- September 23, 2011
Color me skeptical, but whenever I see brightly-colored packaged foods in a supermarket touting claims such as “made with 100% real cheese” or “made with whole wheat” – I tend to balk. However, these claims can have a very real impact on our shopping decisions. Perhaps the box of Cheez-its made with “real cheese” are more appealing to some, but really – how much real cheese is in there? And did you know that there are no federal guidelines regulating how much whole wheat a product must contain to state “made with whole grains”? That box of Stove Top could contain 99% regular old white flour and just 1% whole grain flour and still make that claim.
So, how do we make real decisions about the food we’re purchasing and consuming? Sure, you can look at the nutritional facts listing on the backs of these boxes for an ingredient list, but that won’t tell you how much of each ingredient the product contains. Furthermore, it’s not displayed in the way people actually think about food. People do not tend to choose what to buy or what to eat by interpreting mathematical values or comparing chemical compounds.
Browsing through the contest submissions, it’s clear that while data is important, it’s really the presentation (the conduit that connects the data to the viewer) that is the key to understanding and making data useful. The winner, Renee Walker‘s designs showcase this idea very aptly. In particular, I’m a huge fan of the use of a bold, simple visual display to show quantities of various ingredients in a food product. Maybe then we too can be privy to such mysteries of the real amount of “real cheese” in a box of Cheez-its.