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Nutrition Facts Gets a Makeover

By Burkey Belser
February 28, 2014
Nutrition Facts Gets a Makeover

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

I very much support the effort of the FDA to reconsider the effectiveness of the label after 20 years, even if we were not involved in this latest design project. After all, 20 years is a long time. Obviously, I have a fondness for the original, but there have been significant shifts in nutrition during the last two decades. This label shows many welcome changes. Certainly, it is much easier to see calories and servings per container. That's a clear success.

However, I believe the radical changes in the order of presentation design were not required to achieve the goals the FDA set for the label. If you want to affect behavior, if you can help it, don't make people struggle to relearn something from scratch with which they are familiar. Make bold size and type changes, but keep order and structure in place.

I believe it still "feels" like our old friend, the Nutrition Label, but does it feel as well organized as it was before? Is the structure more or less clear? For example, apparently "% Daily Value," according to the FDA's research, underperformed among readers. The FDA's design response is to slide that feature to the left, box it off with a rule and change "%Daily Value" to "%DV"  explained in a footnote. Daily Value is hard enough to understand and calculate without using initials. Cramped and isolated by a thin rule, I believe this design change fails.

There are other details that will seem like design niceties to the average consumer but it was design niceties 20 years ago that contributed to this label's extraordinary success. For example, italics are used in scientific papers to present "Trans Fats" but do we really need to continue that convention in this label? For me, the detail simply raises an unnecessary question, "Hey why is that italic? It is bad or really good? Why isn't anything else italicized?"

Alternate Label
Among the 35 designs we tried  20 years ago were designs exactly like this. They all confused consumers for various reasons and this one will, too. Here, I find the use of multiple bold lines to be distracting and confusing. Why isolate % Daily Value, for example? Is it supposed to relate to the left-hand column below? It isn't clear. I find this label to be so challenging from a design point of view, I hardly know where to begin to seek to improve it.

This alternate label design, however, represents an effort to move from the non-judgmental Nutrition Facts to a more pro-active prescriptive appeal to consumers to modify their diet based on "avoid too much" of this or "get enough" of that. If this is the goal, then I would change the name to Nutrition Guide, a name that was in contention 20 years ago.

The Next Three Months
I predict this label will be wildly controversial. I applaud the effort to stir up dust and bring public attention back to the reason we have a Nutrition Facts label. Greenfield/Belser will participate in the 90 days public comment period in an effort to correct what we believe to be flaws in the proposed design. We'll keep you posted. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, here's how we suggest a new… revised!… label look.