Nonagenarian designs for aging and inspires younger designers

Barbara Beskind, 90, is a designer at IDEO who works with engineers on products that improve the quality of life for older people. Nicolas Zurcher/Courtesy of IDEO
Barbara Beskind, 90, is a designer at IDEO who works with engineers on products that improve the quality of life for older people.
Nicolas Zurcher/Courtesy of IDEO

NPR published a great story on Barbara Beskind, a product and interface designer in her early nineties.

My favorite excerpt:

Gretchen Addi, an associate partner at IDEO, hired Beskind. Addi says when Beskind is in a room, young designers do think differently. For example, Addi says IDEO is working with a Japanese company on glasses to replace bifocals. With a simple hand gesture, the glasses will turn from the farsighted prescription to the nearsighted one.

Initially, the designers wanted to put small changeable batteries in the new glasses. Beskind pointed out to them that old fingers are not that nimble.

“It really caused the design team to reflect,” Addi says. They realized they could design the glasses in a way that avoided the battery problem. “Maybe it’s just a USB connection. Are there ways that we can think about this differently?”

There are several wonderful take-home messages:

  • Creative and fulfilling work can extend late into the lifetime
  • Aging does not just bring limitations, it also extends perspective and wisdom
  • Designing for aging is doesn’t detract from a product but can enhance it for people of all ages
  • Having a person with such perspective on a design team changes the perspective and thoughts of the rest of the team, the core tenant of participatory design

One thought on “Nonagenarian designs for aging and inspires younger designers”

  1. Thanks for sharing this! I’ve been doing caretaking for my father in his mid 90s for the past few years and it’s been fascinating from the perspective of human factors, UX, and design. While part of this is trying out all sorts of technology to help us help him (to maintain/increase independence, to share info among family members, to provide him with more connections, to engage with him and keep him stimulated, to record and monitor his health, etc.), it’s been wonderful to have his insight into technology. It’s fascinating to see which interfaces are intuitive for him, what sorts of “mistakes” he tends to make, what new words filter into his vocabulary, what he finds different technologies useful for, etc. I’ve been a fan of IDEO every time I’ve read about them and it’s great to see at least one firm making use of some of the insight that age offers (albeit different concerns from my father’s–he doesn’t need physical assistive devices yet except glasses for distance), though I hope others aren’t far behind!

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