Audio recording by Erik Olesund.
It’s not every day you get to peek into a designer’s notebook — not to mention one whose personal history is as broad and as deep as Barbara Beskind’s. A look through Barbara’s notebooks is like exploring a greenhouse of colorful and fast-growing plants. It’s little wonder she works at IDEO.
Oh, Barbara is 90 years old.
Her design work started when she was 8 years old, designing toys for friends during the Great Depression. She went on to work with World War II and Vietnam veterans as an occupational therapist, going overseas to Germany for two years. The 1956 Russian invasion of Hungary, she said, was the scariest time of her career. Eventually she founded an independent occupational therapy clinic — the first in the US. These facts of her life were covered by The Wall Street Journal this past April.
On Tuesday, Barbara visited the d.bootcamp class — the d.school’s introductory class in design thinking offered to graduate students. She shared some of the lessons she has learned in her work leading up to and now for IDEO.
Design for the aging … and the ages
Much of Barbara’s current work centers around design for the aging, particularly those with deteriorating vision. A two-time cancer survivor with macular degeneration, Barbara advised the students to explore design around the aging given the demographic shifts in the population as the Baby Boomer generation continues to get older. In 25 years, she said, there are slated to be 12 million customers with macular degeneration plus other conditions causing low vision.
Barbara showed the class her designs around improving the walker, which leaves many users with weakened muscles that render them less able to walk with the normal arm swing and gait pattern that is essential to maintaining good balance. She also shared her designs around technology to cushion people when they fall or glasses that would, with voice recognition and camera technology, recognize people and help those with declining vision or memory loss.
For those who choose to design in “the areas of the aging and the things that they need,” she said, “the world is your oyster.”
Wealthier than Warren Buffett
“I’m probably wealthier than any person in this room,” Barbara declared to the class, “I may be wealthier than Warren Buffett. Now, tell me how I measure my wealth?”
The students guessed randomly, suggesting that the source may be improving other people’s lives, her life experiences, or contentment. All of them were wrong.
“The way I measure my wealth is by time … uninterrupted time. I am the lowest tech person you will ever see,” she said. In an exchange after class, she added: “I can spend 4-6 hours of uninterrupted time thinking through my design constructs. I have a cell phone for emergency use only, and no laptop since I can’t see. I urge you to give yourself the luxury of free uninterrupted time to cultivate your creative solutions. ” Continue Reading