Gianfranco Zaccai was born in Trieste, Italy, and grew up in the U.S. His ties to both countries have always been strong, and after graduating from Syracuse University, one of his first jobs as a designer was for a company in Milan that made clinical diagnostic devices.
"The fusion of the two cultures, American and Italian, was a great learning experience for me because the approaches are so different yet synergistic," he recalls. "Back then, in the U.S., design was all about form following function, while in Italy, other sensibilities also came into play: emotion, tradition, and culture."
From the outset, Zaccai learned the importance of doing his own research. "You really can't get the depth of understanding you need from a document someone hands you. You have to get out in the real world to see for yourself what happens within the context of a real setting, to talk with people and observe how they interact with objects and environments, to learn about their dreams and aspirations. That's what leads to the 'aha' moments."
The research he conducted for the Compass system for Herman Miller Healthcare demonstrated that many needs must be met. "It had to be not only comforting and reassuring for patients and their loved ones, but minimally invasive within the precious space needed for optimal care-giving. It also had to be quickly adaptable to accommodate emerging technology and easy to maintain while reducing the possibility of infection."
As a result of these observations, he continues, "Compass provides a much better experience overall, not only for the patients and their visitors, but for the caregivers and the maintenance people as well."
Zaccai, who founded his design firm Continuum in 1983, says they approach all projects in the same way: "Like creating a great meal, it has to be the right ingredients, in just the right quantity, served in the right way; a perfect mixture of the functional, emotional, ecological, and economical."
One of Zaccai's most personally satisfying projects was the Omnipod insulin pump. It attaches directly to the abdomen and dispenses insulin in a programmable, easily controllable way, increasing compliance and reducing the potential for infections. "It's ideal for kids with juvenile diabetes because it allows them to run free and play, and their friends don't even know they're wearing it," he says, adding, "if you do your job right as a designer, you'll make people's lives better."
Zaccai's work is not limited to healthcare; among many other consumer products, he and Continuum also created the Swiffer cleaning system for Procter & Gamble and the famous Reebok Pump.
McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) Cradle to Cradle Silver certificate, Nala Chair
NeoCon 2008, Silver Certificate, Nala Chair
Industrial Designers Society of America, "Design of The Decade" award for long-term market success
iF Seal of Excellence from the iF Industrie Forum Design in Hannover, Germany
The "Compasso D'Oro" from ADI, The Italian Industrial Design Association and the Commune di Milano, Italy.
Premio SMAU Industrial Design Award from SMAU, Milan, Italy
Special Theme Prize for the 1994 Nagaoka Shinanogawa Technopolis International Design Competition, Japan
Apex (American Product Excellence) Award
Presidential Award for Design Excellence, from President Clinton for the Egis Explosives Detection System