Pizza & Labels: Why Understanding Your Customer’s Understanding Matters

Intended Audience: business leaders, entrepreneurs, decision makers and product design leads

For the past three years, our family has been ordering pizza from the little shop down the street. We were super hungry from an evening of packing and heavy lifting. The last night before left our neighborhood I walked in and ordered what I knew would be our last pizza from this place. Instead of ordering our usual large pizza, I asked if there is anything bigger… the cashier responded “Extra Large?”.

We’ve always ordered a large.

I’d forgotten that large REALLY means medium or 16"

(and yes, I know, I could have just invested time reviewing the sizes on the giant menu board, but I never did, I just assumed.)

Most pizza places adhere to sizing model:

  • Medium, Large, Extra Large
  • some places a smaller option, often with varying names, Pizza Hut calls it Personal Pan Pizza (this nomenclature is equivalent to other products with terms like: party size or fun size, travel, and even tote)
  • you may already know this, so…no’duh, why does it matter? Read on…

Example from PizzaHut:

If this was more apparent, our family would have ordered “extra large” pizza’s at this place for last three years!
(the place down the street is not Pizza Hut)

Examples of esoteric labeling from other industries:


  • Economy, Premium Economy, Business Class, First Class, and the newly created ‘Basic Economy’

Does anyone else find it weird that the term class is attached to most of these designations? (different topic, for a different article I suppose.)

Here is an explanation of what each of those means (in case you’re new).


Coach, Business Class


When my wife and I were discussing leasing RAV 4 model with a Toyota Sales rep we found the configuration names such as SE, XLE and LE to be unhelpful. Instead we codified them to expedite our discussion:

  • SE — “the pimped out one” or “Leather” (Super Expensive)
  • XLE — Moon Roof (mid range price)
  • LE — No Moon Roof (nothing fancy)

If the company doesn’t provide a useful means to label a product or service, it presents an invitation for customers (and critics) to create their own.

Screenshot from

Sometimes, companies will assign unique size labeling intentionally to as a means of differentiation or to build culture. Check out this article from Business Insider regarding Starbuck’s methodology behind labels: Venti, Tall and Grande.

Okay… why does any of this matter, and how does it translate to something useful?

Often these labeling conventions is a reflection of language that evolves out of a particular industry or culture over time. There is little about many of these labels that translates into existing schemas customers may have — especially if they are approaching your product or service for the first time.

Another common expression of this I see in the wild is tech product labeling:
Often a manufacturer will refer to a product name in a manner that serves to almost no reference point for the customers; making products seem unnecessarily complicated or names harder to recall: 
Camera Examples: Canon 7D, Canon 70D, Nikon D700 
Phones: Galaxy S8+ Galaxy J5

None of these names have model labels that would serve as a reference point to customers unfamiliar with existing product line.

If you are creating a new or update to a product, try to attract NEW customers and broadening your market share consider: 
1) choosing a simple, memorable name 
2) label it with conventions customers may have existing associations for relating to that type or product or service.

Also consider for a moment what your customer’s expecations really are…

Customers’ do not buy products; they buy desired states!
- Frank Capek

When considering appropriate labels for sizes, processes, products or services, consider your customer’s expectations and existing frame of references.

Also check out an oldie but a goodie: Designing Experiences that Fit the Customers’ Mental Model by Frank Capek


1) Concern for customer-centric messaging & labeling is not a new concept, but surprising how rarely companies make the effort.

Use labeling conventions that make sense to your consumers’ existing mental models. — this will take some research and curiosity on your part.

Invest in the effort to relate. Make the names of your product or service relatable — show the people you are trying to connect with that you understand them and make it easy for them to learn about your product and discuss with their friends. This is one way of showing your customers (and prospects) that you understand them.

2) Remove unnecessary barriers of engagement.

Do you have your own observations that relate to this article? Have you discovered research that supports or challenges the claims of this article? Please post and we’ll get the conversation started!

Also, here’s a little something for fun: 
74,476 Reasons You Should Always Get The Bigger Pizza