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Fighting The Beast Inside: An Interview With Autotrader’s Head Of UX

ContentSquare’s Matt Robinson sat down with perhaps the nicest man in ecommerce, James Barley, head of UX at Autotrader, ahead of his upcoming presentation at the infamous champagne ecommerce breakfast on November 8th.

Tell us about your presentation topic (what beast in ecommerce are you fighting?)

The presentation is focused on fighting the beast inside, which is really transforming the culture that’s helped Autotrader turn itself into the brand and organisation that it is today. It’s currently a very delivery-led culture, and we’re facing competition and real threats from brands that have adopted that culture of experimentation instead. So our beast is how we’re tackling that culture shift, and how we disrupt ourselves again, ensuring that attitude is ingrained in the culture and something that’s not just paid lip service to.

What do most ecommerce teams get wrong?

Not enough research resource. There’s still a heavy weighting in the overall UX industry towards design, which is brilliant. We definitely need those folks who can find and design the solution but equally, we need folks who can find the problems and find the things to fix. Some brands have really embraced it; Facebook have 500 researchers worldwide, have a team of 40 researchers. These are the brands who are really pioneering the way. Other brands just need to observe their success and understand it’s probably been achieved by understanding the customer in their marketplace a little bit more than their competition.

What do you most enjoy about working in UX?

Learning all the time. My assumptions are quite often dashed, but that’s a good thing, we need to rely on evidence not gut-feel. I also love that no two days are the same, my job is not just to work on a product, it’s to understand how and why people interact with that product. People are unpredictable, people are irrational, so from that perspective I just find that endlessly fascinating.

Tell me an interesting fact about yourself.

I probably ran my first user test by accident about 18 years ago. I was a designer back then and I loved designing new experiences, new ways of navigating sites in flash and doing all that stuff that designers did in the late 90s. One day I got a pretty rude awakening. I thought I’d recreated how people would navigate through a website, I thought they’d scroll through it and they wouldn’t need to click. So I showed my mum proud as punch, I’d put a lot of effort into, she couldn’t even get past the homepage. That was when the penny dropped, it wasn’t a case of me getting frustrated with the user, it was more a case of me getting frustrated with myself. I realised that I’m a designer. I’m designing products, I’m not an artist, I’m not creating things for my own fulfilment, I’m designing things for other people to get value from. That was the ‘Sliding Doors’ moment in my career, from that point on I was always extremely user centric, testing whenever I could, and that eventually led me to realise I was actually more fascinated in humans than moving pixels around in photoshop or in sketch.

Complete the sentence. If I didn’t work in UX/ecommerce I’d be working at/as a  __________

Probably some area of psychology, understanding and learning about people.

James will be joined by Matt Curry, Head of Ecommerce at LoveHoney, where they’ll be talking more about fighting their beasts at the ContentSquare champagne breakfast on November 8th. Free to attend for brands, the day will contain cross-vertical ecommerce insights littered with use cases that you can immediately apply to your business. No boring high-level waffle, just actionable insights.

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