Gianfranco Zaccai

Gianfranco Zaccai was born in Trieste, Italy, and grew up in the US. 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 US, 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 gain the depth of understanding you need from a document someone hands you. You have to go out into the real world to see for yourself what happens within the context of a real setting, to talk to 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 that 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 recognised 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 had 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."
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