To do his job lately, Gianfranco Zaccai spends his time lying in a hospital bed. He’s not sick; he’s researching ideas for a health care client.
As president and chief design officer at Continuum, Zaccai knows that he and his staff find the best ideas when they’re observing clients or putting themselves in clients’ shoes.
Zaccai insists that staffers “go to where the lion is hunting, not the zoo.” It’s an approach used by many leaders who go out into the field to observe. Zaccai enjoys the approach so much that he stepped down from his CEO post to have more time to work on projects.
Want to uncover observations that will lead to new ideas? Try Zaccai’s techniques:
1. Capture inspiration when it strikes. Zaccai snaps iPhone photos when he comes across something interesting, but he says he does his best thinking with his staff, which has included a former circus performer and a neurologist.
2. Turn an abstract design idea into a crude model at the start of a project. When Continuum began a project for Holiday Inn, employees created a full-scale foam-core mock-up of a hotel lobby, and housed it in a rented warehouse space.
3. Use visuals to get ideas across. Continuum intersperses meetings with video interviews or animated clips.
4. Lean on metaphors. To design hospital furniture, Zaccai’s team visualized “Get Well” balloons.
5. Try to see old things in new ways. To develop a new showerhead for Moen, Continuum staffers built a shower in the office to help come up with new ideas.
— Adapted from “Brainstormer of Everyday Objects,” Ellen Gamerman, The Wall Street Journal.