Rethink the Food Label
GOOD and the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s News21 project put together a contest to redesign the food label. This is my submission.
I began working on my design by catching up on the latest developments on nutrition labeling. Food manufacturers in the U.S. have recently introduced front-of-packaging labeling and GOOD pointed to the Institute of Medicine’s excellent Phase I report on these front-of-packaging labels.
After skimming the document and reading the recommendations, I realized that while the science behind the data is informative, it was much too scientific and distant from how people experience food everyday. To me, nutrition has always been about eating good foods, like having fresh fruits and vegetables from the local farmer’s market or having a delicious meal at a local restaurant with a friend. I hardly think twice about the numbers printed on the nutrition label when I go grocery shopping. So in redesigning the food label, I focused on the food rather than numbers.
While searching the web for inspiration, I came across Ethan Frier, Franklin Gaw, and Tina Musich’s Nutrition Facts Redesign project. They used an online survey to help them design their visual nutrition label. I took many cues from their project, such as using bar graphs for Daily Values and icons for food allergens. I give kudos to their great work by expanding on their design here.
This is the header, where you’ll find important information at-glance. As recommended by the Institute of Medicine, I’ve included information on calories, saturated and trans fat content, and sodium levels. The nutritional “flags” are color-coded with the rest of the nutrition information to indicate beneficial levels of a nutrient (green), levels of a nutrient that could be cause for concern (yellow), or dangerous levels of a harmful substance (red).
To encourage adoption by industry, I avoided overtly negative words like “bad” or “dangerous” and opted instead to use accurate euphemisms to alert readers of items to watch for.
The next section presents information from the Food Pyramid (now My Plate) as pictographs to help readers make smart decisions. The food groups are easy to understand and allows people to focus on eating a well-balanced diet that necessarily includes essential nutrients. Of course, regulation will need to define which nutrients and how much each ”point” needs to have for a particular food group.
The food group points are coded by both color and shape, giving you two ways to get the same information quickly. The relative sizes of the points indicate the recommended number of servings for a particular food group. The larger points represent the minimum recommendation. The smaller points, together with the larger points, represent the maximum recommendation.
When you’re in a hurry, the idea is that you can quickly look at the food group pictographs and decide whether it fits your dietary goals. Focusing on eating more vegetables? Look for more green in the vegetable row. How eating less bad fat? Look for fewer red squares in the “other fats” row.
Next up are the required numerical items, as required by the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act. The layout leverages the widespread recognition of the original label’s style and shape to help people recognize that this is a nutrition label. Taking cues from Ethan Frier, Franklin Gaw, and Tina Musich’s Nutrition Facts Redesign, the information is presented as bar graphs, with the added benefit of using a consistent color scheme to indicate important items.
By themselves, the daily recommended values don’t always mean much to the average person, but in conjunction with the nutritional flags in the header, the values allow nutritionally savvy people to make informed comparisons more quickly. For items that don’t have a Daily Value, a recommendation is presented. As with the header, overtly negative terms are avoided to ease adoption by industry.
Following the traditional nutrition information is the ingredients. Again, taking cues from Frier, Gaw, and Musich, I created recognizable icons for common food allergies in America. Because this information is so vital to allergy sufferers, each icon is labeled to avoid confusion. Color is used here as well to help distinguish the different icons for easy recognition.
Finally, the end piece includes a legal disclaimer that should make lawyers quite happy. To supplement the information in the nutrition label — and to make the end piece more useful — a QR Code and a link are included to allow techies to get more information online and to allow software applications to make real-time recommendations. This particular QR Code just links to the Rethink the Food Label page.
Taken together, I used what I learned from reading neuromarketing books, like Buyology, to insert a bit of intelligence into the nutrition label. Instead of requiring people to consciously think about what the label is telling them, I allowed people’s learned intuition about things like color, shape, and layout to help guide their decisions. Using patterns of colors and shapes, this food label is (hopefully) more intuitive and easier to understand because it works with you, not against you.