Human-centred design is design for the future, and Rebecca Lloyd is paddling in the lead with her start-up, Rowboat


Rebecca Lloyd knows when to jump ship at the right time. She left the stability of her corporate life and a regular income to start her own business, Rowboat, and she’s paddling full steam ahead, advocating for human-centred design. 

Human-centred design isn’t the first thing a small business would think of when they’re deep in the trenches of start-up land – but it should be. Rebecca is the first to agree that businesses who use human-centred design have a stronger competitive advantage, and she’s built a business teaching the concept of it…

What exactly is ‘Human-Centred Design’?

I’m glad you asked! It’s a structured methodology that brings people to the front to supercharge problem-solving. It starts with building deep empathy with the people you’re designing for, generating tons of ideas, building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made, and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world. It’s research. It’s creativity and it’s testing and iterating.

The technique is gaining a lot of momentum in businesses that are tired of the ‘old ways’ of doing things that often don’t work! It’s an inclusive and fun way of working and we’re very proud that many clients have told us that their Rowboat days are their very best days!

Where did the inspiration come from your business name, Rowboat?

Well, I do love the water! But, truthfully, it came out of my resignation conversations with my previous employer, PwC. My boss kept describing all the opportunity and resources that were ahead of me on what I called the ‘big ship’, but I was being called to do something smaller, more nimble, to jump on a little rowboat.

With clients, we also talk about the benefits of being on a voyage on a rowboat, the ability to look back at their big ship from a new perspective, once they’ve learned more about their employees or their customers, giving them the chance to re-design with fresh eyes. 

You were working for PwC with a secure income and employment stability before taking the leap to launch Rowboat. What were the first few months like?

S**t scary. 

I’d had seven years of stability and someone else (ultimately) directing my focus, even though I had a great boss and always felt very much in control. But yes, scary. 

Being a services-based rather than product-based business, I had my first few days of work come quite quickly, so I didn’t have to wait months or years to see whether the business was ‘working’. I can only imagine that the s**t scared part lasts a lot longer for a business that relies on a product being built first. 

I’m now grateful for the fear. It pushes you to do things you didn’t think you could (like stand strong in legal negotiations with very powerful companies!) and it became less scary when I was able to build my crew of incredible designers. It’s far more fun, less daunting and a whole lot more productive to be rowing as a team. Special shout out to Rowboat’s creative lead, Ben, who’s been in the boat since the early days!


What’s a week in your shoes look like now?

Well, in terms of shoes I’m usually in a pair of trusty Rollies. They’re a dream for facilitation and they’re super light and comfy, easy to throw in a suitcase and pretty fun (my favourites have boobs all over them). 

In terms of my week, it varies by the hour, let alone the week. Each week usually features plenty of coffee - often with clients to help them brainstorm potential approaches to problems, a couple of client workshops, and time with the team to synthesise research we’ve been collecting from employees or customers. I also try to attend as many industry events as I can so my week may feature a night exploring a design-based topic. 

Most importantly, each Wednesday I spend the day with my nine-month old son, Alfie, while my wife is at work, which is often the hardest and most rewarding day of my week! He’s a little legend.

What would you say to anyone who’s struggling to find ‘their thing’?

Find your work crush (as in, you love the look of what they get up to) and ask if you can buy them a coffee. Then, ask everything about their story. Don’t be too weird.

If you’re not doing your ‘thing’ now, but you know it’s out there, see if you can save enough money to allow you to take that big leap of faith. It’s far easier to find your ‘thing’ when you can devote your whole self to it, rather than the odd few hours in the evening. 

What does ‘good design’ mean to you?

I think I’ll have to throw that back to the amazing team at The Fashion Advocate as they’ve just won the 2019 Good Design Award for Fashion Impact! Congratulations guys!

For me, good design changes people’s lives for the better. This could mean a lot of things but often we help organisations make experiences more personal, more meaningful and more fun. 

One of our projects we’re most proud of was for the International Cricket Council, where we helped create a brand-new experience to open cricket up to the world and help it spread like wildfire! The new product allows participants to create their very own version of the game, capture it on an app and invite others around the world to compete. 


With so many other design agencies in Melbourne, what stands Rowboat apart?

We’re good friends with so many of the other design agencies in Melbourne, I believe we’re all in this together! I hope our difference lies in the way we get things done. One of our values is ‘bias for action’ and we can make things happen super super fast for our clients. We also have an awful lot of fun as we work and this is usually contagious. We always aspire to be the highlight of someone’s day, whether we’re having a discovery session, running a workshop or having an inspiring conversation over coffee. 

What’s your hidden talent?

Being English, I can cook a pretty amazing roast chicken.

This blog was written by the incredible and talented Claire Goldsworthy, Founder of The Fashion Advocate.

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