An Interview with Renata Souza, Creator of Thomy
by Amy Knoth and Bridget Johnson
Edited by Ray Fontaine
Meet Renata Souza, the woman who designed the first ever insulin kit for children. Renata watched her 6-year-old nephew struggle to manage his Type 1 Diabetes: his hands are too small for the insulin pen, he forgets where he injected the previous time, overall, he doesn’t want to give himself medication because it is uncomfortable.
Renata believes in the power of design. Renata asks “Why shouldn’t we try to make it more fun?” If we make the technology more appealing, we can take advantage of its full power and help more people. Renata invented Thomy: an insulin kit that kids actually want to use. On November 14th, 2017 Clever Tech had the opportunity to sit down with Renata to learn her incredible journey from design student to medical tech entrepreneur.
Can you introduce us to your product and tell us more about what it does?
Although there are very few kid specific designs for diabetes products on the market, the majority of the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes are for kids under 20 years of age.
Thomy is an insulin kit for children with Type 1 diabetes. It facilities the administration of insulin to the body and does this through 3 components. First, Thomy’s temporary tattoos visually indicates where a user previously injected in order to prevent scarring and infection from injecting in one spot too frequently. Second, Thomy includes an insulin pen that is ergonomically designed specifically to fit a child’s hand. Thirdly, Thomy has a color changing release dial. Right now doctors tell their patients to count to 10 seconds but this is when the needle is inside their body. Kids don’t like that. They want to leave and take it out. Therefore, the full dose is not administered which leads to wasted insulin or not receiving the correct dose which is very dangerous. I dipped the release dial in thermochromic plastic, which changes color with temperature. When the full dose is released, the dial will be a different color. This distracts the patient while needle is in their body and gives them something to look forward to. It is a fun element.
Can you tell us more about yourself? What brought you to NYC and to design specifically?
So, I grew up in Mexico City, I lived there my entire life. I knew i wanted to study design outside of Mexico because knowing about different cultures strengthens you as a designer and makes your designs more universal. I got into Parsons and ended up here in New York.
What was your inspiration behind Thomy?
The entire inspiration behind this product is my nephew, Thomas. That’s actually where the name came from - Thomy. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes about a year ago, and he’s only 6 years old. I saw all the things he had to do from one day to another. It was forcing him to grow up. I knew I wanted to design something for children with diabetes that they could look forward to while managing their condition.
What makes Thomy different from other insulin pens?
After observing a lot of kids with diabetes and interviewing doctors, I actually identified three main problems: the importance of injection site rotation, the ergonomic factors of current insulin pens on the market, and knowing when the full dose has been administered.
There are no insulin pens designed specifically for a kid’s hand. All the ones on the market are designed for adults. When I was observing patients they had a lot of trouble screwing on the fresh needles. Current insulin pens are 6” long. It is very hard for children to hold the release dial at the top and then inject and hold the insulin pen in place. Their thumbs’ are not long enough to reach.
I designed the Thomy insulin pen to be a lot shorter, making it easier for children to reach the release dial at the top. Thomy also has a support handle that allows them to let go and the pen will not fall.
As for the tattoos, there is nothing like this on the market actually. If you inject insulin in the same spot there can be complications. Thomy temporary tattoos are a very simple solution, but a completely different concept of what regular temporary tattoos do.
So how does the tattoo system work? The black ink stays on the body, and the color graphic gets removed with an alcohol pad before injecting. Once the user removes one color butterfly or airplane, he knows he has already injected there. Users follow the pattern of the tattoo until no color is left, around 3 days, the user knows it is time to remove the tattoo and move on to a region of the body with a new injection tattoo. This not only helps patients with rotating injection site, but visualizes where they previously injected.
Why do you think it’s important to design products with the end user in mind? In this case - children.
What advice would you have for someone that has an inspiring idea they’d like to pursue?
I would have never imagined that I would come this far. It's been hard because everything has been new. I’m a designer and now I'm trying to learn how to be a developer. From each opportunity, though, many more opportunities have branched out.
For anyone that’s in my position, just take it step by step. Don’t think about the future very far ahead, because that is overwhelming and you have no idea what will happen. You can never fully control how things will develop. You have to go little by little and see where it takes you. You must dedicate a lot of your time, but if you like what you do then it’s awesome.
If you like what you do and want to do something, just try it out. The worst thing that can happen is you fail, but you just learned. You’re never going to waste time - everything in your life that you do will either help you learn or push you a step closer to what you want.
Why is it so important to fuse technology and design?
I think fusing design and tech is the way to make your product more successful. Design works like a buffer, making technology user friendly and human.