Head of UX and Product Design
Sainsbury's Argos, which includes Argos Financial Services, Tu Clothing, and Habitat, is a leading UK-based online retailer. With 29 million store customers and nearly a billion online visitors every year (in terms of size, only eBay and Amazon are bigger), Sainsbury's Argos is striving to help make its customers' lives easier.
Reorganised, led, and coached a team of multi-disciplined professionals, including Information Architects, Product Designers, Researchers, and UX Writers.
Enriched a strong technology-based culture by injecting a more user-centred and problem-solving mindset and process.
Defined and executed the user experience vision, strategy, team's code of conduct, user-centred design direction and guidelines.
Worked closely with brand, CRM, and relevant teams to help ensure a consistent tone of voice and appropriate design across all digital customer channels.
Identified and drove emerging digital initiatives associated with usability, accessibility and design.
Liaised with designers, developers, and product owners to implement new conceptual ideas.
During the time Gianni and I worked together at Argos, I was impressed with his professionalism, ability to spot key issues, and ability to "roll up his sleeves" and teach by doing. Gianni's readiness to learn new UX skills and his readiness to learn new aspects of the UX profession were especially impressive since he brought with him an already impressive set of skills and approaches.
When Gianni started at Argos he immediately identified opportunities in our ways of working; proposed and gained support for necessary changes; and then guided the team through the transition in a way that gave every team member a way to feel good about the process.
Gianni frequently wrote his own UX prototypes to ensure the changes proposed were workable for the organisation before presenting them to the team. He also held brown bags and open design meetings including Product Management and members of other organisational UX teams, including merchandising and brand.
I truly enjoyed working with Gianni, was impressed with his professional approach to the broad range of problems and opportunities he encountered, consider him to be one of my "great" hires and would definitely work with him again if the opportunity ever presented itself.
Melissa Dunn - Former Head of Product at Sainsbury's Argos
After nine years, I decided to leave Ocado.
I had the absolute privilege of working on ocado.com, fetch.co.uk, sizzle.co.uk, fabled.co.uk, and lastly on the Ocado Smart Platform. It was time for me to move on to something different, something that could teach me new things and enrich my life and professional experience.
I joined Sainsbury's Argos as their new Head of UX and Product Design. [Spoiler] Unfortunately, my experience did not last long; I will leave the business after only ten months.
From the first day, I could clearly recognise the weak disposition and significant challenges the UX team members were facing. Not having anyone to lead the team for more than a year impacted negatively on the designers' growth, influence, and craft. The designers felt disengaged and demotivated, and one by one were leaving the business. Team spirit and comradery were nonexistent, and as a consequence, personal conflicts started to arise.
They were good individuals and valid designers, so my first and only priority was to bring back enthusiasm and teamwork. I spent most of my first months engaging with the team in a group and individually.
Because of the current situation, I immediately defined caring and learning as the new two critical team values.
I measured success by how much designers contributed to the success of their peers.
I physically reunited the team from being spread out across cross-functioning squads to sitting next to each other. To be a capable and efficient designer, you need to learn to work well and collaborate with your fellow designers; otherwise, we'll end up having a toxic culture of competitive silos. The plan was to investigate other ways of working (back to cross-functioning teams?) after we succeeded in becoming one lovely and cohesive team.
I planned team time. We would spend every Friday afternoon in training (design workshops) or in social events, such as visiting art museums and pubs. A few disagreed with spending that time in not doing "work", but as I said earlier, no teamwork = not great work (especially in the long term). I didn't compromise; that time was the most crucial time of the week.
I ran Design Thinking workshops across the organisation to divulge the meaning and value of design. I engaged with other leaders from different areas of the business such as Brand, Marketing, and Technology so to build a stronger relationship of trust and collaboration.
I started building a bridge between our team and the Sainsbury's Experience team to open opportunities for learning and working together.
I loved my first three/four months. The feeling I got when people privately told me how much better the team was doing was pure happiness. The feeling I got when the designers share their recent success's story with sincere excitement, is what makes me love my job. After four months, we started to see some real progress.
The team was more united than ever, and optimism started floating in the air.
It was time to start facing the fact that we needed to scale and deliver more significant design outcomes. We should never forget that our mission is to provide significant and valuable work for our customers and business. With the intent to optimise design delivery and consistency, I started defining a strategy (with tactics) to improve and scale our Design System (Bolt). We developed a new design process to facilitate collaboration and business/user validation; I started exploring new design opportunities to optimise the overall Sainsbury's Argos experience.
