For example, in our prototypes, devising an icon to represent “Labor” quickly became more complex as issues arose around how to communicate different types of labor. In reviewing the first draft of this icon, food systems experts and icon designers realized that there are several kinds of labor that might need differentiating, some only now emerging (like automated or robotic labor). Clearly, one icon may not be enough to communicate all kinds of labor, but three different ones might. The Food Clarity Activator has already identified over 1000 potential food terms that could fuel several rounds of challenges, depending on popularity and participation, and this already long list may grow in the process of identifying the meaning and uses for any one term or icon.
The prototyping process has taught us several other important lessons. For example, these icons use a visual vocabulary of reusable elements that can and should be used consistently. A simple symbol for signifying a generic plant could be used within more complex icons for Agriculture, Supply Cycles, Crops, and Farms. In this way, one element, reused where appropriate, not only unifies the system as a family, but makes learning new icons much easier. This is especially true of the more abstract icons.
Context, too, matters. Consumers are familiar with fewer food processes and systems and sometimes have a more limited experience or understanding of the commercial and industrial aspects of food. The same elements may communicate differently across groups and this may require the same concepts to be represented differently to different stakeholders.
Details also matter. An icon for “Fish,” if it’s representative at all, needs to represent a fish that people eat. A food process or location, like a barn, needs to be both accurate and recognizable. Consumers may be unfamiliar with industrial processes and objects while still needing to understand an icon that represents an issue important to them, such as “Line-Caught Fishing.”
To be truly useful, this system will need to transcend cultures, communicate clearly to a wide variety of people, be usable in a variety of applications, and be accessible to people with different needs, understandings, and abilities. This all sounds like a tall order, but our prototyping has shown us that it’s possible.