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At 90, She's Designing Tech For Aging Boomers

At 90 She s Designing Tech For Aging Boomers All Tech Considered NPR


In Silicon Valley's youth-obsessed culture, 40-year-olds get plastic surgery to fit in. But IDEO, the firm that famously developed the first mouse for Apple, has a 90-year-old designer on staff.

Barbara Beskind says her age is an advantage.

"Everybody who ages is going to be their own problem-solver," she says. And designers are problem-solvers. Beskind speaks while sitting on a couch at the open office space of IDEO in San Francisco. She commutes to the office once a week from a community for older adults where falling is a problem.

"People where I live fall a lot," she says, adding, "For a friend of mine, I tried to design air bags of graded sizes that would be activated at a lurch of 15 degrees." She is stumped on how to find the right power source for her air bags.

Beskind says she started designing when she was 8 years old — toys, of course.

"Well, in the Depression, if you can't buy toys, you make 'em, " she says. Beskind's first design was for a hobbyhorse. "I was determined I was going to have one, and so I made it with old tires. I learned a lot about gravity, 'cause I fell off so many times."

Stashed in: Design!, Confidence, Attitude, Aging, IDEO, Extraordinary People

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She has been designing for 82 years. Whoa. 

My takeaway is that she didn't think to herself, "I'm an 88 year old nearly-blind woman who lives in assisted living, why would this hip SF design firm want to hire me?" She said to herself, "Oh I can bring a unique perspective aligned with their needs for diversity, and I'm right here locally so it's easy." She saw an opportunity where others would have tangled THEMSELVES up in seeing only the challenges, or having impostor syndrome, or doubting whether IDEO really believed their own stated values, or what have you. Embrace change and design for it!

Confidence comes from knowing she has something to bring. That's an excellent attitude.

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