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Winners! Redesign the Food Label The Best Nutrition Label Ideas

Behold, four designs for a better food label. Who knows? You might actually read the label if they looked like this.

We're happy to announce the winners of our project to design a better nutrition label. It's about time. For years, the federal Nutrition Facts label—that mandated, black-and-white guide to the calories, fats, and sugars on the backs of all packaged foods—has gotten short shrift from shoppers. So with the help of our friends at the University of California at Berkeley's News21, we asked you to design a food label that consumers might actually want to read.

The Food and Drug Administration will begin work on some possible nutrition label revisions later this year. In the meantime, we recruited four experts to choose the best and brightest of the 60 impressive label designs you submitted. Our panel of judges chose four overall favorites that they thought really deserve our attention—and maybe even the attention of the federal overseers of nutritional labeling. Here they are:




The overall winner was Renée Walker, who received some help from food scientist Harold McGee. Here's what the judges had to say about her label:

Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules, said:

Walker's design is dramatic, intriguing and holds great promise. I liked being able to see the visual breakdown of foods, although I wonder how her design would work with more complicated products, like Lucky Charms, say, or a PowerBar. Even so, it's a step in the right direction. What I'd like to see next is some sort of color coding for the food groups and some attempt to show the degree of processing of various foods. Eating doesn't have to be complicated; figuring out what's in your food shouldn’t be either.

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Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said:

There’s a lot I don’t like about this label: serving sizes should use words (and possibly omit the illustration to save space); the symbols to the left of the percentages are unclear; the graph takes up a lot of space and probably would not be understood by the very people whom you’d like to use the label; “amount of ingredients” (I assume that means “number of ingredients”) is pretty meaningless (good chefs use many ingredients; it’s not the number, but their identity that matters); the nutrients are not consistent from food to food; should use added sugars instead of total sugars; and saturated fat should be indicated instead of total fat.

So what’s there left to like? I like the bold, colorful rectangles showing how much of which ingredients are in the food. Of course, just listing percentages in the ingredient label would save a huge amount of space, but this graphic is a lot more attractive and easier to understand.

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Andrew Vande Moere of Information Aesthetics said:

The ingredient treemap graph at the top would be ideal to show the ingredients as an hierarchical dataset. For example, the "additives" rectangle could be further subdivided, or the "frozen vegetables" rectangle could be showing the relative amounts of "broccoli" or "peas" that are actually present in the package. In that sense, the label also does not contain detailed ingredient information (e.g. knowing the exact "additives" might be important for some customers), and might become problematic for products with many ingredients. The graphic design highly emphasizes the percentage values of nutrients (by using a bold, large font in a centered location), though they only make sense in combination with the nutrient labels, which are a bit squeezed between the bar graphs and require quite some effort to recognize and read. . . . The bar graph / nutrient fact list contains different elements for each product (and is sorted by a "proportionate representation of ingredients" according to the accompanying description), which might confuse people who like to quickly compare values from different products. If I understand correctly, nutrient facts would thus be listed at different positions on each product, or even not be present at all. However, in many ways, showing an ingredient is not present is important as well!

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Laura Brunow Miner of Pictory said:

I don't exactly understand how Renee's attractive but seemingly impractical large, colored boxes would work in terms of fitting on the side of a box or on a tiny bar, but I think the highlighting of certain ingredients works, and the overall design is quite pleasing.
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The runner-up was Joey Brunelle.

Robert H. Lustig, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco gave us some bullet points on his design:

Good:
- Graphic representation of percent Daily Values
- Size of calories: snack vs. meal
- Stoplight colors
- Transfat amount
- Nutrients added vs. nutrients removed
- What’s been added vs. what’s been removed
- No subjective assessment or grade

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Bad:
- No ingredients list
- No ecofootprint

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Laura Brunow Miner of Pictory said:

I think Joey's design works because it's realistic for a consumer to read and benefit from. It uses common iconography, like the red/green/yellow (stoplight) which I saw in a few designs, in an incredibly simple way. It's one of the few designs that works at a glance.

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Tied for third runner-up was Bradley Mu.

Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules said:

Mu's hack of the traditional label is easy to grasp and adds a new set of valuable metrics. I like his attempt and handling of ingredients but found it slightly confusing. He'll need a key to make this clearer. Still, he gets extra points for addressing the glycemic index, a number that's now relevant for at least 30 percent of America's adult population.

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Andrew Vande Moere of Information Aesthetics said:

This is a very graphical solution, which stood out from the others because it is motivated by an overall goal to incentivize food producers to change their products, so their food labels would contain more "unlocked" icons, or more "green" (thus "good") ingredients. Instead of using gaming as a visual metaphor, it is used as an incentive to encourage the redesign of food products, and not only of food labels. . . . though I appreciate the idea of coding the ingredient list in a meaningful way, I believe people are not able to interpret multiple mappings (i.e. of color, and bold style, and italics style) in an intuitive or meaningful way. The infographic illustrations seem consistent, though could benefit from some small fine-tuning, such as the addition of an explicit 2,000 tick at the "calories" circular graph (and what would happen if a food product had more than 2,000 calories or more than 100 percent fat in comparison to the ideal daily intake?). Without the explicit explanation, the "red light" color coding was unclear to me at first. The "easy to read" table/grid layout might need some optimization: I first read this layout as "Vitamin A: 8g" and kept looking for a Protein value… The Glycemic Index graph would need some contextualization: it is unclear why it looks different from the other bar graphs, and why its title is treated as important as the title "one serving."

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And also tied for third runner-up was Dylan Brown.

Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said:

I like the minimalist approach . . . no fancy, space-taking graphs for people to puzzle over. Nothing extraneous about growing practices, GMOs and whether the workers at the package manufacturer belonged to a union!—that information belongs elsewhere. If anything, this label could convey somewhat more information, such as serving sizes. Too bad the food industry would never allow “F” ratings to go on their labels.

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Laura Brunow Miner of Pictory said:

While I find Dylan's aesthetic styling to be unrealistic, I think his ideas are great. Listing calories in terms of exercise (instead of percentage of daily intake) makes a lot more sense, and is overall closer to being accurate for each individual. I also like the separation of the processed from true ingredients, and the food score.

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These winners will take home our heartfelt congratulations as well as a GOOD subscription and a T-shirt. Thanks again to all our contributors, judges, and our collaborators at News21: Lily Mihalik and Diana Jou. If you're still looking for redesign inspiration, you should check out all the excellent submissions here.

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