SND & Ashley: What I Learned Last Weekend

During my time at SND last weekend, I gained a new perspective on news design and current industry standards. As a magazine, newspaper and online journalism graduate student, I’ve only seen the journalism/communication industry from the reporter’s side so the competition was enlightening, especially the student sessions. I remember thinking during the student sessions, “I wish I knew more about layout design so I could ask good questions,” because I was there mostly soaking up everything the presenters were saying.

During the competition part of the weekend, something that stuck out to me was the stark lack of diversity. As a Black woman, this is something that is always on my mind; who I could be working around and whose perspectives are represented. Since diversity in news design is also my graduate presentation topic, I was especially cognizant of this. In this same vein, I also wondered whether foreign-language publications are at an inherent disadvantage because the judges only spoke English. Even though the publications included translations, they weren’t always accurate and things like metaphors and plays-on-words don’t translate well, so some underlying meaning could be lost when things are translated.

I volunteered with the Features and Visuals team on Sunday and with the Visuals team again on Monday. One thing that surprised me was how many submissions were selected for awards of excellence and medal discussions out of the ones that were submitted. As a design amateur, I obviously can’t look at the design with a critical eye, but there were a lot that I thought were good designs, but I guess the judges didn’t agree. I did agree, however, with the illustration from the Tampa Bay Times newspaper about musical artists including racial issues in their music.

The Tampa Bay Times Latitudes section from August 16, 2015 won a silver medal for Features design and an award of excellence for Visuals. The illustrator's body of work also received an award of excellence in the Visuals portfolio category.

The Tampa Bay Times Latitudes opening from August 16, 2015 won a silver medal for Features design and an award of excellence for Visuals. The illustrator’s body of work also received an award of excellence in the Visuals portfolio category.

This illustration went up for a medal discussion in both the Features and Visuals categories, which I was lucky enough to be present for both discussions. I noticed that during the Visuals medal discussions, the judges talked more about the concept, how well it worked, and details like the proportions of the hands, while the Features judges discussed the message more, and whether the design team was successful in communicating the message. For example, while the Visuals judges applauded the clever design, they also commented about how seemingly “obvious” it was, once it was designed. They didn’t like the difference in proportion between the hands above the fold and the hand below the fold. The Features judges awarded a silver medal to the submission, while the Visuals judges stuck with an award of excellence.

I also found it interesting how the Visuals judges considered past designs they had selected for medals when discussing other submissions. For example, when talking about the zombie football illustration, Chin Wang from ESPN Magazine thought that it deserved a medal because it was more complex than the previous submission they judged and awarded a medal to, an illustration of all the artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

I enjoyed connecting with the people there, including Gannett and the student volunteers from Ole Miss. I liked talking to Nicole, an MNO 2013 graduate who works for Gannett now as a designer, and enrolled as an MNO student even thought she knew she wanted to do design as a career.  As a volunteer with the Visuals team, I met Dan Zedek from The Boston Globe, and realized we had a friend in common that I went to undergrad with who went on to work for the Boston Globe as a page designer. I even got to see some of her designs on the tables.