Alberto Mornico describes himself as a designer. Although he’s got an extensive engineering background, the CTO (and co-founder) of Black Nova thinks about the aesthetics of a device first and foremost.
“If you show someone a thing that you’ve created, there is nothing more rewarding than hearing and seeing them react with a spontaneous ‘wow,’” he says. The charge he gets is generating that double-take by creating what Mornico calls “something sexy, something beautiful, yet completely functional.”
A prime example of that combination is Black Nova’s ANY keypad, a multi-page touch panel that represents the top of the Black Nova range. There’s a version of the panel that, at first glance, looks like an artful marble tile sitting on the wall.
That’s because it is.
“We use a 1.2-millimeter face plate of pure marble over the screen,” explains Mornico. As soon as the user interacts with that marble, however, the GUI appears, as the perfect combination of thinly sliced, translucent materials and LED brightness turns the tile into an intuitive control panel. “We have other materials, too: stone, concrete, wood. It’s why architects and interior designers love us,” he laughs.
The Italian Aesthetic
No matter what Black Nova’s creating, the design-first philosophy has been central to the company’s mission statement. “My background is a little bit weird,” says Mornico. “I am a half engineer and half artist.” Hailing from Milan, Italy, Mornico found a sympathetic partner in Black Nova’s CEO, Olav Beruto. Surrounded by Italian fashion, fabrics, and even automobiles, the desire for sleek, minimalist lines informed the Black Nova aesthetic as they ultimately landed on specializing in control devices elegant enough for the finest homes and hotels.
The engineering side of Black Nova, however, is equally important — and at the heart of that aspect is creating products that are as intuitive as they are pretty. “Designing something beautiful has never been enough for me,” says Mornico.
“We always start with an equation,” he explains. “An equation where we put beauty on one side and simplicity on the other. We use the design as the medium to express the way of finding the balance between these two terms.”
The Black Nova team is always striving to simplify the technology they’re creating, says Mornico. “The spaces where we're living now — they are getting more complex every day, right? And we strongly believe that the interaction between humans and technology should be as streamlined — and amazing — as we can make it.”
Mornico points to Black Nova’s experience in the hospitality industry as being especially informative — hotels are a great place to beta-test the products. “Hotel rooms have become very complex,” says Mornico, noting that he’s seen people struggle to understand how to control the growing number of devices in a given room that should, paradoxically, bring greater comfort to its occupants. “We are always building control products that allow guests to live in an environment that doesn’t require a learning curve and delivers an unprecedented level of comfort,” he says. To that end — creating what the company calls a “customer-centric experience” — Black Nova has built an R and D department three to four times the size of a comparable firm, according to Mornico.
When Black Nova creates a prototype, they put that keypad in front of clients, friends, and colleagues in the hospitality industry — and a leading indicator of success is interaction time, says Mornico. “That’s a more informative metric than verbal feedback,” he says.
The five lines of products that Black Nova offers (four keypad styles and a line of specialized, compatible sockets) are all compatible with Crestron, of course — and Mornico calls the partnership a “game-changer” for the industry. “To have the opportunity to put our beautiful design on top of the Crestron hardware that is used for the residential and hospitality industries is a perfect combination,” he says.
“It allows us to deliver luxury, to deliver quality, and a seamless customer experience.”