Solving the Paradox

2015 West District Design SMA Winner: Mauricio Romano, S/IDSA

“I'm just excited to get out there and change the world.”

Mauricio Romano, S/IDSA, was born in Mexico City, and came to the United States at the age of only four. He never dreamed of landing in the field of industrial design; in fact, he hadn't heard of ID. But something was tugging at him all along; he just couldn’t pinpoint it—yet.  “As a young kid I always found myself in a paradox between art and engineering. I loved drawing, painting and gadgets—even small products like lighters or business card holders. I remember my dad's office used to always have trinkets and kinetic desk items. I had a deep fascination with products.”

The trilingual Romano also was drawn to the creative—art, books, video games—“anything that portrayed a sense of uniqueness; something different; some experience. This never quite settled for me, and I was very restless.” He went to college to study creative writing, hoping it “would be able to satisfy the design aspect of my personality.” But Romano still fostered a fascination for kinetic machines. “It wasn't until my freshman year engineering introductory class that I discovered ID. When they presented the major, they began by saying this: ‘Industrial design is the marriage of art and engineering.’

He didn’t have to look any farther. “I stopped listening at that point,” says Romano. “I knew what I wanted to do.”

In the spring of 2015, Romano graduated from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design—and the right to claim a first for the WWU Vikings—he became the first WWU student to win a SMA. “I'm so proud and thankful to bring that back to my department. Very excited, a little surreal and extremely humbled. Industrial design is something I love,” says Romano. “I think about it throughout my day and hope to continue getting better at it. I think this is what allows my work to stand to an SMA level.”

Romano, who also was named a WWU Outstanding Graduate this year, tries not to admire or gather inspiration from one person or one source too much. “I feel that can be a dangerous practice that only makes you repeat what these designers have done before. Instead, I see it like throwing a bunch of ingredients together to make your own style…. I think we—as designers—are the culmination of our experiences.”

He loves the architecture of Toyo Ito and Zaha Hadid; classical Mexican colors and ceramics; and the work of German minimalists such as Dieter Rams and Van de Roh. “But I do think it could be shaken up a bit. I think all of these come together somehow in our mind to settle into our own style.”

Romano completed a 15-month internship at Intel in Hillsboro, OR. “It was one of the steepest learning curves I have ever challenged through—but very rewarding. Being the only industrial designer in my immediate team of mechanical, thermal and electrical engineers, gave me a lot of ownership to the design of our projects. I was very lucky to have landed that position.”

Romano’s work was hands-on and state-of-the-art. “I got to lead projects that shaped the industry,” he says. Romano was the lead designer on Intel's Llama Mountain tablet. It was one of his final, published products presented at the 2014 Computex show in Taipei. The tablet was hailed by Laptop magazine as “Intel’s Answer to the iPad Air” that “could be the most influential PC of the year.”

In the long run, Romano sees the big picture. “I think the ultimate dream is to design the future. I imagine a world where it's not about technological boxes with circuits like phones, laptops, tablets. I think eventually this is going to disappear and we will live in a fully interactive universe of products. This is where I hope my career takes me; I want a part in shaping this future.”

Romano also challenges the ID—of ID. “Industrial design is too specific. It's too focused on one product at a time; it's a single serving experience. Like your computers, tablets, phones. These are standalone objects that are in essence just boxes. Even other products that are not consumer electronics—those are still abstract, single standing, single serving products. Everything we own and design stands on its own. This should change, in my opinion.”

He recognizes the Internet of Things, but believes a wider net should be cast. “The Future of the Future is a world that's all encompassing and inclusive. It's not about the latest gadget but rather how that communicates and interacts with the objects around you.”