Employee spotlight: Helga Gruenbauer
What makes 84.51˚ an intriguing company? Is it the flexible hybrid work options, the free food regularly found around the office or the challenging problems that we tackle? While these aspects are undoubtedly great, it’s the people that make working here truly special. Check out our Employee Spotlight series to learn more about who we are and the unique traits of our teammates.
Hometown: Highland Park, IL Office Location: Chicago/Deerfield Start Date: June 2021 Job title: Experience Design Director
Describe your role.
In my role as Director of Experience Design (XD), I lead a team of 5 very talented XD designers within the Insights program. I’m also part of the Program Leadership Team where a group of cross-functional colleagues collaborate and advise our Insights Program Lead as we formulate a vision and strategy for our product and service experiences. As a people leader, I focus on growing our team, in numbers as well as skills, and provide visibility to the value and impact XD can have on the organization as a whole.
How long have you worked in solution design and what inspired you to pursue this field?
Solution design is an interesting choice of words, but I like it. It speaks to design being intentional in solving a problem, not merely to produce visually appealing products. I was the kind of kid who would use anything in reach to ‘build’ things. Ice-cream containers became telephones, scrap paper grew into 3D city layouts and later, cardboard boxes were turned into mini appliances for our son. I enjoy seeing ideas come to life and to this day I start solving problems by sketching out my thoughts. The other two influences were an early interest in psychology and education. Despite that interest I started as a communication design student in Augsburg, Germany, and moved to the US in the early 90’s.
“I enjoy seeing ideas come to life and to this day I start solving problems by sketching out my thoughts.”
I hold a BA from Columbia College Chicago, which gave me a solid foundation to start as a web developer in the late 80’s. Soon after, I found myself applying my skills of graphic design and multimedia at a small digital educational publisher (APTE) where we created award-winning classroom programs on CD-ROM for Pre-K to 8th grade students. We were the first to bring photography and writing into classrooms nationwide and the creative side of my years there was a dream job. As I transitioned away from visual design to deepen my knowledge of user experience (UX) and research, I got a MS in human factors in information design from Bentley University, which signified the culmination of my interests in problem solving, psychology and design. I have been able to apply the breadth of my skills in a variety of industries and organizations.
What interested you in joining 84.51°?
Hands down, the unmatched data asset and data science aspects played a primary role in my decision to join 84.51°. Before joining the company, I led the UX team at SPINS. Working with POS data from a wide variety of retailers provided interesting challenges in itself but I continuously found myself craving more granular data that spoke to shoppers’ choices, which would enable us to measure changes in behavior. Solving problems in product should always focus on improving people’s lives, be it internally or externally and sometimes the ‘user’ is just another system. I enjoy the complexity of our industry and the opportunities we have to deliver excellent experiences that go beyond dashboards and reports as we know them today.
“Solving problems in product should always focus on improving people’s lives.”
What has been the most memorable experience or favorite project you’ve worked on?
I’ve been with 84.51˚ just under two years and my favorite project during that time would have to be partaking in the creation of a future vision for our Insights ecosystem. This work kicked off last year with the creation of an experience vision video and working with a cross-functional team whose focus is now to bring the beginning parts of that vision to life. We have amazing opportunities ahead of us.
What’s your favorite part about working at 84.51°? Do you have a favorite benefit or perk that is offered?
To a large extent, it’s simply the people I get to work with every day and the overall culture of the company. There is so much talent here and it is an amazing place to work for anybody who’s looking to collaborate on solving complex problems in new and different ways. My favorite perk? As a European, that title has to go to our amazing policies on PTO, wellness days and mental health support. A close second is the company’s support in furthering continuous education and professional growth. I wish I would have been working in my earlier years for a company that invests so much in their people. To my younger colleagues I always say, “take advantage of investing into your future.”
My favorite perk? That title has to go to our amazing policies on PTO, wellness days and mental health support.”
What advice would you give to those who are considering working in this field?
I get asked that question a lot. It’s a broad field. People easily assume we’re all about visuals, but experience design is so much more. There are plenty of articles out there that speak to the breadth of our fields so my standard answer to this question is, stay curious, observe, and ask questions. Take note that what people say and do are very often two different things. Taking that step back and asking ‘Why?’ will help you focus on the motivation behind the behavior. That’s where you want to plug in to really understand a problem. Soon you will find yourself evaluating interactions you have with your surroundings on a deeper level and you will notice that in the end it is always about behavior. Sharpen your understanding of what makes a product or service experience pleasant or cumbersome—what lies between good and great. Get a sketchbook and put your thoughts to paper. Communicating thoughts or ideas and working through a problem visually can be a real superpower.
What do you like to do in your free time outside of work hours?
That depends a bit on the season. I love growing my own vegetables. Chicago has a “short-ish” summer window and so I start my seeds indoors as early as February. This year my son and I built a hoop house in our backyard which allowed me to move most seedlings outside before the last frost date. We harvest tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, eggplants, greens, lettuce, and lots more. In the cooler months I will find myself knitting again. Traveling and going to see movies is something I enjoy doing with my wife all year round. Ready to join us? Check out Careers at 84.51° to learn more.
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