Spanish industrial design entrepreneur aims to transform young lives

Irene Abarca

Good design is not just a question of aesthetics; it can create emotional connections and help to improve the delivery of specific services. This is especially important when it comes the delivery of healthcare. To this end, Spanish entrepreneur Irene Abarca has developed a line of fun ergonomic backpacks that enable children with Type 1 diabetes to carry their insulin meters with them throughout the day.

The ‘miMi’ bags, which are decorated to look like pet monsters and are about the size of a small book, bring design into the world of health products. “The idea is to help the child conceive of the disease as an ally and not as an enemy,” explains Irene. “If they take care of their little pet monster, then the monster will take care of them.”

Living with diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. There is no cure for this potentially life-threatening condition, which means that treatment focuses on managing blood sugar levels. Children with Type 1 diabetes need to carry a glucose / insulin meter with them, to ensure that the concentration of glucose in their blood stays normal.
“Health-focused devices like insulin meters are often designed to be devoid of emotion,” says Irene. “Devices are functional and tend to be white, clean and inert. I felt that bringing emotion into the design was important for these kids.”

Learning as you go
Irene came up with the concept while completing her studies in industrial design. With a strong interest in psychology, she felt that the link between design and health delivery was not well understood. “I know a mother who has a child with diabetes,” explains Irene. “She really felt that there was nothing on the market that was ergonomic or had emotional resonance for kids.”
Her backpack design started as a university project and built up momentum following a year’s exchange at the École nationale supérieure de création industrielle, a design school in Paris, France. Irene took part in design competitions, and this gave her the confidence to continue along this path. She also picked up tips from these events about building up a business from scratch, and began selling her miMi bags online.
“I spent a lot of time talking with psychologists and understanding that children empathise with animals,” she says. “This gave me the initial idea of designing insulin bags that look like animals, encouraging kids to carry these bags like pets.”
The health benefit is that because children develop an attachment to this crucially important piece of kit, they will be more likely to care for it and use it. Parents have commented on the attractive design and how their kids are drawn to these cute monsters.

A positive creative outlet  
Irene describes herself as a cellist, product designer and psychologist in that order, and her innovation combines her creativity with a passion for improving the human condition. She enjoys the fact that as an entrepreneur just starting out, she is always meeting and getting to know new people in a variety of contexts and professions. Irene says that she makes a point of listening to others, even if they are not involved in her field of work.
“I always felt that I could do something myself,” she says. “I’m still young (Irene is 22 and graduated this year) and I’ve always felt that I was treated equally at university. Maybe I’ll come back to you in a few years’ time and tell you more about my experiences of being a female entrepreneur!”