service design recruits can be difficult and generally entails a lot of agency contact and wading through countless CVs. 

 As a specialist User Experience Recruitment Agency, we also spend a lot of time finding the very best talent to meet each client's individual need. This is an important task to complete, ensuring each fit is the right one for each company.

At John Lewis, when looking for new team members, the UX team looks for interviewees that are likely to meet the John Lewis ethos in that: "we are very, very partner-oriented, as well as customer orientated. So from that point of view, we look after our own, and we don't have to, sell hard, so we can do the right thing by the customer. Sometimes that's interpreted in different ways, but generally, the customer is always there, from the UX point of view. And I think we probably have some of the best people, best UXers out there to be honest. I really do believe that, both the contracting side and permanent side. We have a very stringent recruitment policy".

Anybody looking to move into the service design field really needs to start relationship building and sourcing the businesses that just want to try out working if different ways.

Building the service design practice in the UX team at John Lewis meant having the support of the MD for change in just about everything and the go-ahead for experimentation. It was important to start small at first, build relationships with key people and carry out case studies in order to illustrate the benefits and value of the practice.

Steve adds that he had joined John Lewis from a service design background in some ways as he'd carried out the practice in his position as a UXer, and this was pretty much the case for the entire team. Expertise in UX tends to encompass the role of the service designer. The only real difference being that service design involves more of the orchestration mentioned earlier, while UX design is more about the nuts and bolts of experience design.

So the top attributes (taken primarily from the GDS service designer job spec) needed by service designers or UXers looking to move into more of a service design mindset according to Steve include being: "very critical about the process. So, having the process nailed down, is very, very important. But not just the process but being able to adapt the process based on many different types of briefs. That for us is critical. Relationship building is very important. Being able to win the hearts and minds of anyone you come into contact with. Evidence and context-based design skill are needed. It's using evidence in whatever form that comes in, whether it's user research or analytics, or surveys, anything like that. The other one is the technical skill of being able to prototype or think of ways to prototype in any format needed. So, it could be a wireframe, it could be a pure prototype, but it could mean many other things these days.".

Learning and developing with projects

Steve's very positive about aspects of learning and development that occur across the range of projects handled by his team. He says: "I had a researcher in a workshop, and that workshop wasn't just about online, it wasn't even about how to sell something. It was actually about what we were selling. And that's the first time that a UX researcher has ever been sitting down, talking and facilitating in the workshop. That was about what John Lewis actually sell. UX has never been in those conversations before. And to see her light up when she realised that she could influence that space is quite interesting. And then that leads to true end to end, you know what are the actual products we're buying to sell? And how we're going to sell them and then where we're going to sell them. That is truly end to end".

Outsourcing service design to agencies

Quite a lot of the service design tasks carried out are outsourced to agencies and they often take over entire pieces of work. However, Steve does feel that keeping as much work in-house as possible helps open up more opportunities for his team, particularly giving more ways to influence others in the organisation and also the work helps develop his service design team members skillset.

Ideally, when agencies are bought into the organisation he prefers them to have the ability to teach his team additional skills and this helps develop the team further and "a cognitive step change in our thinking, not just to do the thinking for us".

Learning and development in service design

As already stated, much of the learning and development within the John Lewis service design set up is based on experience with different projects. Each UXer takes a slightly different approach to tasks and it's typical for textbook learning or Google design sprints to take place at the outset. Working in this fashion keeps the team constantly enthused and in a continual learning stage. This is quite typical within the UX field as it's continually changing in order to keep up with technological change and consumer demand.

Steve rounded off his interview with us by commenting that the development of UX and service design practice within the John Lewis brand was leading to some great partner interactions and higher levels of happiness and satisfaction. He said: "I think to see some of those conversations have been very heart-warming. Obviously, John Lewis is about the partners, and their happiness is very important to us to see those guys be enthused about certain projects, because they get to work with those people, is very cool".

Thank you to Steve Kato-Spyrou, UX Manager at John Lewis for speaking to us about embedding Service Design. It was certainly an interesting read. While you are here, don't forget to check out some of our other brilliant User Experience articles:

- The State of UX by Dr Nick Fine at Eurostar

With his areas of expertise ranging from remote user testing to transformation through user experience, we asked Nick about the state of UX, exploring why he believes the definition has changed in recent years.

- Hiring a UX team on a lean budget by Paul Lyngby-Trow at TravelRepublic

We talked to Paul about hiring a UX team on a lean budget, and how you secure more funding for user experience staff down the line. We also talk about other brilliant and interesting topics, such as the Specialist v Generalist Debate.

Meanwhile, we are a specialist User Experience Recruitment Agency. We lead the market with our unrivalled database and our expert User Experience Recruitment Consultants. Send us a job brief here.

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