Gretta Jensen – Service Designer /UX Designer and Experience Illustrator

Posted March 29, 2019, by Jenny Sakr
Gretta Jensen – Service Designer /UX Designer and Experience Illustrator

Miner turned UX Designer and Experience Illustrator, Gretta Jensen claims to have a “double doctorate in life experience,” having gone through many of life’s highs and lows, Gretta’s career journey is one of a kind and above all, inspirational. Read how Gretta overcome workplace harassment and bullying, personal ailment and at over 40 years old went on to conquer her career goals. 

Tell us about your career journey

I transitioned from a career in mining – working the coal face – loading charges, manufacturing explosives, driving trucks of all sorts, into the open arms of the tech design world. While recovering from a serious injury/illness I discovered that I could illustrate quite well, so now I do experience illustration, along with design, which keeps me smiling.

What were some big considerations and hesitations you had before changing careers?

1. I am a 40 + year old single mum raising 3 daughters alone and working more than full time. One of my daughters has considerable medical needs. Getting the time to learn not only a new industry – but how to use a computer was very, very challenging.
2. I was pretty much computer illiterate, so transitioning into the role of UX design and the design space was incredibly daunting as it is all based around the use of technology. Up until that point, my understanding of computers was pretty limited. I recognised however that my problem-solving skills are excellent, so there was hope for me in the industry.
3. The courses I wanted to attend were a six-hour round trip away. The courses ran on weekends so I would attend one on Saturday and complete homework on Sunday or late into the nights through the week. Some times I had to do a quick Thursday afternoon turnaround trip, getting home at 1 am for work the next day.
4. At the time all of the jobs were in capital cities, a long way from where I was. I felt I couldn’t move my daughters who were all in high school. At the time I hoped the company I worked for would embrace my new skills.
5. I had barely scraped through high school and had not studied since then. I had lived my life as a gypsy and the idea of study after so many years was terrifying.
6. The investment in my education seemed like it might be throwing good money away, which I could not afford to do. I invested thousands in my education, with the odds stacked against me making it.

Why did you want to go into service designing?

My transition to Service Design was a few years after I was working as a UX designer. I enjoy a lot about UX design – solving usability puzzles on an interface and using technology to delight people. But to be fair the relationship I have with computers and technology has never been a comfortable one. When I heard about Service Design it seemed to be a career that utilises my core skill set to the max within the industry I love. Service Design is perfect as it allows me to solve human sided problems more holistically, using my excellent problem-solving skills, my storytelling, illustration skills and ideation to the fullest. We couldn’t be more perfect for each other. 

Why did your study journey look like?

It was pretty terrifying – being the oldest and in my opinion, the dumbest in the class, each course I attended. I had to invest a lot of travel time to attend the study when I had very little spare time.  There were lots of late nights filled with utter despair, staring at the computer wishing the ability to use it would just magically grow overnight. There was a lot of frustration!

Many times I felt like giving up. I felt so hopeless compared to my classmates excelling far beyond my crusty efforts. When I wanted to give up I would give myself a mental slap across the face and think about what else I was giving up to do this study – a lot!! Time with my daughters, money, me time, a chance to escape the mining industry that I was desperate to leave.… and again I realised I was not going to give up my dreams and I would plough on. I downloaded multiple tutorials to learn in my own ‘spare time’ (not that there was much of that). But these didn’t help all that much either. The basic knowledge of Adobe products seemed a must. I still haven’t looked once at Photoshop. There is only so much I can manage mentally.

I have of course learnt a lot in the process and although I sometimes feel like a dill, even now, I recognise I have learnt so much, and really it’s just the ‘imposter syndrome’ I have to fight with today.

Explain a typical day in your role as a service designer

I would say I don’t have a “typical day” which is awesome!

I currently work remotely just with Kat, and she generally sends me problems she is attempting to portray, and I evaluate how best to illustrate the problem considering the audience who will look at the outcome. Kat does a lot of talks at conferences around the world and she uses my illustrations to support the context of her topic. I create a solution to the problem and we communicate back and forth digitally and over time zones. It actually works really well. We have been working on delivering some new insights about the world Kat is from – ITIL Service Design. It’s really fascinating and she is amazing to work for, and with.

