Monday, 13 April 2015

A suitable image for diabetes?

The news today carries an item about imagery for mental illness, with the organisation ‘Time to Change’ advocating a new way to portray those experiencing mental health issues, distress and despair. They suggest more neutral, supportive pictures, rather than the traditional ‘head in hands’ approach.

Being in total support of this, it made us think of the imagery that is used for portraying diabetes. Back in 2008, when Successful Diabetes was launched, we searched for a logo to show what our company aimed to achieve. You can see the finished article on our blog here, and also on our website. We’ve (thankfully) had many compliments over the years, especially in the vein of ‘it is so different to show diabetes as success story, it’s so often one of failure’.

But the logo wasn’t like this to start with. When we gave our name and ideas to the people designing the logo, the first suggestions focused on diabetes, complete with syringes, needles, finger pricks, plasters and doctors with stethoscopes round their necks. The ‘successful’ part of our name was pretty much ignored. After we gently pointed out that we didn’t want to focus on the medical, each new draft gradually featured such images less and less until, finally, there were none – which is just the way we like it!

Reflecting on this experience, it seems to show how ‘hardwired’ the images representing diabetes, seemed to be then. In turn, this made us wonder what images are tending being used to ‘show diabetes’ today. So, we had a (very unscientific) ‘straw poll’ of a few websites, and here is what we found:

Rather pleasingly, it looks like things have changed: even on the most ‘diabetes’ of websites (mentioning no names of course!), the images of people, whether living with diabetes or health professionals are really positive and realistic, with not a stethoscope in sight! Families are shown doing everyday activities, to represent coping with diabetes in the mix, happy groups of people on holidays seem to show that it is possible to enjoy life as well as having diabetes. There’s even a picture of people smiling, under the heading ‘hypos and how to cope with them’!!

A couple of aspects were noticeable, however. It seems that where research is discussed, there’s a universal tendency towards pictures of test tubes and white coated scientists with goggles on. Perhaps this stereotype hasn’t quite been attended to yet? and images of food, either under the banner of healthy or unhealthy, quite often feature a large burger and fries! This seems to be an extremely enduring, and all-purpose, image – we wondered if continuing to use it does more harm than good, but that is probably a blog for another day!

One website does deserve a mention because it seemed to use imagery consistently neutrally and successfully throughout. The International Diabetes Federation has a series of outline figures in different poses which give some really clear messages without any assumptions, and also showing that imagery can be made understandable in whichever language the website is accessed in.

What’s your image of diabetes? do you prefer the medical or the personal? The detailed or the vague? Do put us in the picture below!


Hawkins, K. Mental health and the death of the ‘headclutcher’ picture. ‘Ouch’ blog, 13.4.15

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