IA Writing Assignment

Information Architecture via Nutrition Labels

My UX Academy assignment for today is to write a short piece on information architecture (IA). The Information Architect Institute simply states that information architecture is the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable.

Taken from the IAI

While there were different ways to go about the assignment, I decided to look at IA outside of the internet. Being a nutrition student at heart, my first thought was IA used on food packaging.

Whether it has to do with a less than satisfied self image, a medical condition, or just an interest in improving health, at some point everybody becomes interested in food packaging and the nutritional information it presents. However, that can sometimes be a a time consuming task when you’re hungry or have a lot of shopping to do. To combat that problem, the IA of food packaging has evolved through the years to help customers find what they’re looking for without too much fuss.

The basic nutrition label has been mandatory on all food packaging since 1990. Up until recently, the look of the label has stayed pretty consistent as well as the information provided: serving size, nutrients, and vitamins/ minerals. After more than 20 years of the same label, though, some changes are taking place to help customers navigate necessary information faster and more easily.

  • Is it findable: the number of servings is presented in larger and bolder type & the calories are in larger type
    - Is it accessible: nutrition labels are required on all food packaging by the FDA 
    - Is it easy to understand: the foot note at the bottom of the label explains the role of the percentages 
    - Is it credible: updated daily values
    - Is it useful: customers are able to find the information they need without frustration

In 2011, food packaging went further to ease information find-ability by announcing Facts up Front (a.k.a Nutrition Keys). This is a front label system that gives similar information from a nutrition label and is held to U.S. labeling regulations. While this is a voluntary means of labeling, many have adopted it on their packaging to ease customer searching.

Intended to be educational in purpose, to allow consumers to observe, understand, and be able to use key nutrient information to make informed food choices.

It is suitable to see nutrient facts on the front or back of food packaging, but what if that is not the information that a customer is most concerned about? It is not uncommon for someone to have a food sensitivity or preference, and searching for acceptable food can be frustrating. To assist with this annoyance, food packaging began tagging useful information by way of graphics. These graphics give necessary information by glance and eliminate time spent checking ingredients.

Popular information that customers are looking for on packing are: dairy free, no GMO, vegan friendly, kosher, organic, and gluten free.

Information Architects approach their work by triangulating between organizational context, the nature of the content they’re organizing, and the needs of users: Food packaging organizes its information by what is required to share, what is appropriate to share, and what its users need to know quickly.

IA decisions mostly revolve around choices in Organization, Labeling, Navigation, and Search: Front and back packaging has multiple forms of labeling to help the customer find what they’re looking for quickly. Information is hierarchical on nutrition labels in order to find what is usually most important to the customer.

Good IA helps people to easily orient, navigate, and find what they’re looking for without unnecessary fuss: All the different ways of labeling and tagging have made it easier for customers to navigate the information they are looking for and make a selection without too much trouble.