Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Free Branding Advice For The American Psychiatric Association

On Sunday, while going about my weekend business (which means possibly wasting some time on Twitter), I was greeted with this unsolicited gift from the American Psychiatric Association:
There's also an announcement on the APA website and an accompanying Youtube video. Here's an alternative version of the new logo:

American Psychiatric Association Logo w/ Brain

Now, I'm not an APA member, but as a psychiatrist, this is just embarrassing. Poor Benjamin Rush must be rolling over in his grave! I'm also not a "branding expert," but it seems that the APA could use all the help it can get these days. Thus, I'm offering some pro bono advice as a public service.


First off, the text becomes very fashion-forward with the use of a skinny font (resembles Avenir, but I'm not sure exactly what it is) for "American" and "Association." The semi-bold and colored emphasis on the word "Psychiatric" just seems a bit…desperate. Look at us, we're psychiatrists! I'm not saying that the typeface doesn't look nice, but it smacks of trying too hard to match the latest trends in visual marketing:

Apple Watch Edition

Now, Apple can do with this because they actually are producing new high-tech products. But the APA? Sorry, I don't think Understanding Mental Disorders: Your Guide to DSM-5 qualifies. Why not make something that looks timeless and classy, rather than trendy and fashionable? Here's my suggestion:

American Psychiatric Association Classier Type

This has the added benefit of allowing the letters "APA" to line up, emphasizing to the world that the fight over what "APA" stands for is not over, even though the American Psychological Association owns apa.org and the Google search results. We psychiatrists don't give up!


Though I discussed the choice of typeface first, the new logo emphasizing the brain is the most jarring aspect of the APA brand refresh. Here were my initial thoughts:
A couple of days later, I still feel the same way. If you're trying so hard to signal that the organization is modern and future-looking, then why in the world use such a literal outline of a brain? The whole point of logos is to make a simplified visual representation of something so it becomes an instantly recognizable icon. That's why Apple's logo doesn't look like an actual silhouette of an apple, and the Microsoft Windows logo doesn't look like a photorealistic window. It's also why the serpent on the Rod of Asclepius winding its way through the brain (wisely) does not show snake scales. Also, note what happens to the APA's brain when it's shrunk:

Fuzzy APA Brain Logo

Look how fuzzy the brain becomes, while the Rod of Asclepius retains its shape nicely. So, APA, if you're going to use a brain with folds, then at least make them look somewhat rounded:

Rounded APA Brain Logo

Even though it's a bit cartoony and not anatomically accurate, it's at least visually cogent, especially at smaller sizes. Alternatively, you can get even more minimalistic:

Smooth APA Brain Logo

These changes took me all of 20 minutes in Photoshop, and I'm no graphic artist. I wonder how much the APA paid their consultants for all this?


Finally, that tagline: "Medical leadership for mind, brain and body." While I won't argue too much over the missing Oxford comma, I do think: wouldn't it be nice if the tagline matched the typeface and the logo? The typeface signals future-think, while the logo features a traditional symbol of medicine within the brain. I don't see anything conveying "mind" or "body." Since I believe honesty is the best policy when it comes to branding, why not this:

APA: Leaders in medicalizing the brain.

Or even better, if the focus in going to be on medical brain disorders, why not a complete rebrand of the APA into something even awesomer?

American Clinical Neuroscience Association: Leaders in medicalizing the brain.

There, that's more like it!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

One Pringle

Like many psychiatrists, I see a fair number of patients whose relationship with food has been fraught with difficulty. Some of the patients that we worry about the most are those with anorexia, who are at a high risk of dying from their illness. However, it seems that those who have problems with binge or over-eating are much more common.

One memorable patient that I saw during residency was a man in his 50s, who reported feeling severely depressed ever since he had gastric bypass surgery 2 years prior. The man had been obese his whole adult life; he ate whenever he felt lonely, bored, or stressed, and eventually he weighed close to 400 pounds. I was surprised when he told me this, because he was trim and fit when I first met him, and he was fortunate enough to not have noticeably loose skin from losing over half his body weight. Of course, his doctors initially wondered whether a nutritional deficiency caused his depression, but all their tests came back normal. The patient himself attributed his mood change to no longer being able to eat the foods that he used to enjoy, and no amount or combination of medication made a difference. It seemed that his main coping skill was taken away without him gaining anything to replace it. Seeing this patient led me to think a lot about how one develops or fails to develop self-control with food.

Growing up, I sometimes travelled with my family to visit my grandparents, who lived in another country. During one week-long visit to their home, one of the things that drew my interest was a can of Pringles® sitting high on a book shelf in the living room. Day after day, it remained there, out of my reach. I'm sure I would have eaten most of the can during that time if it were more easily accessible. Then one day, I saw my grandfather open the can, take one chip out, and then he put the can back on the shelf. He bit off half the chip, closed his eyes, and chewed slowly and deliberately, savoring every last bit of that salty, crunchy goodness. Then, he did the same thing with the other half. One Pringle, and he was done. I can't even type the word "Pringle" without the spellchecker highlighting it and suggesting that I change it to "Pringles", but there was my grandfather, eating just one at a time, less than once per day.

While writing this, I checked out what Pringles® is using as their latest marketing slogan. Here it is:

Pringles: You don't just eat 'em
Well, my grandfather did in fact "just eat 'em," and he would have easily won a bet with anyone repeating the Lay's® phrase "betcha can't eat just one." How was he able to do that? I never thought to ask him directly, but I've often wondered how his journey through life shaped him. His father died when he was still an infant, and he was raised by his mother and grandfather. His was a scholarly family, and despite growing up in a place under foreign occupation during World War II, he was able to do well academically, eventually attending medical school. After the war, instead of enjoying the consumer exuberance that swept the U.S., my grandfather had to contend with decades of ongoing deprivation and strive while working long hours and raising a family.

Since I grew up in America, I had abundant access to food and never had to worry about getting enough to eat. I was also exposed to all the mass media messages that we Americans are inundated with. I craved Happy Meals® and Kellogg's® Froot Loops® and Nabisco Chips Ahoy!® and anything from those cute Keebler® elves. Not surprisingly, I often did not stop eating when I was full; there have been times when I ate so much at buffets that I felt sick. Yet as I got older and was faced with the temptations of overeating, I would often think back to that image of my grandfather and his one Pringle, and then I would ask myself, "Do you really want that extra serving?” And over time, my self-control gradually improved. How much of that was influenced by the fact that I randomly witnessed my grandfather's way of snacking? I'll probably never know, but I'm still grateful for the memory.

Of course, my grandfather was not perfect; he had his bad habits just like anyone else. He was a pulmonologist, but he also smoked cigarettes for many years. However, when he smoked, guess how many cigarettes he had on each occasion?