Making of the Compass System

Designer Gianfranco Zaccai tells you how the Compass system came to be.
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  • Herman Miller Healthcare honored by Design & Health International Academy Awards for its Compass System as the winner in the Product Design for Healthcare Application category.
  • Herman Miller Healthcare honored by Design & Health International Academy Awards for its Compass System as the winner in the Product Design for Healthcare Application category.
  • Compass System earns Best of NeoCon Gold in the Healthcare Furniture category.
  • Compass System receives Interior Design Best of Year Award in the Healthcare Furniture and Seating category.
  • Gold "Spark 2010" awarded to Herman Miller Healthcare and Design Continuum for Compass System.

What's In It For You

Compass System

Product Story

The perfect healthcare space today will not be perfect tomorrow. Healthcare organizations face an ongoing challenge in managing their facilities: while treatment and care processes continually evolve, many healthcare spaces are not designed to adapt.

Compass helps navigate change. A modular system of interchangeable components for hospital and outpatient facilities, Compass is used to create applications for patient rooms, exam rooms, caregiver work areas, and other clinical spaces.

Compass System


Designed for change. Compass components are easily assembled, removed, rearranged, and refreshed. Storage can be quickly relocated, headwall utilities can be easily accessed, added, or modified, and damaged product can be easily replaced without demolition. The result is unmatched flexibility.

Compass System

Designed for Healthcare

Tiles and components are wrapped in Durawrap, a 99.9% PVC-free material that requires no edge banding, resulting in a seamless, cleanable, and durable surface. A shingled seam between tiles and components prevents spills from seeping in gaps and eliminates the spread of infection. Compass meets the rigorous cleaning requirements of healthcare environments.

The modular design of Compass allows nurses and other clinical staff to easily make real-time changes to the patient room environment in response to changes in supply storage, patient acuity, or EMR introduction.

Compass System

Considerate of All

The overall experience of a Compass environment: a space that's well designed, intuitively organized, and inherently satisfying for everyone who uses it.

Aesthetics were an important design consideration. Architects and designers can easily execute their design vision. Compass is available in a range of finishes that integrates into traditional and contemporary settings.

Compass System

Intelligent Infrastructure

Compass accommodates the utility needs of healthcare environments. Its intelligent infrastructure manages utilities whether pre-piped/pre-wired, stubbed out, or chased from the ceiling.

The infrastructure was engineered to accommodate imperfections in construction by allowing the system to be leveled so when walls are not flat or plumb, the final solution looks perfect.

Compass System

Long-Term Value

Intelligent design and efficient installation make the purchase price affordable. Unmatched flexibility minimizes life-cycle costs and delivers great value over time.

To manage inevitable damage and wear-and-tear, Compass' modular design and rail system make it easy to swap out modules whether it's a single tile or an entire wall.

Infection Prevention

The surface edge with its radius and back cut prevents spilled fluids from seeping into drawers and cabinets.

Seamless wrapped surfaces and overlapping tiles minimize the potential for liquids to seep into unseen areas and help control the spread of infection.

The Compass sink's sloping sides, splash guard, offset drain, and custom faucet help control the spread of infection.

Compass components mount off the ground, allowing floors to be swept underneath. Tiles can be easily removed for cleaning.

Design Story

Gianfranco Zaccai has been thinking about—and working with—healthcare design for several decades. He believes that "designers need to strive for a better kind of better." What does that mean? "The days of prevailing in the marketplace by producing a better thing or a better service—more desirable, easier to use, easier to manufacture or deliver—are passing," he says. "The winners now will be those who provide customers with the best total experience. People want great experiences."

Cofounder of design firm Continuum, a global innovation and design consultancy, Zaccai brought that forward-looking perspective to bear on the design of the Compass system, his latest design for Herman Miller Healthcare. He wasn't interested in producing a "better" healthcare product—his goal was to create a better healthcare experience.

"Space is fundamental to the quality of care, and space [in hospitals] is at a premium," he says. "We wanted to create the best experience for everyone concerned, with the smallest footprint. The idea of having deep wardrobes and shelves is counterproductive to the notion of wise use of space within a patient room. People are in hospitals for shorter periods, and the goal is to get them out of there quickly. They aren't bringing their spring wardrobes along with them!"

Working with Zaccai and his group, our researchers talked with more than 550 clinicians, hospital administrators, architects, and designers to discover the most important unmet needs in how patient and exam rooms are designed now. Flexibility was critical, of course; nothing stays the same for long in technology and healthcare these days. But also important were an improved patient experience and helping caregivers be more effective.

Zaccai believes that the patient experience and the caregiver experience go hand in hand. "If the system makes the caregiver more effective, the patient will do better. Compass creates an environment that is credible and familiar. It is an uplifting environment. It communicates that the facility/organization cares for you, the patient, as a person. When you're a patient, your world is limited. If we can make a welcoming place for the patient and family to interact, where they are grounded and surrounded by what is familiar, then patients will get better more quickly."

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the Compass system is that the components don't sit on the floor. Or, as Zaccai says, "The fact that Compass doesn't touch the floor is a big deal. An open floor area allows the room to be cleaned more quickly and more thoroughly. Nothing can seep underneath the cabinets. And there is another advantage to this design feature. Because Compass furniture doesn't come all the way down to the floor, it opens up the space. Visually, when you look at the room, you see the full room. This design has functional, emotional, and aesthetic benefits."

Zaccai brings his philosophy of creating "a better kind of better" to all kinds of innovations, one of which you may have in your home—the Swiffer floor-cleaning system from Procter & Gamble. "Our 'commission' from P&G was to design a better floor-cleaning product," Zaccai says, "but the mission we gave ourselves was to design a better floor-cleaning experience."

That focus on a better experience extends to a number of medical devices developed by Continuum, including a pediatric sedation system that pairs the happy distraction of video games with drug administration, a miniature insulin pump that people with diabetes can wear, and our Nala chair, which we introduced in 2008. In fact, he's been working with us for the last 20 years and was part of the research project (MetaForm) that produced the Aeron chair.

Zaccai takes his responsibilities as a designer seriously—whether he's working on a revolutionary hospital patient room system or the Reebok Pump, another Continuum innovation. "We can fulfill these responsibilities by adopting a 21st century definition of 'better,'" he says, "and then going about our business of designing better products and services, applying a new kind of 'cool' to a rapidly overheating world."