The reality of Service Design within a large bank

To celebrate service design day I thought I’d share some insight into what doing service design in a large service provider is like on a day-to-day basis. I’m head of service design at Lloyds Banking Group and have been since November 2016.

Team shape and structure

In mid-2016 Alberta Soranzo was hired to build the team, and today we’re 16 strong. We have a mostly senior team with backgrounds from IDEO, Ministry of Justice, Tesco, Vodafone and many others. The majority of the them work in specific journeys (mortgages, retail banking etc), delivering work that I’ll talk about below. Centrally myself and Alberta focus on best representing the discipline, building a talent pipeline and ensuring the team have the tools they need to do their jobs.

Some of the team back in July 2017

The work

Lloyds is a large and complex service provider encompassing mortgages, retail & commercial banking, pensions and more. There are around 75k employees, 30 million customers and centuries of legacy tech, process and behaviour. All of this means the service design team have a hugely varied set of tasks before them.

Each service designer sits within a particular area of transformation (more on the wider programme) and works among a cross-discipline team of other designers, agile coaches, systems thinkers (more on this below), product owners and business specialists. Their role is to coach teams through the design process, ensuring customer problems are deeply understood, new ideas tie back to said problems, and improvements are iterative and measurable.

This means we get involved in everything from commissioning and carrying out research, facilitating the creation of service blueprints, and working with developers/colleagues/whoever to make ideas real and in the hands of our customers. To date we’ve consciously avoided having a prescriptive team approach, but as we scale we’re working on a playbook to capture general team principles and tools.

A team going through the service design essentials course

Another area of work is building internal service design capability. One of my first tasks was to establish an internal service design course, and we quickly realised we needed a trainer full-time. We hired Roman last year and he’s taken my early material and built a structured curriculum that introduces attendees to research, blueprinting and other core service design skills.

Systems thinking link

My biggest learning since joining is the power of marrying a service design approach with systems thinking. One of our two sister teams (the other is agile), within labs we ‘form like voltron’ to coach the wider teams to focus on real customer value.

Systems thinking has many overlaps with service design (holistic perspective, focus on real insight/data), so the disciplines naturally fit together. And like Voltron, service design gains super powers when it can credibly measure value versus failure in a given service, or highlight systems constraints that need to be designed out.

I’ve written more on this topic here.


Being a service designer within a large bank isn’t easy. Working from a customer perspective pits you against organisational norms, and thinking end-to-end can lead you crashing into silos. These are not easily solved problems and arguably will always be an issue for any service designer seeking to make a legacy service better. We spend a lot of time thinking how we can create visualisations that better show the ‘whole’, or try and use data and make compelling cases, but more often than not we simple try and support one another with a coffee or a beer.

Another challenge is running as an effective team while we’re all working in different projects in different locations. Our vision for the team is to run as effectively as a small agency might, with a shared toolset, strong culture and tangible buzz. This is hard though when project work keeps us busy and simply getting everyone in one room is a rarity. We’re trying new communication patterns and regular co-location days, but I suspect it will be an ongoing challenge and one that I’ll feel most keenly as head of the team.

Whatsapp is our comms backbone for everything from proper service design chat to marshmallow scoring

Our final challenge is maintaining a sufficient talent pipeline. There are only so many experienced service designers in the world and so we’re experimenting with developing talent from within the bank. Balancing the need for both soft skills (empathy, curiosity) and hard skills (research, facilitation) has meant that we’ve been able to identify suitable candidates who perhaps exhibit the soft and can be taught the hard.

I hope this is interesting to those working in other in-house teams, agencies or to those thinking about a career in service design. Super happy to answer any questions in the comments below.

Mum asked for a baby, dad asked for a transformer - I was the compromise. Chief product officer at 4G Capital.