The tablespoon, teaspoon, or grams have had a fair run as the go to signifier for gauging the sugar and salt that we consume. But how effective do they convey the message to people as to the contents of our foods and beverages? As an alternative, I explored a visual signifiers that are more commonly used in modern times like the smartphone.





Designers often use other methods for data visualization to emphasize relationships in graphical formats. Like the infographic I made below, the numeric values are emphasized by spacial relationship and size of circles.  But have we missed out on other formats that are more universal, tangible, modern, or effective? It depends on the audience. 


A large paperclip weighs ≈ 1 gram, but how does THAT TRANSLATE TO sugar intake?

There are many apps sites that help us calculate, track and translate nutritional information but they tend to generate graphs and charts. My method is to create a conversion method for relating weights and measures to common physical objects which are inherently more visceral. Before arriving at a smartphone, I calculated the daily sugar consumption recommended by the American Heart Association into golf balls, batteries, soda cans, pencils and even mattresses. 


Food and beverages got a upgrade in May 2016 when the FDA mandated that manufacturers list the added sugar in both grams and %DV. For the past 58 years, since the Food Additives Amendment was enacted, the sugar content only needed to be displayed in grams or milligrams despite 17 or more other ingredients bearing both weight and percent-daily-values. If these labels allow consumers make health conscious decisions more quickly, who in their right mind understands what a gram of sugar means to their health?

A large paperclip weighs about 1 gram, but how does this help me understand the daily sugar intake?

If numbers aren’t providing enough context for making healthier food decisions, then seeing a pyramid of sugar cubes pictured next to a can of soda should help. The shock value from these images is persuasive but they can further the abstraction if you can’t relate to outdated units like sugar cubes or teaspoons. For the first time in recorded history, consumers are spending more money dining out than at the grocery store. As less people prepare their own meals, they have distanced themselves from comprehending a measuring teaspoon– the slow antiquation of a ‘standard’ signifier of portion. 


I want to provide physical objects that convey weight, percent daily value, and portion into physical form. After all, what's the point of statistics if their models are outdated? 


This conversion concept was also applied to the water consumption used to produce the average pair of blue jeans, a t-shirt, and the Sunday edition of the New York Times newspaper. Seeking yet another common object as a baseline unit for water, I considered the volume of a refrigerator, mattress, pillow, and bathtub. A study from Statista found that the queen size mattress accounts for over 45 percent of the American market for people above 18 years old. 

From cotton production to the dying and washing of fabric, the average pair of denim blue jeans requires 1,800 gallons of water to manufacture. By volume, that absorbent amount of water is the equivalent of six queen sized mattresses.

The average pair of denim jeans requires 1,800 gallons of water to produce. By volume, that is the equivalent of 6 queen sized mattresses.

The average pair of denim jeans requires 1,800 gallons of water to produce. By volume, that is the equivalent of 6 queen sized mattresses.