Dorota (Bytnerowicz) Shortell works in product design, the arena where ideas are made tangible. As the president of Simplexity, a product design firm based in San Diego, she oversees day-to-day operations, from Portland, Oregon, while personally managing some of the company’s development projects. “I enjoy creating something new, where there hasn’t been anything like it before,” she says.
Hewlett-Packard turned to Simplexity to create the world’s fastest desktop printer. Another customer asked the company to create a sensor device that could tell if students learning CPR were applying the correct chest pressure. A third customer wanted a machine to custom shape high-performance golf clubs.
To engineer such products, Shortell and her staff ask questions consumers might never consider: Can the product work better with fewer parts? Can it be engineered to gobble less energy? Can it be designed in a way that facilitates assembly, making it cheaper to build?
These issues must be resolved under tight deadlines. “Our customers often have to get the product out fast,” she says.
Shortell was born in Poland and immigrated to the U.S. when she was 5. She earned valedictorian honors at her California high school and acceptances from MIT, Stanford and Cal Tech. She chose instead to attend LMU, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. The decision was in part financial; LMU offered a hefty scholarship. But she adds: “I didn’t want to be just a number. LMU focused on undergraduates and teaching. And I liked the fact that LMU was Catholic.”
LMU offered what she needed to win admission to Stanford’s graduate program in mechanical engineering. Along the way, she got a particularly useful lesson in Professor Frank Fisher’s senior-level design class. “You’re not going to get it right the first time,” Fisher told his students. “You’ve got to build it, try it, and then improve on it.”
That’s one of the mantras that governs Simplexity. “We’ll get it pretty close the first time,” says Shortell. “But there are always iterations as we get the product in our hands and interact with it. Then we see other things that can be done to improve it.
“You don’t want to set up your factory and start building something and then discover there are big problems,” Shortell says. “If you don’t take the upfront time in design, you have to rebuild things.”