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."
Zaccai founded the design firm Continuum in 1983. He 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."
From the outset, Zaccai and his team learned the importance of doing their 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."
A hands-on approach to researching the problem was the foundation for two designs Zaccai and Continuum have done for Herman Miller. In tackling the design for Exclave, they began by creating a project space where they could place, move, and replace all components as needed. They quickly recognized that this flexible approach was the greatest asset to people working together to solve problems and create innovative solutions.
"Our research has shown that collaboration is primarily spontaneous, sometimes even a little chaotic,” says Zaccai. “Most collaborative events are short, consist of only two or three people, and happen almost anywhere. Unfortunately, most areas of the office landscape are not designed to foster collaboration. Perhaps most importantly, these spaces don’t allow a smooth flow of ideas from one place to another."
For the Compass System, the team learned firsthand about the range of needs that needed to be met in healthcare environments. Says Zaccai, "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 caregiving. It also had to be quickly adaptable to accommodate emerging technology and easy to maintain while reducing the possibility of infection."
Zaccai and Continuum's work is not limited to Herman Miller; among many other consumer products, they 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