Hiding in Plain Sight

Designing medical devices for adolescents with type 1 diabetes to match their preferences for conspicuity

Adolescents with type 1 diabetes use medical devices that attract attention in public settings. While adolescents have varying experiences with this attention, current medical devices do not allow them control over the conspicuousness of self-management. Accordingly, this research used a participatory design methodology to investigate adolescents’ self-management experiences and preferences regarding conspicuity, and to develop semantic strategies to inform the design of medical devices.


Adolescent participants had varied experiences using their medical devices to manage type 1 diabetes in public. Some adolescents were comfortable managing their diabetes in public and disclosing their condition to new people. However, other adolescents preferred to manage their type 1 diabetes in private and feel embarrassed disclosing their diabetes.


Four semantic strategies were used to design devices that could appeal to the different preferences of adolescents: to enhance traditional medical devices to make them more beautiful, to personalise the medical device for the user, to disguise the medical device as a non-medical item, and to conceal the medical device from the public.


Adolescents displayed different preferences towards these strategies and associated design concepts. As adolescents have a range of experiences and preferences, but little control over the conspicuousness of their medical devices, the study found that these medical devices could be better designed to facilitate adolescents’ agency through catering to their nuanced and differing preferences for conspicuity.

This project was conducted over the course of a year in order to fulfil the requirements to complete a Masters of Design Innovation at Victoria University.  

Enhance the aesthetics of the medical device

Enhancing the Aesthetics of the device aims to create a more visually appealing medical device, and remove the stereotypical medical appearance. This medical device is more conspicuous.

Four final prototyped insulin pens were developed for this strategy, based off of adolescent sketches and interviews. Three different colours were made and one metal option to try and cater to different adolescent preferences. 

Personalise the medical device to the user

Personalising the medical device to the user aims to a medical device which is individualised. When an item is personalised to the user, it provides that person with a sense of ownership over the object, and therefore they are more likely to use it. 

One final prototype was created for this strategy. The final prototype comprised of three sections; a blood glucose meter, an insulin pen, and a lancet. The three components could be clipped together through magnets. 

Disguise the medical device as a non-medical item

Disguising the medical device to the user aims to create a medical device that is combined with another everyday object. This can often provide the medical device with a dual function and is, therefore, more convenient. If the medical device is disguised as another object the user is more likely to have it with them, and therefore use the device.

Three final prototypes were created for this strategy. The patterns were chosen based off of adolescent sketches and interviews. The final insulin pen prototype is modelled after a PopSocket so that it can be attached and removed from any phone case. 

Conceal the medical device from the public

Concealing the medical device from the public aims to remove the interaction of using the medical device completely from the view of the public. This strategy can often be helpful for adolescents whom are more embarrassed to manage their type 1 diabetes in public spaces. 

The final prototype is an insulin pump made from a flexible material which can mold to the body. This allows for the device to be more inconspicuous. Administering insulin would occur through using a cellphone and swiping the phone over the sensor on the insulin pump.

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