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FFS Sergey Yanovskiy

Liz Elder

Liz Elder

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For this edition of FFS, we’re delighted to be joined by Service Designer and Digital Strategist Sergey Yanovskiy from Octopus Labs.

We are proud to be working alongside Octopus Labs in supporting the Service Design Fringe Festival this year, which is the first and only service design festival in London. Since 2014, it has been contributing to increasing recognition, employment and the critical value of service design as an industry.

Sergey, alongside his colleague Anoush, will be delivering a talk on how their personal transformations have informed their approach to company transformation and how company transformation affects change in people.

If you're new to FFS - otherwise known as Futureheads Five Stories, this is a regular interview series where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell.

And we couldn’t resist the acronym.

Before settling into our FFS, we wanted to find out why Sergey and Octopus labs have partnered with the SDFF – and it’s a great story!

Twelve years ago, I spent some time studying English at Golders Green College and had a guide called Lior, who took our group around some of the museums and other attractions of London.

We lost connection for years until I moved to London permanently and started working in service design. I was looking for events to attend, and saw Lior had also become a service designer, and that she also was one of the organisers of the SDFF. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What’s the story of your career so far?

I have been at Octopus labs, where I am responsible for service design in the digital strategy team for a year now, after completing my Master’s in Digital Experience Design at Hyper Island Manchester.

Prior to this, I worked for digital agencies in Russia for several years. I had success as a digital specialist and creative director, but I realised that I didn’t want to convince people that the products our clients sold were good – sometimes they weren’t. I wanted to understand how to make good products and services that work for the people that use them, and have more impact for businesses.

I worked in two different markets and while there are differences, at a broad level, the problems that companies face are quite similar. This is because most businesses are ultimately product driven, rather than customer driven. Though this is getting better, we still have a long way to go and is why I decided to move into service design and strategy – by being able to take a more holistic approach, we can build bridges between humans and businesses.

What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?

Generally, when we start out, we don’t really know what we want to do, so my main advice would be to be curious and open-minded. Now career paths are flexible – I have a previous life in advertising, and this experience informs me a lot. I think it’s very important to be inspired by different industries and try different things.

If I think about my transition into service design specifically, I would stress the importance of good training. You can scale service design through training, so it shouldn’t just be a skill for service designers. The knowledge should be shared, and good training is key to bringing together the theory and the practical to effectively teach others. Information is increasingly democratised these days, so even if you don’t have the opportunity to undertake a Masters, there are so many avenues to explore to learn from.

At the same time, it’s important to learn by doing. You can start with a small business – perhaps your friends or parent’s business. Start reading about different tools and techniques and frameworks, put them into practice to get that real-world experience. I think all businesses are similar at their core – bigger brings more complexity, but the basic principles are the same. Businesses exist to create profits for owners and service customers to do this. This is pretty universal, and therefore, so are the fundamentals of service design. Even non-commercial businesses in the public sector, and NGOs still broadly follow these principles, so if you have no access to a business, go try doing work for these kinds of organisations.

What do you love most about what you do?

I really enjoy being able to work with so many different points of view. I really enjoy the process of delivering this information from our work to business stakeholders and seeing how insightful it is for them because they hadn’t looked at the business from this perspective.

The approach and techniques used are pretty universal no matter how complex the task is, so once you get the basics, you can go and work anywhere else. Service Design is really multiple disciplines – you can move into data analysis, into user research, into prototyping – there are lots of options.

I recently read an interesting piece about the difference between what strategy means in the old world vs the new world. The old world means you are coming from A to B, and B is finite. In the new world, strategy means you are also moving from A to B, but B can then unlock ways to C, D and E. We are all in the new world, and defining B in your own journey can bring more opportunities for yourself and your career. It’s lots of fun.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?

To respect people. We have this big thing around empathy in design. By empathy, I don’t mean you should dissolve yourself but you need to understand others' point of view - even if its contradictory. This diversity of opinions brings a unique angle to many problems. Sometimes I have worked with people I didn’t like, and at times I was quite resistant to their opinions. It took me a while to learn that I needed to be professional and listen to everyone, whether I like them or not, and focus on their expertise.

 I’d would add that design industry people are often obsessed with users or customers – but I think some people could do well to remember that their salaries are paid by businesses, and they need to emphasise with stakeholders too.

What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next twelve months?

Despite the fact we’ve been already talking about it for ages, the biggest challenge in service design is still explaining what service design is!

There are still lots of organisations who don’t understand what it is and how it works. I don’t work for agencies deliberately, because I think I can have more impact on a business. There have been many times where I’ve had to explain that service design is basically what helps you to link your customer experience with your organisational experience and improve it, and people still didn’t get it.

Often they try to equate service design with something they are familiar with. A common one is business analysts, or sometimes UX designers because we inherited the same tools and techniques. There’s still a long way to go, and I think this will remain a challenge for some years - but things are slowly getting better.

I think it will follow a similar trajectory to that of marketing when it appeared. It took some time for business to properly understand it, but these days people no longer question what it is. I think this will one day be the same for service design – which I’m looking forward to.

A little bit about Sergey Yanovskiy

In a previous life, Sergey was an award-winning creative director in advertising recognised by D&AD and Cannes Lions. After years of making bad products look great, he decided to learn how to make great products.

Sergey pivoted his career by receiving a master’s degree in Digital Experience Design at Hyper Island Manchester. Last year he moved to the UK under Exceptional Talent in Digital Technology route and joined Octopus Labs where currently is responsible for service design in the digital strategy team.

You can connect with Sergey on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Want to take part in our FFS series? Say hello at liz@wearefutureheads.co.uk.