Barbara Beskind works at IDEO on projects that help the elderly. She’s 91.

IDEO has long broken ground on novel ways to inspire radically new products and services. While the results can sometimes seem like magic, the secret is often in maintaining a curious open mind. IDEO knows who and how to watch, and who to listen to. To explore new ways to improve maternity wards, an IDEO staffer once feigned pregnancy. To understand the needs and dreams of youths, the firm has long arranged to observe and consult children, often the kids of those who work at IDEO.

Beskind got the job by bravely sending in a resume (she had to pare it down from the nine pages that coincidentally matched her nine decades). IDEO deserves credit for understanding that while she had no real experience in product design, her decades of knowledge and attitude could be invaluable. Youths may allow us to look forward, but we need the elderly to help us look back.

Beskind works one day a week at the firm. She takes public transport and then walks the few blocks with her (personally modified) ski poles. She’s got macular degeneration but she’s also got a magnifying glass (yes, she modified it) to help her read. None of these challenges impeded her from prototyping (she’s developed a “trekker,” an upgrade on the walker, and is exploring devices to cushion falls). Beskind offers feedback and insights to IDEO designers working on products for her generation, providing understanding and empathy for the challenges of the elderly.

This nonagenarian knows the value of her memory and experience: “I think the beauty of being 91 is that you can look back and see how the little pieces fit into the big pieces of life.”

Photo Credit: Nicholas Zurcher/Courtesy of IDEO