Medical devices are generally designed either to fit in with a clinical environment – think blue and white, functional design – or to be deliberately inconspicuous – hidden under clothing or masked as household items, like some insulin pens. However, more and more we are seeing users show off their medical devices with pride, or enhancing its appearance to display their personality.
Two young women from Northern Ireland recently gathered a large online following after accidentally showing their glucose monitoring patches in a TikTok video they shared. The video went viral and the pair have now styled themselves as the DiabeticDuo, using humorous videos on the social media platform to show the lighter side of life with Type 1 Diabetes.
The FreeStyle Libre glucose monitor they use is not designed to be part of a fashion statement, but some medical devices do offer the opportunity for users to show their personality through customisation or personalisation.
These customisable devices tend to be aimed at young children with long term conditions, such as the EasyPod growth hormone injector from Merck, which allows inserts to be added to change the colour of the front of the device. Similarly, Novo Nordisk provide stick on ‘skins’ for their NovoPen Echo insulin pen. Even hearing aids, such as Phonak’s Sky Marvel, provide custom colour choices for casework to allow children and teens to take ownership of their devices, rather than attempting to disguise them using neutral skin tones.
We are even seeing this shift towards customisable devices in prosthetics development. 3D printed upper limb manufacturer, Open Bionics, provide clip-on custom made components which allow the user to completely change the appearance of their prosthetic. In contrast to many other devices, these unique prosthetics are available for both children and adults.
Here at Team we’ve designed several platform devices which enable customisation for different product or branding requirements. The Axis-D insulin pen’s cylindrical body enables easy application of different labels and the body worn patch pump we developed for Sensile Medical enables components to be changed during the manufacturing process to alter the appearance to aid with differentiation.
However, designing products for customisation by users is a different challenge, especially considering that the majority of medical devices are mass manufactured, disposable products which need to meet the needs of a broad range of users. Safety and effectiveness are always the key drivers in medical device design, so aesthetics will often be heavily influenced by, and come second to, a product’s function.
The iPhone is a great example of a consumer device which offers a universally appealing aesthetic, as well as the option for customisation. The product is beautiful and functional on its own, but was also designed to allow the addition of protective and decorative cases, to which the original product can be inserted. This allows us as consumers to choose from many after-market products to customise the device.
“Could we learn from the consumer devices world and translate this concept into medical technologies – designing devices which are easy to customise without compromising safety or performance?”
Could we learn from the consumer devices world and translate this concept into medical technologies – designing devices which are easy to customise without compromising safety or performance?
As evidenced by the DiabetesDuo, and the work of companies such as Novo Nordisk, there is a growing trend in embracing medical devices and their appearance, rather than hiding them. Users can be empowered by their use of these devices, and increased awareness of them may help improve understanding of medical conditions to reduce stigma. However, effective function and ease of use remains the priority for patients and developers and, when it comes to aesthetics, product design needs to capture the largest part of the device’s user base.
So, what next for customisable medical devices? There’s lots to consider when it comes to development… Do users want personalisation options? How might it affect the functionality of the device? Should customisation be done in manufacture or post-market?
If you’re looking to develop any kind of medical device or customisable extra, we’d love to help – get in touch!