Gianfranco Zaccai brings to design a synergy of two cultures: the rational, practical, American approach he grew up in and the more emotional, traditional, Italian perspective that is his heritage.
While he may have relied on American practicality in his design of the Swiffer system for Proctor & Gamble, he clearly drew from broad experience and a depth of understanding in his work on Herman Miller’s Compass system.
He also is the co-founder of Continuum, an international design firm.
Here are seven questions (plus a half) for Gianfranco Zaccai:
1. What are you working on right now?
Well, I’m working on another project for Herman Miller. Like Compass, it’s in healthcare, which is a particularly compelling area to work in. When I first got out of design school, I began to focus on bringing a human touch to healthcare. That’s really vital.
There’s an overwhelming amount of technology in healthcare. Even doctors get overwhelmed by the evolution in certain disciplines. What gets lost is the human touch.
2. Which of your projects are you most proud of?
Years ago, I worked on another project for Herman Miller that never went to market, but it dealt with ways to allow people to stay at home as they aged or developed disabilities. We came up with a series of solutions for things like personal hygiene, for example. My own parents were aging at the time, so the development of the project came from observing them. When we were building prototypes, many people talked about how they needed something like it for their mothers—or for themselves. It never went into production, but those conversations indicated a need.
3. What inspires you? Where do you go for inspiration?
The way we approach any project is to get deeply into the context. So, with healthcare, we spend a lot of time in hospitals. We observe and talk to people—nurses, doctors, patients, cleaning staff. As a result, we are able to glean information that we’ve developed into a series of projects.
I also like to hike in the Italian Alps, especially the Dolomites. That’s a particularly wonderful place to be.
4. What work do you most admire by another artist or designer?
One guy I very much admire is Ettore Sottsass, founder of the Memphis collective. He was very pragmatic and was not afraid to step outside the bounds of what’s considered good design. His work was both rational and emotional at the same time.
I also admire Philippe Starck because he transforms everyday items into something you can experience in a different way. It’s very emotional design. I particularly like the flyswatter and the ghost chair.
And Renzo Piano, not only because he designs elegant buildings, but also because he incorporates elegant solutions, like bringing light into a gallery space, for example.
5. What would be your dream project?
To redesign the American healthcare system–the way healthcare is delivered, the way people collaborate, the way technology is integrated. We have a lot of Band-Aid solutions. Someone has to change the package.
And one-half: You’ve said that Compass is your favorite project. Why?
Compass deals with the sweet spot that I’m interested in—humanizing health care. If we’re successful, we will have created an environment in which providers can practice better healthcare and patients can feel that they’re well taken care of. Compass is a system that allows for efficient change, even if the hospital is 100 years old. It’s Utopian to think you can create the perfect environment for something when that something keeps changing.
6. What place in the world would you most like to visit?
Tibet, because of the mountains, but also because Asian art, architecture, and furniture is very appealing to me. I’ve been to other places in Asia, but not there.
7. What one thing do you want to accomplish before you die?
To make sure my children are headed in the right direction. Everyone has their own path to follow. I hope to do my part in preparing them to be good people and to achieve their dreams.
Photo via Syracuse University Magazine