Dishing on World’s Best: What does it really mean

Just the other night, NOMA of Copenhagen was appointed the world’s best restaurant. The year before, Noma finished third in the same competition but now I can comfort myself with the knowledge that if I wish to taste simply the best food in the world, the only thing I’ll need is a metro ticket (plus a lot of patience and a month’s salary … make that two months, if my wife wants to join in).

Besides providing me with a tad of patriotic pride, the news reminded me of something that has been puzzling and annoying me ever since SND established the awards for the World’s Best-Designed Newspapers, some fifteen years ago or so.

My problem is the paradoxical relation between the rather authoritative title – the World’s Best-Designed Newspapers – and the, if not haphazard, then at least distinctly non-objective procedure for handing out these awards.

Have a look at the list of winners over the years, and you might understand what I mean.

Very few papers have won this award more than once; most years not even one of the four or five award-winners had been among the previous year’s winners. To me, that does not make sense. Quality does not change at such a speed. Reaching the level of the World’s Best-Designed Newspapers must take years and lots of hard work, and once you are there, you do not just lose all those qualities in twelve months.

Of course there are differences between newspaper design and haute cuisine (although there are similarities as well) and the two competitions cannot be directly compared. I realize that even if SND appointed Berlingske Tidende the World’s Best-Designed Newspaper, it probably would not make thousands of people from all over the globe travel to Copenhagen for the reading experience. I also completely understand if some SND judges have felt the urge to use the World’s Best awards as encouragements, something with which you can mark good efforts and perhaps make colleagues from less resourceful parts of the world feel how much you appreciate their achievements.

Encouraging good work is a very important role of SND and I sympathize 100 percent with the idea – but maybe it ought to be a different award?

Many of the award-winning papers have really bold designs and can be hugely inspiring to news designers around the globe – but with all due respect, if you narrow down the field of the World’s Best-Designed Newspapers to a handful, quite a few of them do not qualify. Claiming that they do is bound to raise doubts about the contest and may even keep the élite chefs of international newspaper design cuisines from participating, as they might not want to put their good names and reputations at risk should they lose to Bongobongo Times from Cantaloupe Islands.

In my eyes, becoming one of the World’s Best-Designed Newspapers ought to be just as hard as becoming one of the World’s Best Restaurants, and I strongly believe that this SND distinction would become more prestigeous and respected if the award procedure were less dependent on who sits in the jury that particular year.

If NOMA does not become the World’s Best Restaurant again in 2011, they will probably see it as a failure, and should they not make it into the top five, a disaster. Imagine what it would mean to our industry if the SND awards had a similar impact, or just a tiny portion of it.

OLE MUNK is a graphic designer, design and communication consultant, and illustrator, based in Espergaerde, Denmark. He holds an architectural degree from the Institute of Visual Communication at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. He has been managing director of Ribergaard & Munk Communication Design (www.ribmunk.dk) since July 1995. He was president of the Society for News Design/Scandinavia 1997-99.