Four servings of design.

Health and medicine explained.
April 28 2005 12:53 PM

Four Servings of Design

Improving on the new food pyramid.

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If the USDA's recommended diet helps people live long and prosper, it won't be thanks to the design of the agency's new food pyramid. The flaws are myriad. There are no icons or labels to indicate which food group is represented by each band of the pyramid's vertical rainbow of stripes. The color choices are less than intuitive. The varying widths of the stripes represent the relative amounts of each food group you should eat, but you can't grasp that information in a glance. And the yellow stripe representing fats is so narrow it almost disappears. The old pyramid wasn't without flaws, but at least it clearly showed a diet hierarchy.

In short, after spending four years and $4.2 million, the USDA has screwed up a relatively simple concept. We gave four design teams a few days to rethink the presentation of the USDA's diet. Click here for a slide show of what they produced, with alternatives ranging from an interactive bar graph to a warning label.

Jessie Scanlon is a freelance writer in New York City and a contributing editor at Wired.

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