A closeup photo of my dog looking up at the camera


This one’s for you, Rhino!

At Label Insight we took any packaged food with a bar code and digitized every single piece of information on the package. We then created even more data based on what was collected (based on the ingredients, is it gluten free? Heart healthy?). I helped brands use this product data in many ways. They could compare their product across its entire category, fuel an internal PIM, send it to retailer webpages like to Amazon or Target, or populate SmartLabel pages which present normalized product data in a mobile–friendly format so consumers can easily find the specific things they cared in the same place no matter the product. It also gives brands a way to add expansive product details that don’t fit on the packaging.

The SmartLabel® landing pages of four different cheese puffs snacks are shown to demonstrate how SmartLabel® makes it easy to compare lots of information about products


SmartLabel helps me make better choices

I was challenged with designing an interface for pet food brands to intuitively self-digitize the feeding instructions from their packaging, no matter the myriad of ways they are presented across the industry. Secondly, a major intent was to use this for SmartLabel pages but the Consumer Brands Association did not yet have a pet food template design to display these instructions. So I also needed to work with them to design a pet food template for SmartLabel and get it approved by the SmartLabel core committee which is made of VPs from the major brands (Pepsi, Conagra, Unilever etc). SO COOL to be a part of something consumers across North America will use to compare and find the best pet food products for their pet’s specific needs.

At Label Insight I was the UX designer on multiple agile teams. I was responsible for all UX research, wireframing, prototyping, stakeholder and user testing, and design deliverables. On this one we really needed to expand the collaboration beyond the Publish team and also worked with data, regulations, and the customer success teams to make sure this was not only easy to use with minimal training but also met any industry requirements.

I believe in the tri-force of power of a product manager, a lead engineer, and a designer all invested in the design thinking process and success of the customer.

At the start of any project I always confirm with stakeholders 3 things:


    • Who are we solving this for?

    • What are their problems?

    • What are their goals and the goals of the business?

We win when we create value for the customer and remove pain. After this level-set, I start with interviewing internal stakeholders to better understand our potential customers. I also start researching pet food packaging styles, requirements, and regulations.

When it comes to feeding instructions, pet food packaging has only one requirement to inform an amount of food to feed for a given pet’s weight. How that is displayed on package is totally up to the brands and every brand does it differently. What I found was that this was usually done one of two ways: either by a data table or by a text description. SmartLabel also has a handful of obscure requirements to display certain package information in specific formats. Way too much for brands to learn and memorize so the design need to have guard rails for these.


Every package I look at is at first a different chaos but patterns always emerge to inform the design.

Interviewing stakeholders made a few things stick out:


    • Customer Success needed a solution that would not require training or much support. The task of inputting the package data was usually assigned to contractors or grunt workers with high turn over.

    • Our customers needed flexibility so they could mimic their packaging as close as possible on their SmartLabel pages while able to compensate for display limitations.

There’s no way we can go with just one format. We need the flexibility to do it in tabular, paragraph form or both

I needed to start designing the final output on SmartLabel side to inform the input forms design brands would ultimately use. I showed our internal teams the pitfalls of cramming pet food into the existing SmartLabel people food templates to demonstrate the breaking points. Also, users we tested with felt the Guaranteed Analysis nutrient table should be in a separate place from the feeding instructions even though these were most often right next to each other on the package. That was going to require a new top-level navigation.


Doing some rapid mocks like these helped get quick feedback and identify big problems

There are no regulations around pet allergies so we thought we could replace the Allergens tab from the people food template with a new pet food tab called Feeding Instructions and leave the Guaranteed Analysis by itself on the Nutrition tab. This is exactly the high-profile location this information deserves.

A new Feeding Instructions tab needed a new icon and one that fits in with the existing icons. If possible it should also strengthen the difference visually between the human food and the pet food templates. I thought the pet food Nutrition tab could be another opportunity for that. Plus, last time I checked, pets don’t use a fork and knife.

A collection of potential icons for the proposed SmartLabel® pet food template using bones and bowls for the Nutrition tab and a measuring cup for Feeding Guidelines tab


I tested a few icon ideas. No one liked the bowls.

User testing was done on the data input interface and the SmartLabel display template with CS, customers, and the SmartLabel core group. I needed to make sure it was going to serve both the users and the business. Users need to easily and effectively translate their packaging into the SmartLabel template while business needs as lean as possible a solution that could be deployed quickly.

I’m not testing if users know how to use forms. I’m testing if my solution solves their problems.

We tested with a very minimal InVision prototype. Building these are super quick, cheap, and effective. We gave the testers problems scenarios and watched what steps they took to complete each task and where they got stuck.

Try yourself

A full screen grab of the linked live data input digital paper prototype that highlights with blue the clickable areas on the page


An early InVision “paper” prototype. Click the image to try it.

I had several questions I needed the prototypes to answer:


    • Do the data process teams have enough tools to adequately translate the packaging information onto their SmartLabel pages?

    • How much instruction and examples do we need in the include and can the data processors locate it?

    • What issues will the data processors find with our proposed SmartLabel Pet Food template, translating from the large free space on their packaging to the limited display options of SmartLabel?

Three versions of the data interface are shown with no to a lot of help copy and links. Version C with the most robust instruction confused users if they would be stuck with only one format. A & B tested without any issues.


Version C with the most robust instruction initially confused but didn’t slow processors while A & B tested without any issues.

Trying to design for very complex tables on packages with lots of columns was out of scope both technically and design-wise with the time we had. We tested a design where the tables were limited to 2 columns which required users to break up larger tables. It turns out users didn’t have trouble understanding how to break apart larger tables and the simpler tables were also easier to digest by users when using SmartLabel on mobile.


    • Over time customer success reported low to no time spent on user training and support. They got the hands-off solution they needed.

    • The internal data QA team was able to replace their manual solution with this, cutting their effort time in half.

    • The SmartLabel template we proposed did not require any new UI components or tricky coding. “A no-brainer”, it was easy to get alignment from the core committee and my design became the official template for brands in the SmartLabel Implementation Guide.


Here’s a working example of an actual SmartLabel page utilizing my design:


We learned that even though the back of pet food packaging is a kaleidoscope of presentations, most brands stick with a similar formula across their own packaging. This makes it easy for our most important users, our paying customers, to quickly get up to speed and publish their pages.

We also learned that no one is going to recall or memorize the SmartLabel requirements. Those needed to be readily accessible instead the tool instead of buried in support documents.

Even though some users struggled with a version that had the most robust hand-holding, we decided to stick with it and revise it. While zero confusion with some mocks looked like better data, the prominence of the visual and linked help was more effective at getting most users up to speed quicker once we refined it. We were confident the small confusions could be ironed out with ever improving iterations.

We also got some great suggestions from users for next iterations:


    • Add a way to duplicate tables to speed up repetitive data input

    • Make it easy to copy and paste tables and text blocks between products

    • Build a wizard that could take CSV files and auto-populate tables and text blocks

    • Think of excuses to involve actual dogs and cats into the design process so the team could pet them

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