At the San Francisco offices of the global design firm IDEO, overlooking the blue expanse of San Francisco Bay, 150 people spend each workday bettering how we live by re-thinking everyday tangibles like IKEA kitchens, Tempur-Pedic mattresses, and, years ago, Crest toothpaste tubes. More recently, though, IDEO has started to think more widely about how we might engineer large cultural shifts in areas that aren’t traditionally thought of as “designable”—how we approach topics like religion, aging, and even death. One recent Wednesday morning, a small huddle of people that included industrial designers, mechanical engineers, and roboticists stood at a long, narrow conference table to present a series of prototypes to designer Barbara Beskind. They wanted her feedback on how to make a robot more accessible to those with vision and hearing impairment. As Beskind carefully examined the models, intended for use in health care, the other designers hovered, watching her for signs of approval.
Laura Carstensen, a psychologist and the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, has done numerous studies that show older workers have cognitive and emotional strengths that differ from those associated with their younger counterparts. Though young workers tend to absorb new information more quickly, her work shows, mature workers are armed with a wealth of knowledge and expertise. Carstensen has found that older workers contribute social capital: They are more emotionally stable and better at handling tense situations, and have fewer conflicts as a result. They are also better collaborators and act as mentors, preventing a brain drain that could lead to lowered productivity.
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