The Power of Info-graphics | January 4, 2007
There has been an interesting story circulating in the press today about food labelling. The government are trying to encourage food manufacturers to label food in such a way that shoppers can clearly tell which of a number of similar products are healthiest just by glancing at them.
The food standards agency realised that the current labelling system—while very good by international standards—is still quite complicated. If you want choose between two products for health reasons, you need to spend a considerable amount to time looking at the two labels, and even then it is difficult to tell which is better unless you know exactly how much salt, fat or sugar you are supposed to eat each day
Two rival labelling systems have emerged. One system is called the traffic light system and studies have shown that it provides shoppers with a clear indication of which product is the least healthy. It works though a colour coding system, so green is healthy, amber is medium and red is unhealthy. Four main metrics are communicated; the amount of fat, saturates, sugar and salt an item contains. So by quickly glancing at a product you can tell if it is “unhealthy” by the amount of red and orange displayed on the info-graphic.
The problem is, it turns out that when faced with the traffic light, shoppers naturally (and some would say instinctively) avoid the products containing a lot of red traffic lights. This has obviously upset many manufactures who prefer a less emotive system called the GDA system.
This system shows how much of an adults guideline daily amount (GDA) of calories, sugar, fat, saturates and salt the product contains. The info-graphics the manufacturers prefer don’t include the traffic light system, making it much less emotive. They argue that the info-graphics provide more information to the shopper and leads to an informed decision.
Supporters of the traffic light system say that the GDA system is flawed because many people don’t have the time, ability or inclination to do mathematical calculations while shopping. This is an interesting argument from a usability, user-centered design and accessibility standpoint, and is actually supported through user testing. They argue that when you are in a hurry, the traffic light system gives the shopper the information they desire at a glance, and is therefore superior.
However supporters of the GDA system counter with the argument that some products like cheese, which are naturally high in fat and would therefore always have a red label, can still be eaten as part of a healthy diet as long as more than the GDA isn’t consumed.
I find it very interesting that a story about info-graphic design has been all over the TV and newspapers today. I also think it is very interesting how the two different camps are reacting to the two different types of info-graphic. To throw salt (sugar, fat and saturates) onto the wound, one option would be to combine both techniques. It would be very simple to add colour to the GDA info-graphic, but desaturate it slightly to make it less emotive. That way you would still be able to see which elements were high, medium or low at a glance while hopefully placating the manufacturers. I was planning to knock up an example but I’ve just got a new laptop and Adobe are forcing me to phone them up again to prove that I own my copy of Photoshop. This is starting to get tedious.
Posted at January 4, 2007 10:11 PM