Everything was going according to plan. Then, one rainy day in May, an announcement was made. The whole digital team of Sainsbury's Argos was going to merge with Sainsbury's Grocery to become the one digital Sainsbury's team. And it needed to happen fast (rumours might say that it was a response to the failed merger between Sainsbury's and Asda).
I had to pause my initiatives to participate in the new Organisational Design workshops. While interacting with the Product and Tech Sainsbury's management, I realised that significant changes were ahead of us; changes that I struggled to be excited about.
One after the other, my line managers resigned; and It became clear to me that, regardless of my efforts, I couldn't shape the new Experience team as desired.
My leadership values, mindset, and vision were not compatible with what Sainsbury's expected. To avoid any further and future disruption, I decided to follow the leaders that hired me and resign before the new Experience team structure was made public. It was a choice made by gut feeling, intuition, and heart.
If there is something that my life taught me is that regardless of tough choices, everything is going to be just fine.
I wished I had more time to observe and enjoy the growth of my team and being able to deliver a better craft and experience to our millions of customers.
So here I am now, with three months to find a new job.
When I joined, I found a disjointed and demotivated team. Action was urgently required. After spending a good chunk of time listening and talking in 1:1s, we gathered as a group regularly in problem-solving and training workshops. The intent was to develop outcomes that were team led. I set responsibilities and ownership, and I paired designers so to avoid or weaken silos.
The most challenging and controversial (for all agile aficionados) move was to reunite all the designers into one "designers" office space. To prevent any waterfall workflow, designers were instructed to be mobile; don't let your desk define your agility; be where you need to be. The team felt united, even emotionally closer to each other. They loved to be able to share ideas within the group. Receiving feedback and support from your fellow designers boosted confidence in their outcome before engaging with no-designers. We started a new way of working, and it was working.
This approach was needed at that time to boost team building and productivity in the Sainsbury's Argos team; read your culture, individuals, and team dynamics to find your best team settlement. Don't believe in cookie-cutter solutions, and don't follow new team org trends.
A design process is a planned journey that relevant stakeholders should consider when developing an idea from its definition to its success. The Experience Team, and not only, needed a design process urgently.
I wanted to deliver a process that was meaningful and relevant to the team. Because the primary users of the design process are the designers and researchers, I wanted them to be the ideators and owners of the process. I simply led a Design Thinking workshop so to empower the senior design team members to initiate the conversation and deliver an initial and ready to be tested outcome.
The design process is a never-ending journey; because of the endless variations of teams' skills and the stakeholders' maturity and trust levels, it needs to evolve over time.
We solve people problems with optimism, care, and design. Together.
That's the reason for the Experience Design team to exist that I publicly shared across the organisation to foster a swift of mindset and behaviours within and outside our team.
We solve people problems because designers must be problem-solvers and people-centric.
We solve people problems with optimism because optimism in a workplace facilitates stronger relationships. And designers must cultivate relationships to increase trust and shift from cooperation to collaboration.
We solve people problems with care because the idea of a culture of caring encompasses many things: leaders caring about employees, employees caring for each other and customers, and everyone in the company caring about the company's purpose. Caring is powerful.
We solve people problems with design because that is our craft, mindset, and responsibility.
We solve people problems together because we are a diverse and multi-skilled bunch that is more durable and efficient when working together.
How do you set goals and work towards a better you? Start by envisioning whom you want to be in the future and write a thank you letter to yourself for the achievement. In this letter, write down each performed step, including all the struggles. Don't forget to mention whoever supported you. Now you have a list of needed actions and whom to ask for support. Hand the letter to your line-manager and ask to be evaluated from it in whatever time you have set.
The Great UX Bake Off.
Being part of a culture and environment that fosters learning is the ambition of all the best employees and in such a setting, happiness and productivity boost over the roof. It's part of my tactics to create opportunities for my team to spend Friday afternoons in personal and team development.
One of the activities that I enjoy running is The Great UX Bake Off. The purpose of such a workshop is to have individuals or groups working in solving a stated problem not related to the business. That is a great time to put into practice design thinking, collaboration, innovation, and pitching (you have to present your outcome at the end of every session)—all in a great friendly and fun atmosphere.
Bolt Design System
As previously stated, I initiated my experience in Sainsbury's Argos by tackling the team org, motivation, and dynamics concerns. It took me about 3-4 months before I could focus on rising the design craft standards.
I started reviewing and cleaning up the design elements of Bolt v2, the Design System for Argos. To test, validate and inform the new approach, I developed fully coded and interactive prototypes (see photo). Unfortunately, just about when I was ready to get deeply involved with engineers and product managers, priorities shifted to the merge with Sainsbury's conversation (described earlier on).