But rarely do we flip the package over and scrutinize the backside. Namely, the ingredients label.
Most people don't realize this, but ingredients labeling is intentionally designed to make it difficult for you to read what's inside the food you're eating. We tend to not think about this stuff, but sadly it's true.
Take a look at Fake Label 1 below
This is the common label you see on the back of your food products. The ingredients I chose above are meaningless and random. What's more important is the typesetting. Notice how it is set in all caps, bold, and is force justified. These particular methods of typesetting are known to reduce legibility in large blocks of text and actually cause people to be feel less motivated to read.
To get specific about it, let me break down the "ingredients" to this intentionally broken ingredients list:
- All Caps: When setting long lines of copy in all caps, every glyph takes the general shape of a rectangle and the human eye has more trouble distinguishing one word from another at a quick glance. Caps should only be used to indicate the beginning of a word or a series of words when used in long lines of copy.
- Bold Font Weights: Similarly to all caps, when setting long lines of copy in bold it creates a more visually solid reading atmosphere. In other words, the glyphs appear to be solid black shapes instead of uniquely varied tones of gray. The typical "regular" font weights are usually the best for typesetting legibility.
- Force Justification: This is a huge no-no amongst typographers. There are several reasons why it's a bad idea to force justify multiple lines of type. For one, the human eye needs the semi-random and free-flowing rag on the right-hand side of the copy block to help distinguish one line of type from another (in fact, the more jagged and random the length of the lines are, the better). Second, the large gaps between words further reinforce the human eye's difficulty in focusing on individual lines of copy.
Now take a look at Fake Label 2 below:
I've taken the exact same ingredients as in Fake Label 1, and the exact same amount of space available, and set the type in a more comfortable manner. It's suddenly a lot easier to read the ingredients, isn't it?
Every label on your food could be set similarly, but it's not done. Why? Because companies don't want you to read the ingredients! They want you to gloss over that back label and ignore what may/may not be inside the food you're buying. You might find, in your travels, that some food packaging is actually very simply labeled. Usually when ingredients lists are short and sweet, they are set in a comfortable-to-read fashion because the companies are trying to say, "Look! Our food is simple and good for you! See how few ingredients there are?!"