Why Human-Centered Design matters: 4 questions with CXO, Karen Boswell


Nea Bjorkqvist

February 16, 2022 | 2 min read

We caught up with the lovely Karen Boswell, Chief Experience Officer at VMLY&R and speaker at our Hybrid Champagne Breakfast to get her two cents on Human-Centered Design thinking (HCD). 

A bit about Karen… 

Karen leads some of VMLY&R’s biggest experience-led transformation programs that connect Brand Experience, Customer Experience, and Employee Experience to deliver sustainable growth for clients. 

With over 20 years of design thinking under her belt, Karen is relentlessly passionate about people, and making sure they come first every single day. She’s also a popular thought leader on industry stages such as Campaign and The Drum. 

We’re seriously excited (and honored) that we got the chance to pick her brain before her upcoming talk “Putting the Person in Personalisation”. Here’s what she had to say:

Question #1: What’s the elevator pitch for your talk?

Karen’s Answer: I’ll be sharing some tools, techniques, and case studies on the power of putting people at the forefront of transformation in the face of inevitable change. I’ll touch on frameworks for identifying and shaping the correlations between employee, customer, and brand experience to drive sustainable business growth. 

CXO Karens quote on the importance prioritizing people and HCD

Question #2: Why do you think human-centered design is critical for businesses? 

Karen’s Answer: A business is nothing without its people, and I use ‘people’ as an inclusive term for all; on the roads, on the phones, online, and in-store whether giving or receiving an experience. Human-centered design thinking allows us to seek and shape universal belief systems and behavior systems that bring to life the reasons a business deserves to exist.

HCD frames also allow a brand to communicate in timely and relevant ways that resonate, therefore lending to the increase of both Brand strength and stature in a marketplace, these two factors give competitive advantage across many factors including pricing power.

Question #3: In your experience, what’s the biggest reward of embracing human-centered design thinking?

Karen’s Answer: As an industry, we have the power at our fingertips to drive mass behavioral change. Putting people first is an inarguable equation for positive impact, so when I see the influence that brands and businesses have it reminds me of why the long hours and difficult conversations are worth it. If I can get one brand to transform for the power of the people every few years, I feel like I’m helping good businesses, do good business.

CXO Karens Quote about Human-Centered Design

Question #4: HCD is all about putting people first, what’s one thing you do daily to empower your team?

Karen’s Answer: I listen. For every team I build I have a no arseholes and no egos policy, this means an open door and open-source approach to harnessing creativity and change. Strategists don’t have the monopoly on strategy, nor do creatives on creativity and so on. A great idea can come from anywhere and too many are missed because we don’t listen enough.

Learn more about Karen’s approach to HCD   

Don’t miss out on Karen’s talk at our Hybrid Champagne Breakfast event on February 24th, 2022 at Hijingo, London. Join us for some bubbly, a bit of bingo, and epic presentations all about humanizing digital CX!

Catch a glimpse of our unforgettable talks

Watch our Champagne Breakfast talks on-demand to learn how Ted Baker, VMLY&R and RBS International are humanizing digital CX.

Watch now

Design Thinking FAQ

Human-centered design (also known as HCD or human-centred design thinking) is an approach that starts with people. At its core, it’s about building empathy with the people you’re designing for. The approach starts with understanding your end-user and ends with new solutions that are tailored to meet their needs. 

Design Thinking is an iterative 5-step problem-solving process for developing solutions, products, and services that serve the end-user.


Human-centered is an approach or mindset that intersects with Design Thinking. It has a long-term impact and a stronger focus on understanding and emphasizing with the people the solution is being designed for. 

Human-centered design thinking allows businesses to understand their customers’ needs and motivations better in order to design products and services that they actually need. Taking a more efficient and flexible approach to the design process, HCD helps businesses grow and drive their bottom line.