Judging brings new perspective for Chicago Tribune editor

Chuck Burke (Chicago Tribune) casts his vote as a judge at SND31.

I’ve been taping up my SND entries and studying the annuals for more than 10 years, but this is my first time in Syracuse at the competition. And I just want to say to all of my friends and acquaintances who have judged before: Thanks, scumbags, for leaving me in the dark about these five particular things, which would have been nice to be told in advance. Not that I would have necessarily believed you anyway.

    1. There is no crap on the table. Virtually every entry is very, very good. If you thought you were just going to sweep through and give a thumbs up to the good stuff and dismiss all of the crap, think again. There *is* no crap. Every publication edits its entries very well.

    2. When you first get under way, you don’t trust your own judgment at all. But your brain starts to calibrate within a couple minutes because of the system of chips and cups. Every entry requires a “yes” or “no” vote, and there’s no better way to hone your decision-making than to start making decisions. Trial by fire, baby.

    3. You have to come to terms with the fact that you need to vote “no” on some beautiful pages that you know you would not have been able to pull off yourself.

    4. The bar for what defines an award of excellence is higher than you think. I am now stunned that I have won any at all in my career. They emphatically tell you up front that the winners should go “beyond mere technical or aesthetic competency” and all that jazz. But it’s not until you’re out there with your chips that you really get a full sense of the high level of sophistication that is now our global standard — and the stunning pages that are rising above that level and earning these awards of excellence.

    5. Your first “uncupping” is going to absolutely freak you out. They tally your judging team’s chips with methodical efficiency and dizzying speed, crushing dozens of designers’ hopes for an award of excellence in mere seconds. “Two, three: out! One, four: out! Three, two: award of excellence! Two, three: out! Two, three: out!” It’s going to mess you up. You’ll be fine by the next round, though.

Chuck Burke is a senior editor/designer at the Chicago Tribune. He’s responsible for the presentation of the features print portfolio. He learned how to swing at the San Jose Mercury News, where he was part of a World’s Best-Designed Newspaper™ crew, and at The Times of Northwest Indiana.