Fat chance of designers tackling obesity threat

Sarah Woods’ article on obesity and design (DW 14 February) made me wonder if design has a responsibility.

We’ve all been in a supermarket, drooling over certain products, encouraged by their enticing packaging. No one has a problem with this any more. These days, most packaging doesn’t try to hide the guilty secrets of what’s inside. Instead, it flaunts it, playing on our weakness for food treats. Gü – need I say more?

However, while design has an important role to play in sales, it should be taking second place. The Government has introduced the traffic light/pie chart food content indicator, which is a step in the right direction. But, there’s no consistent design/positioning for it, and often packaging isn’t designed to help the consumer see the charts clearly.

There is a balance which seems difficult to achieve: manufacturers want to appear transparent when it comes to food content, but they still want to sell their food, and they know that people buy with their eyes. Packaging needs to be attractive, and now it needs to include nutritional advice on the front, but a lot of the time this comes second for fear of putting consumers off (should they realise what’s actually in their food).

Of course, the real issue is with the actual content of food. Food indicators aside, the article suggested that people aren’t willing to forgo flavour for health. This is not an issue for design, but purely down to education and people’s associations (if it’s good for you it will taste like cardboard, and vice versa). Design can communicate the health of food, and it can (sometimes honestly and sometimes not) illustrate the content, but design alone can’t educate the person buying the food.

Ultimately, it’s not the responsibility of design to target obesity – but it has a responsibility to deliver clear, consistent and, most importantly, honest messages.

Emma Atkinson, Creative director, DogStar, London EC1

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