Design Alumna Renee Walker Places First in Nutrition Label Redesign Competition
Posted on Tuesday, August 23, 2011 by Allison Byers
Walker’s winning design features bright colors and comprehensible graphics that illustrate the food’s ingredients
Visual designer and CCA alumna Renée Walker (MFA Design 2011) placed first in the Rethink the Food Label competition, an online contest issued by GOOD magazine and University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s News21 project to redesign the nutrition label found on food packaging. Walker’s winning design features bright colors and comprehensible graphics that illustrate the food’s ingredients and relative “goodness.”
Health & Design
Brenda Laurel, professor and chair of CCA’s Graduate Program in Design, said, “Renee Walker’s winning redesign of the food label showcases the inventiveness, craft, and civic connection we cultivate in the Grad Design Program at CCA. Her work is an excellent example of design that can improve health and the quality of life -- one of the strong goals of the CCA Grad Design culture and curriculum.”
Dated Nutrition Labels
In early May GOOD and News21 challenged designers and nutritionists to revamp the nutrition label on food packaging. The standard black-and-white label, which has not changed since the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act created it in 1991, is long overdue for a modernization. According to First Lady Michelle Obama, issued as part of her campaign to fight childhood obesity: “We need clear, consistent, front-of-the-package labels that give people the information they’ve been asking for, in a format they understand.”
Even before the inception of the Rethink the Food Label challenge, Walker had dreamed of a redesign after reading an article in GOOD that addressed child obesity and the inefficiencies of the current nutrition label. Inspired by a method of mapping she was exploring with CCA Design faculty member Geoff Kaplan while enrolled in his Media Matters course, Walker began questioning thinking of nutrition as more of a visual map, rather than a complicated data set that requires a PhD in nutrition to decipher.
Walker revisited nutrition labeling while taking an interdisciplinary topic studio course at CCA that focused on contemporary health issues, specifically epidemics. The studio, led by Industrial Design faculty member Colin Owen and interaction designer and Design faculty Scott Minneman, encouraged Walker to explore and research obesity as an epidemic – based on the fact more weight-related diseases are killing Americans than smoking.
“I was surprised at how serious the problem was, yet how reluctant people were to admit it,” Walker recalls. “It became one of the most challenging parts of the topic studio for me to prove both academically and to a general audience that obesity was an epidemic.”
After working through initial prototypes, Walker set out to create an entirely different way of food labeling, one that would make consumers consider whether they were buying “real” food, and created a label that graphically communicated the composition of the food. Despite difficulties in convincing others of the severity of the obesity epidemic, Walker believes that CCA’s studio course allowed her to articulate the best way to approach designing a new food label.
“I was often frustrated with the project," Walker admitted, "but if I had not gone through this research phase, I don’t think I would have come up with the right designs -- designs based off changing the way people think about food, not just making nutrition information, as it is now clearer.”
A few months later, Walker was introduced to the GOOD and News21 project competition and its creators, Lily Mihalik and Diana Jou. Walker was then encouraged to partner on the project with food critic and nutritionist Harold McGee. “Having felt overwhelmed on my own with what information should be included on the food label,” Walker confessed, “I felt at ease to have McGee’s expertise on my side.”
McGee believed the most important information for consumers included the ingredients and the balance of nutrients the item would provide for their daily food intake, both of which are difficult to read and interpret with the current food label design. Using McGee’s input and previous prototypes, Walker created an innovative design that incorporates a variety of colors to present ingredients as a proportion of the food as a whole as well as includes a graphic portion that indicates the calories and nutrients based on the recommended daily intake contained in a standard serving.
Design Wins First Place
Walker’s first-place design was selected from approximately 60 submissions. One of the judges, Michael Pollan, whose ideas had initially been an inspiration to Walker, described Walker’s design as “dramatic, intriguing, and holds great promise. . . ." He added, "Eating doesn’t have to be complicated; figuring out what’s in your food shouldn’t be either.”
The Rethink the Food Label project attracted such national media outlets as the New York Times and Science Times, which Walker believes is a testament to the fact people need a better system for understanding what it is they are eating.
Walker’s winning design has also garnered professional interest for the visual designer, who is starting her own design practice. “Thanks to this project I have had interest from people who are looking to make information more visual for educational purposes. This is something I had focused on while at CCA and I'm looking forward to working with people who share my interests, beliefs, and goals.”
Change the Design, Change the Way We Think
Walker’s design comprehensibly illustrates the ingredients and nutritional value of food. And although the design is aesthetically pleasing, her label design achieves a greater goal: redefining how we think about what’s in our food.
Walker reflected on her experience at CCA and making art that matters: “My time at CCA has influenced how I approach projects from a research and process perspective -- allowing for more meaningful outcomes.
“My interest is in exploring visual language in culture and how we might use it to address issues in health, the environment, and communication. Having recently completed my MFA in Design California College of the Arts in San Francisco, I've been exposed to a completely interdisciplinary approach to design—pushing boundaries in image making, typography, and design strategy.”
What's Next . . .
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will begin working on potential nutrition label revisions this year. Walker’s design is perfectly poised to reach an even wider audience, exemplifying how design can have a momentous effect on our health and way of life.
About Renée Walker
Read “Infographic of the Day: A Food Label That Actually Teaches You About Food” on Fast Company’s Co.Design blog
Follow on Twitter
Visit Rethink the Food Label on Facebook
Watch the Rethink the Food Label video on Vimeo
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