• 01.25.12

Designer of the Swiffer Cleans Up the Modern Hospital

Herman Miller’s Compass is a high-performance system for today’s hospitals.

Designer of the Swiffer Cleans Up the Modern Hospital


Herman Miller is best known for sleek office chairs and home furnishings. But a large and growing share of their business is in health care. And the company wants to make hospitals every bit as sleek and functional as the best modern office: Sleek, space-saving, with warm wood-grain accents. Goodbye clutter.

One of the designers leading this sea change is Gianfranco Zaccai, who’s better known for designing the Swiffer. Zaccai designed Compass, Herman Miller’s newest system, designed specifically for the manic pace of modern healthcare.

Zaccai and his team at Continuum began by interviewing and observing everyone in the hospital spectrum–patients, doctors, janitors, visitors, administrators–to discover inefficiencies and learn how infection spreads throughout a room. “A lot of times, especially as caregivers, they don’t often even know why they do certain things,” Beth Nickels, president of Herman Miller Healthcare, says. “And when you listen to their answers, you might be able to point out a better way to do things.”

They also found that most of the patient rooms in a single hospital could vary wildly–from a new wing to a building built in the 1950s to one more than a century old.

“There shouldn’t be a first class and second class area of a hospital,” Zaccai says. Yet that is how many patients and caregivers feel about the outdated rooms. So they set to work on a system that delivered the latest in technology, was efficient, and could adapt to a hospital’s changing, frenetic pace. For example, a pediatric room could transform to a geriatric one just by switching out components ? or outfitting one room for both.

Some of the benefits of Compass are easy to see. The counters, sinks, monitors and other technology can all mounted to the walls on a rail system–easily reconfigurable and changeable depending on the special needs of the room. Because the components are off the ground, they can be shallower to save space. The sinks and faucets are designed to reduce splash and the spread of infection.
Compass also eliminates most nooks and crannies where germs and bacteria can hide.

Compass is not a total environmental slam-dunk but it’s not bad. The system’s tiles and components come in 99.9 percent PVC-free Durawrap finishes ” including the increasingly popular woodgrain. More than a third of its materials are recyclable; nearly 60 percent of it is made from recycled content. The news here may be Compass” reusability – unlike drywall and standard construction that gets ripped out and chucked at each renovation.

About the author

Kaomi Goetz is a writer for Co Design. She also uses audio to tell stories about technology and social and economic trends for National Public Radio and others.