Meet the Man Who Designed the New Nutrition Facts Label

Graphic designer Kevin Grady tells us what went into his latest project.

Nutrition facts

The new label/Image courtesy of the FDA

You could very well see Kevin Grady‘s latest work every single day and never give it a second thought. That’s just fine by him.

Three years ago, the FDA commissioned Grady to redesign its nutrition facts label. Among other changes, the finished product, unveiled last week and set to go into effect by 2018, draws the eye to calorie counts and realistic serving sizes; lists added sugars; and no longer includes calories from fat.

The label itself, however, is quite reminiscent of the old design—and a stark departure from Grady’s past projects at Lemon and Gum magazines, working with big names like Daft Punk, David Bowie, Sonic Youth, and Nancy Sinatra. “There are plenty of other avenues for me to go crazy and express myself,” he says. “If I were trying to just make this the most elegant and cool-looking label in the world, it wouldn’t look like this. But I wouldn’t be doing my job then, really.”

We caught up with Grady, until recently a Boston resident, to get the details.

This is not your typical project.

Originally, when the news first came out about this, [people said,] ‘This guy who did stuff with Daft Punk is doing the labels?’ It’s not what you’d expect, necessarily.

How did you get tapped by the FDA?

[I worked on the] Truth anti-tobacco industry campaign when I was working in advertising a number of years ago. Over the years, I’ve done a number of projects [with an old contact from the FDA], so they brought me in.

Did they give you free reign?

They’ve been working on the actual tactical changes to the labels for years and years. They did give me free reign with regards to how it’d be expressed. I felt like there wasn’t a need to completely reinvent the wheel, but there was an opportunity to be a lot more clear with the information.

What did you most want to change?

Before, you’d read ‘nutrition facts’ and everything else was essentially the same size. Now, there’s definitely a hierarchy. Your eye definitely is led on a little journey that it wasn’t before.

What’s most important is that it actually really works well. I could argue that the size I made ‘calories’ is less elegant than that original label, but I would argue that it’s definitely easier to read. If you’ve got a crying baby and you’re in a supermarket trying to figure out how many calories there are, you don’t want to break out a magnifying glass. It was trying to balance aesthetic considerations with utility, and really with something like this, utility is what’s most important.

Was that painful for you, as a designer?

It wasn’t, because I feel like this is a step forward, in terms of health. Food is such an issue right now in this country, in terms of how people eat.

Was it nerve-wracking to design something that will become ubiquitous?

It should be, but it never felt that way to me. This is a perfect example of a collective, iterative process. It’s not about me. So many people have been involved in trying to make these changes. I’m sure it will continue to evolve. I love doing projects that have some kind of intended public good, so I felt honored to be able to be involved with it, and to be able to nudge it along and make it a bit better than it was.

This interview has been edited and condensed.