Does The Government Finally Care About Design?

new fuel economy labels

Earlier this year President Obama appointed Edward Tufte as an information design advisor, hoping to make the government’s use of stimulus funds more clear to the American public. The administration has also rolled out new logos for several programs and agencies (sometimes with disappointing results). The White House’s own website has also seen a major overhaul from its Bush-era design.

And of course let’s not forget that Uncle Milton recently became the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of Arts.

In its latest design-related effort, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have announced proposed redesigns of their fuel economy labels. These are those black and white printouts you see stuck on the inside back driver’s side window on new car lots. They estimate the vehicle’s average fuel consumption (highway and city) as well as the vehicle’s annual fuel cost. The labels underwent a modest redesign in 2008, but the newly proposed changes are much more obvious.

The new labels borrow from the Irish system of giving each vehicle a grade (A, B, C, D — there is no F) based on its overall environmental impact. They also greatly expand the depth of information made available to consumers, including more detailed consumption information, web and smartphone links, citing of the baselines used for comparison, etc.

The information is well organized and clearly presented making it a true resource for the consumer. I for one really appreciate the thought and effort that has been put into this system. It provides consumers with enough information to make a calculation based on how they value short and long term financial and environmental cost, and the grading system provides a much-needed point of view that helps highlight the consequence of that choice.

Both agencies are accepting public comment before rolling out the new system. You can take interactive tours of the new labels here and here. There are forms to provide feedback below each.

I hope you’ll take a moment to review them and acknowledge these agencies for making design a central part of their strategy. Now someone needs to do something about their hideous websites.