At the moment I am learning new software to develop a very large and complex journey map – and I’m evolving it all the time again, always considering who will look at it, and what do they need to feel when digesting the message.

As I can work remotely – I do so as much as possible. Adventure travel fills my heart with joy. Seeing other cultures work beautifully together, I want to discover as many as I can to build my understanding of humanity.

What qualities and skills should a designer have?

I believe you can learn all the skills you need, to enhance the qualities you have within you as a great designer. You’ll need:
1. Definitely a broad mind to objectively see people without bias.
2. Empathy is a good thing to have as it helps you see the problems that people experience and want to do something about it.
3. A desire to create ethical outcomes. Designers are the gatekeepers of the future and we need to be careful not to create solutions that solve immediate problems but create far more issues for the future.
4. Patience and respect for your colleagues and test subjects, to undertake research and test ideas – it’s important to be a team player, and be respectful/understanding of the different mindsets you will encounter.

What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you in your career?

I drove the design of a new and very different delivery system for explosives vehicles in the underground sector. The design was controversial and I worked with a really amazing team at that time. At the very first attempt to use it on a mine site, it worked perfectly – exactly as designed. We were all so thrilled at how well it worked, considering the significant challenges we faced.

Name a career highlight

A highlight was speaking at UX Australia and having a standing ovation for my ideas. This was a short time before I became very unwell and lost my ability to speak. Since then I have struggled to speak in public. I look forward to finding my voice again one day. Another equally amazing highlight is having my illustrations recently published in a large global ITIL publication.

Name a career low

The treatment I received from my last employer was as low as you could go. I was bullied, harassed and degraded until I fell apart. My ideas were stolen by colleagues and claimed as their own. I was not able to do effective UX but was required to design on instinct rather than research, then heckled when the outcome was less than ideal. I was told not to speak at meetings and that I was a stupid woman. I was sexually harassed and assaulted and refused help when I tried to report the problems.

Name something you still don’t know

Wow. Lots!

I don’t know how to do simple things on a computer that most people learn at birth. I feel embarrassed about asking. This will probably always be a learning curve.

What’s the most important career tip someone has given you?

Remember you don’t need to put up with abusive behaviour, but there are people who you will work with who will make you feel inadequate, sad, angry etc. Hopefully, there will be many more who will be awesome and uplifting, and the a***holes will be in the tiniest minority, but they will be there somewhere. Phycological safety at work is as paramount as physical safety and I hope in the future there will be more able to speak up safely about bullying, harassment and mental health at work.

What career advice do you wish someone had given you after you graduated high school?

Go to uni or get further educated. The university of life is a tough degree to get. It’s better to get a real degree or diploma if you can.

I barely made it through high school. I had the capability to do so much but not the supportive environment, nor the personal desire to study at the time. I was a rebel and determined to do things that were not the norm. I do recognise now how much easier life would have been had I become further educated back then. Do further study – while you can. It’s way easier if you are not juggling a job and kids too.

What’s next for you?

I look forward to continuing to work with Kat from KayJayEm Services, transforming the concept of Human Centred Design within ITIL.

I have started my own business which I will continue to grow slowly as my health recovers. It’s based on services in the design industry, and illustrations. I also look forward to talking at conferences as my voice returns.

I have once been on my death bed, many years ago, told I wouldn’t live the night out. I decided then that if I lived I would not waste my time sitting around – that next time I am on my death bed I plan to have no regrets.

Inspired by Gretta’s story? It’s never too late to take your career where you want it to go! Start with a course in Web Design – enquire today. 
Jenny Sakr
Jenny Sakr

Jenny found her way with words while interning during uni, since, she's produced articles on it all – from hair and beauty to homewares, travel, career advice and study tips. On a weekend you're most likely to find her lining up for a table at the latest cafe or restaurant.

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