Dr. Ada-Rhodes Short Advocates for Inclusion in Tech & Design
In an interview with Doreen Lorenzo for her Fast Company column, Designing Women, Dr. Ada-Rhodes Short, senior mechatronics design engineer at Lora DiCarlo, discussed the company’s CES controversy, gender bias, and the importance of representation in the industry.
Short started off the interview explaining how at CES 2019 Lora DiCarlo was given a design innovation award in the robotics and drones category for their Osé female pleasure device, only to have it rescinded due to the nature of the product. After the initial shock, the company decided to fight back by telling their story and received overwhelming support from their community. With this instance as evidence, Short called out the double standard and lack of diversity in the tech and product design industries. “We’re still dealing with racism and misogyny in one of the most cutting-edge, ‘forward-thinking’ industries,” she stated.
The journey into the field of robotics began for Short at a very young age. By the time she got to college, she had won several engineering awards which greatly helped her confidence going into an industry dominated by the white male cisgendered heterosexual mold. She described her intrigue for robots behaving like natural living things, citing “R2D2” as one of her earliest inspirations. But now, it’s seeing students build their own home robots with all the new tools and technology available that excites her most.
Short’s definition of design is making a series of deliberate decisions, a broad definition that maintains its applicability as design evolves over time. While design has been aspirational in recent years, she wants to see more products designed for who people are rather than who they should be. Short pointed to the issue of hypersegmentation and how inclusivity in design could only be achieved if products make consumers feel welcome and seen. As a designer and educator who’s an openly trans woman, she shared her students’ sentiments of feeling included just by having her as the instructor, noting the importance for people to see someone succeeding in this industry that looks more like them.