The first time Charles Jones visited Intuitive Surgical Inc., he had the chance to pilot one of the company’s surgical robots.
“You’ve heard that old saying, ‘You had me at hello,’” Jones told R&D Magazine. “In this case, (it was), ‘You had me at first interaction with the robot.’”
“It was an incredible experience,” he added.
Jones was recently appointed as Intuitive Surgical’s senior vice president of design and user experience, a newly created position within the company.
He brings to the company years of experience in the design field.
A graduate of Purdue University with degrees in industrial design and human factors engineering, Jones has worked with Herman Miller, Xerox, Whirlpool Corp., and Newell Brands, formerly Newell Rubbermaid, where Jones previously served as the company’s chief design and technology officer.
Intuitive Surgical produces a variety of products focused in the area of minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery. Founded in 1995, the company eventually unveiled their da Vinci System, which in 2000 became the first robotic surgical system cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for general laparoscopic surgery. Today, they have around 3,600 systems in use worldwide at some of the globe’s top medical centers, including the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic.
“The product itself is so intriguing from a design perspective,” said Jones.
At the most broad level, Jones’ duty is to ensure the company products look and work correctly. But there’s an array of minutiae under that umbrella. He’s accountable for industrial design, graphic design, user interface, and user experience design, among other areas.
“The one … mantra that I’ve had throughout my career is to take horrendously complex operations, or procedures, or interfaces, and basically tame that complexity … to offer up a very simple, straightforward, and, no pun intended, intuitive approach for that interface,” he said.
Jones gave an example of how he’s achieved this in his previous posts. In the 1990s, Whirlpool Corp. was playing catch-up in the front-load washing machine market. In order to compete, not only did the company have to be better, it had to set itself apart. This was occurring at a time when washing machines, regardless of the brand, were usually generic, white boxes. To amplify consumer engagement, Jones and colleagues decided to package their products as a system. The Duet system elevated the washer architecture and introduced a pedestal.
“What we were able to deliver was not only a functional ergonomic benefit to the user, but collateral benefits as well because … we created an entire storage system around the pedestal,” he said.
Whirlpool washer-dryer pair sales went from 5 percent to 98 percent, according to Jones.
For the senior vice president, it’s all about simplifying and streamlining. While at Newell Rubbermaid, he assigned some designers working under the company’s Irwin tool brand to the company’s Paper Mate brand to introduce tool ergonomics to writing utensils.
“Even though I’ve only been at Intuitive three weeks, I suspect that we will have similar opportunities here as well,” Jones added.
He tips his hat to Intuitive Surgical’s leadership for making a commitment to build on the technical excellence it’s had for years. “I give the company tons of credit for really understanding what great design can do,” he concluded.