This weekend at the Society for News Design’s competition, I learned that news design and what makes good news design can be a very fickle thing. A few qualified people can disagree about basically everything that makes a good newspaper layout – photos, columns, type, relevance and most importantly, an attempt to do something different.
The main thing that the judges said they were looking for was design that took a chance and made going out on a limb work.
One judge took me over to see the Times of Oman’s World Cup coverage. There was a a lot of it, but this issue stood out to her because of the use of faces for the group stage previews. The paper used face-painted fans facing each other in place of normal action shots of players or even illustrations. The faces ranged from young to old and had different levels of fierceness and excitement conveyed. She said it worked because of the way it conveyed the human emotion of the World Cup and did it in a creative way.
One entry that the judge didn’t particularly like was from the StarTribune. The layout had a spread with an a color illustration of the northern lights along the top. There was type on top of the illustration that she said could have worked, but also could have backfired. More importantly, there were pictures of people above profiles about them. However, the pictures were in black and white. That took away from the overall page.
I thought discussion that centered around medal consideration for a cover about football distractions was interesting. It was an illustration that had the Cleveland Browns trying to work on plays with all the things that go with being a professional athlete circling around. The idea was that the players were trying to keep the distractions or “madness” out. Certain judges thought it was well-executed but one judge thought it didn’t really convey what it was trying to. That ended up swaying more judges who ended up not voting for it.
In general, the experience within the news design industry was thought provoking. You don’t necessarily think of the people behind the computer designing the articles you read, so it was interesting to put faces on that job. The things I saw that had both range and creativity showed me how important it is to have design teams who take the task seriously. It can really help your publication.
I was surprised by a lot of the pages that didn’t win recognition and then sometimes surprised by things that did. There was one paper from the Buffalo snow coverage that I thought was really well done in terms of pictures, but I saw it get taken away in different categories. I thought that was illuminating to see how the judges had to judge by very specific things. Later on, they took all the snow coverage and gave it a Judge’s Special Recognition for photography.
I found the discussions about medals and JSRs to be the most useful. There’s only so much you can gain from watching the judges drop chips into cups, but the discussions allowed them to give their thinking and then justify it to skeptical judges.
One of the funniest moments came when the LA Times’ Oscars coverage came up for medal discussion. I had been thinking that the paper kept showing up for all these things and just wouldn’t go away. Then a judge said something like “There it is again. We can’t escape it.”
1. Humor – This cover was a play on Gulliver’s Travels and showed smaller college basketball teams trying to keep Duke down.
2. Compelling photo – Brazil losing in the World Cup.
3. Bad thinking – A page with a color illustration, but with black and white photos.
4. Innovative thinking – The judges recognized a World Cup set that made each cover different, but I thought the use of illustrations for each team was innovative and went beyond the action shot.
5. More than 1,000 miles – Didn’t find one.
6.Favorite thing I ate – Chicken, macaroni, salads. The food was incredible for almost the entire weekend, but I thought this last lunch was perfect and had a wide range of food.
7. Best cover – A creative way to show March Madness matchups. It kept the bracket format.
8. Wild Card – Tim Howard and the U.S. soccer team staring down the Group of Death.
9. Photo illustration – Tim Howard as Captain America.
10. Favorite foreign language page – Manchester City/Barcelona – the showdown. A good combination of illustration and infographics.
11. Trend – A lot of papers used a ton of charts. One judge was wary of the “stray pie chart” that could attack at any time.
12. Best headline – LeGone
13. Classmate – Hugh taking in a medal discussion while avoiding eye contact with his cup friends.
14. Iconic SND scene – Blinding lights.
15. Discarded papers – Not one for selfies, but I kept this pile neat on Day 1. However, things quickly got out of hand.