Agency vs in-house with Carl Williams

Agency vs in-house with Carl Williams

In this ‘agency vs in-house’ series led by Salt Managing Consultant for Creative, Holley Potts, we speak to customers from all different sectors within the world of digital to answer the age-old question – agency or in-house? This series is designed to give you a snapshot of creative career journeys and insights into what is currently happening in their businesses. Over to Holley… 

So here I am speaking to my next guest Carl Williams, Lead Product Designer in the Experience team at YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP.  This is someone who has the most fascinating insight into the industry of the world that is fashion, and how there is so much more going on behind the scenes… 

Holley – Carl, so good you can join us on this content series that has taken off. Before we delve into this topic, tell the audience a little about what’s a day in the life like in YOOX NET-A-PORTER? 

Carl – It’s great collaborating across the business with the creative, editorial and tech teams. We work closely with them on how Content plays its part within our experience across our platforms. Back when NET-A-PORTER was founded the experience of being a shoppable magazine was one of the key goals. There’s been a massive shift in content and what it means to be a content maker. Especially when you are marrying it with e-Commerce, take Instagram for example. We are working to help shape what that means for us a business.

Holley – Do continue!…

Carl – Well the psychology behind fashion is fascinating, especially what the researchers reveal about people’s behaviours and trends. Style is an expression on one’s self. With NET-A-PORTER being a tech company, we want to breed this culture that is based on research and education, Rapid iteration, helping us to test and learn! We have a great UX Lab where we can hear so many different points of view from different customers all with unique characters, which is invaluable when creating a product for our end-user.

We work in the luxury fashion sector, with some premium clients. They expect a luxury experience when shopping and browsing with us just as they do for other areas of their lives. Making informed decisions from the research and interpreting this into our designs helps us see opportunity in different areas.

Holley – That must be fascinating hearing so many different points of view from so many customers to help create your product. Working in-house tends to mean you generally work for one brand, alas you guys work for multiple fashion brands. Working in-house, what is it like working for a brand rather than an agency? 

Carl – Well, being in-house, there can be that fear that you will be doing the same thing all the time. That’s the great thing about the experience team here, we are constantly working on design exploration, and there are so many projects to work on it keeps things interesting. For me, that resonates back to when I was studying at Design School, as that was a time when you felt most free, and often collaborated with your classmates.

A few years ago, before our current iteration of the Experience team, we had Content, Shop, and Native as separate Design teams which meant we were not always looking at the experience holistically across platforms. The team re-structured so that there can be more crossover. This approach means the designers in the team get a flavour of both web and native platforms no matter what area they are working in. 

We try and not box it in. There is this culture of collaboration, we all workshop together from researchers to designers. 

Holley – That cross collaboration is so important as you said, across any sector. Being able to speak the same language as other teams only creates for a more holistic way of working. Is there a type of designer that works well in-house? 

Carl – I would say there’s a number of factors, but it probably differs depending on the company and team. For us, we have a wide range of skill sets amongst the team. Each member has their core strengths but is also interested in working to learn and have a go at new tools or design methods. The T shape designer is a term that been used in the past and I think much of our team would come under that, someone who with a strong root skill but has knowledge of other areas. I think this really helps with collaborating.

That’s why having different members of our team with so many skill sets is exciting. It helps us learn of one another.

Holley – Indeed, the rise of up skilling and being multi-faceted as a designers is proving to be the most efficient way of working as a designer currently and adapting to the change, speaking of change, how have you guys adapted to this remote way working?

Carl – We implemented remote working long before lockdown happened, so we were well equipped. We were being very productive on our Zoom calls with our stakeholders, as video calls are so much quicker than meeting in person. We’ve been using InVision Freehand quite often which has been great.

Within our immediate team, we have made sure to keep in our weekly design crit over WebEx calls each Wednesday since lockdown began, and this hasn’t stunted our creativity at all really which is good.

Holley – Indeed, it’s amazing hw much time you save from a Zoom video call, but then you do miss out on that personal connection. This remote works we live in has clearly impacted the way we shop, especially retail, do you see any changes in how we shop this year?

Carl – I feel there is this spirit of entrepreneurship, especially around selling clothing. I seem to be getting a lot of clothing brands I’ve never come across served in my social feeds.

I think in this current climate people are feeling even more so that their income shouldn’t be tied to one income stream due to the heightened uncertainty. People are more conscious of their finances, and platforms like Shopify or Squarespace have lowered the barrier to be able to setup and sell a product or service.

I read somewhere that Apple recently acquired a startup called Mobeewave that allows your mobile device to become a point of purchase card reader. When they release that into their iOS, we’ll all have the ability to become mobile merchants. We just need something good to sell.

Alas, a brilliant insight into Carl’s world of life in-house in the wonderful world that is retail. It seems Carl is sticking to in-house! 

Stay tuned for more interviews, coming your way. If you would like to find out more about the series or find out how we can help you to hire consultants online, get in touch with Holley via

Read more of our agency vs in-house interviews here.

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