A future vision for the industrial design and usability of Elekta’s MR-linac system




  • Design insight, strategy and planning
  • Human factors and usability
  • Industrial design
  • Visual brand language
  • Colour, material and finish
  • Interaction design
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Prototyping


Elekta Unity radiotherapy system designed by DCA Design
Elekta engaged DCA as the company’s design partner for its revolutionary MR-linac system. The brief was to develop a vision for the future that was grounded in a deep understanding of the radiotherapy treatment and the latent needs of both patients and operators, taking into account technical and clinical constraints

The project resulted in a detailed visual design for the world’s first combined high-field MR and radiotherapy platform. The design identified key features to improve the efficacy, safety, efficiency and overall experience of both patients and healthcare professionals.

Elekta Unity is now installed and treating patients in clinical sites around the world. It has received a number of world-class awards for human factors, design, and technology.

Elekta Unity is a state-of-the-art MR-linac that is setting a new standard for personalized radiation therapy

Truly revolutionary products are actually quite rare. When they do occur, they are often born from the introduction of new technologies that offer new ways of working. When developing revolutionary systems, it becomes important to think beyond what is happening today, and create a vision for the future that not only accommodates new functionality, but also maximises its value.

Elekta engaged DCA as its design partner for its revolutionary MR (magnetic resonance) Linac system. The Elekta Unity MR-linac is the world’s first radiation therapy system to integrate high-field MR imaging with radiation delivery for cancer treatments. It enables doctors to view both tumors and healthy tissue in real-time and adapt radiation doses at the time of treatment. The brief was to design a technically-grounded, evidence-based, vision for the future, to inform and inspire the development of the commercial product.

The project was an excellent example of the value of multidisciplinary teamwork, drawing on the skills of researchers, human factors specialists, designers and engineers to ensure that the output was informed, inspirational, and technically feasible.

Redefining radiotherapy: real-time view of treatment site enables adaptations during treatment

Elekta Unity radiotherapy system designed by DCA Design
Research was the cornerstone of the evidence-based design. As there was no legacy system to improve incrementally, a broader focus on radiography and the needs of patients and health care professionals (HCPs) was required. A body of evidence was collected from visits to seven treatment sites worldwide, drawing from over 90 hours of observations (approximately 360 treatment sessions) and more than 50 in-depth interviews with health care professionals, thought-leaders and system stakeholders. The insights gathered helped to inspire and guide the design choices for this innovative cancer treatment.

With ethical approval, we observed and spoke to both patients and health care professionals to understand what was working well in current radiotherapy systems (such as the often very personal and caring relationships between HCP and patient), as well as areas of frustration and tension (such as inefficiencies and opportunities for mistakes).

“Even as we concentrated on addressing the technical challenges of integrating these technologies, we maintained our focus on how patients and physicians would experience the MR-linac system, which is at the core of how Elekta designs its products and services.”

Richard Hausmann, Elekta CEO

Evidence-based design: stakeholder insights guide design choices

Elekta Unity radiotherapy system designed by DCA Design
Alongside observations, a wide range of modelling tools were also applied. By understanding anthropometry, we were able to specify optimum heights for equipment such as patient couches and control interfaces. By understanding task flows, we were able to identify opportunities for streamlining treatment efficiency and reducing footfall.

In addition, we also focused on the information flows, exploring the information requirements of the new system and defining what information could be required, where it may be needed, when in the task flow, who might need access to it, and in what format.

This resulted in a vision where the right information was available, in the right place, in the right format, at the right time for the person it was presented to. A highly structured approach was also used to explore the potential for unintended outcomes, leading to creative engineered safe guards to increase system safety and resilience.

“From the outset of its development, Elekta and DCA envisioned Unity not only as a transformative technology but also as a system designed to address the needs of patients and physicians.”

Richard Hausmann, Elekta CEO

Task Flow Analysis: increasing treatment efficiency and reducing footfall

Elekta Unity radiotherapy system designed by DCA Design
Early design concepts were brought to life with 1:1 and table top physical prototypes. Basic card models were used with room layouts marked on the floor to evaluate different workflows and control locations, and table top models were used along with high quality renders to communicate and review the design.

The project resulted in a detailed, technically grounded, vision for the future of the product, identifying key features designed to improve the efficacy, safety, efficiency, resilience, inclusiveness and experience (for both patients and HCPs) of the system. The vision was presented as a three and half minute animation following an operator and patient through the treatment process and was the foundation of the design of the current clinical system.

Hands-on physical models and animated vision video