The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

Designing Information about Food
March 5, 2010, 3:40 pm
Filed under: Food, Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Public health practitioners are at the forefront of working with vulnerable communities on significant issues—that’s why I found it promising recently to see two students from the UNC School of Public Health in a multimedia class I’m taking at the School of Journalism. I hope the skills I gain in multimedia storytelling will allow me to partner with public health experts to most effectively communicate stories about local food systems.

I am a beginner when it comes to multimedia production, but thanks to Professor Laura Ruel, one of our School’s finest teachers in visual communication, I’m learning the basics of what makes for effective multimedia storytelling. Professor Ruel is sought out by industry powerhouses like the New York Times for her research on user behavior and eye-tracking, and the evaluation of cognitive processes as it relates to multimedia journalism.

So, what does the term multimedia really mean, and what makes for successful multimedia? Yes, it is multiple forms of media—graphics, flash, photography, video, audio—but more importantly, successful multimedia means that each medium selected tells that portion of the story best, and that each medium fits with others into one final seamless product. I’ve included a video produced by the advertising giant Ogilvy on the Canadian local food system. Let me know what you think. Do you find the graphics and multiple media to work seamlessly together? Does the Hellman’s Mayonnaise corporate sponsorship conflict with the message? Do you see any other uses for multimedia tools such as this to further public health work?

A Few Words on Infographics:

I’m finding that many talented designers are beginning to create graphics on nutrition-related topics, seasonal food charts, and food systems. Infographics are essentially visual representations of data. They can range from a basic subway map, to some of the complex 3-D interactives you find on I’ve included links to a few food related graphics that caught my attention and may be helpful to folks promoting local foods campaigns that have similar components to the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project.

Example #1:

This example was shown in class by Professor Ruel and was praised by a lot of students because it is a fairly attractive graphic. Colorful, bright, optimistic. It shows a lot of information without overwhelming the viewer. At the same time, a student pointed out that one of the key food groups, vegetables, was shaded yellow, a color difficult to read online. I was thrown off by the misspelling of “Quince” and as a result couldn’t objectively look at this graphic. To the designer’s defense, Adobe Illustrator, the software used to create most of these graphics, does not include spell-check.

Example #2:

Disclaimer. This isn’t a graphic. It’s a photograph. I included it because it drives home the point that the visual medium can make simple points very effectively without needing words or numbers. I’m not a nutrition scientist, but I imagine one of the (many) challenges for nutritionists is to communicate the grave consequences of, in this case, excessive sugar consumption.

How much sugar is there in a small can of regular Coke? One regular can of Coca Cola contains 39 grams of sugar or 9 1/2 sugar cubes. This might not mean much when you read the words, but look at each sugar cube and my hunch is that the manner in which we process that visual information is quite different. One of the ways researchers measure effective use of media is through testing information recall between words and images. I’ll need to follow up to see if research has been conducted on information recall as it relates to food images and text.

Example #3:

Great use of color, negative space, and playful symbols. GOOD has been at the forefront of cutting edge design, but this graphic might be a piece that lends itself better to print then to an online format. In order to read any of the text or know what each fruit/vegetable symbol stands for, you need to zoom in or click F for fullscreen. And for those really wanting to know what’s in season in each of these states, one symbol for ‘Greens’ isn’t very helpful.

With so many creative infographics on nutrition and food-related topics, you could spend hours sleuthing the Internet. Informational graphics and multimedia are powerful communication tools, so let us know if you have any favorites related to sustainable agriculture and food.

Sabrina López


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