A new level of design for a pioneer in minimally invasive surgery.

Intuitive Surgical is a global pioneer in developing robotic platforms that assist in minimally invasive surgery. The Da Vinci Surgical System enables surgeons to perform complex procedures remotely by utilizing robotic instruments as natural extensions of their hands and eyes. While at Bould Design, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Intuitive’s user experience and engineering teams to develop the latest generation of their flagship product and execute on a completely new design language.

Project Overview

The previous generation of Intuitive’s was clearly defined by the standard look of medical devices – functionally driven blocky forms with a blue and gray color scheme. Intuitive wanted the design of the new Da Vinci Xi to reflect the user centric nature of the system while also emphasizing its advanced technology and exceptional quality.

Working with lead designer Scott Waters (formerly of Segway), Intuitive had the key tenets of a new design language developed in-house when Bould Design was brought into the project. With these ideas in mind, our goal was to apply a rigorous approach of simplification and reduction to the product, removing visual complexity while allowing parts of the system to shine and overall evoke quality, precision, and refinement. I was heavily involved on the project, working on parts of the system in all phases from concept development to manufacturing support.

Design Objectives


Make the system more approachable by reducing visual complexity and visual mass. Express the user centered nature of the product through softened, simple, and streamlined geometry.



Make the product more intuitive by drawing the user’s focus to critical interaction points. Use geometry, color and materials to communicate the key functions of the system.



Express the high quality, advanced engineering, and precise nature of the system through clean geometry and carefully considered part breaks and clear visual feedback.


Preserve or enhance the existing functionality of the system. The design should take into consideration ranges of motion, ergonomics, and operator workflow.


The design must take into account safety considerations such as pinch points, cleaning procedures, and display of system status to ensure a reassuring user experience at all times.


The components of the design must be conducive to Intutive’s existing manufacturing processes such as casting and machining, thermoforming, injection molding and more.

Da Vinci Xi Surgical System

The final result of a rigorous design process is a clean, minimal design that greatly reduces the feeling of overwhelming complexity the last generation system suffered from while stepping up the level of refinement to emphasize the advanced technology and Intuitive’s position as a leader in the field of robotics assisted surgery.

Precision, Quality

The Da Vinci Xi System represents a huge step forward in technology and usability for Intuitive Surgical’s products. Every effort was made to communicate this through the design by using the highest quality materials and finishes. The precision nature of the system is expressed through the implementation of clean, considered parting lines and a crisp form language. A stark white color scheme breaks from past Intuitive products and gives a hint of science fiction.

Intuitive Interaction

Touch points that utilize ergonomic form, strong color breaks, material changes, and graphical cues guide the users hands through commonly performed preparation and cleanup procedures. By considering the user first and addressing their needs, a complex system becomes a refined tool for skilled hands.

Streamlined Geometry

Subtly streamlined forms and carefully sculpted surfaces help to reduce the visual weight and complexity of an intricate machine by masking underlying machinery and creating clean lines that lead the eye through the system, enhancing the simplifying effect of a unified design. Every effort was also made to design out visible fasteners, creating smooth unbroken surfaces that are also easier to clean.

Every Detail Designed

With the broad strokes of the Da Vinci Xi so rigorously designed, no detail was left to chance. Where fasteners were visible, they were garnished with a spun finish to add a hint of refinement. All branding graphics, safety labeling, regulatory information, and increment markings were carefully considered for the optimal balance of legibility and visual elegance.

Video from Intuitive Surgical. Directed by Danny Yount. Edited by David Nitzsche.

Design Process

1. Understanding the product

With something as complex as robotic surgery, understanding the product’s functionality and typical user behaviors was a key part of the process. This knowledge was gained from speaking with the experts at Intuitive in detail about the system, observing mock procedures, as well as test driving the system for myself.


2. Concept Development

With our aesthetic goals and understanding of complex requirements of the system in mind, I began sketching concepts for the design language update. I strove to understand the visual relationships of various parts, and to start structuring and simplifying the elements while considering ergonomics and usability.


3. CAD Development

After promising concepts were identified on pen and paper, they were taken into 3D. Building around engineering CAD, I was able to work realistically within clearances, ranges of motion, and underlying component placement. 


4. Prototyping and Refinement

Concepts for many parts of the system were refined through a process of prototyping and iteration, consulting engineers and clinical staff at Intuitive to provide feedback on manufacturability, usability, ergonomics, safety and other concerns.


5. Design for Manufacturing

Once a the conceptual design was completed, I worked closely with Intuitive’s engineers to design the individual parts. A collaborative dialog ensured our design intent was implemented while taking into account important considerations such as draft angles, ribs and bosses, fasteners, components, and manufacturing methods. 


6. Manufacturing Support, Quality Control

As parts were released for manufacturing, I worked with vendors on executing the design to a high level of quality. I provided feedback and facilitated solutions to quality issues, addressing problems such as color matching of paints and inks, metal finishing consistency, and plastics tolerances and molding defects.

More Projects