Who will be this year’s Sports Designer of the Year?

2009 Sports Designer of the Year from Josh Crutchmer on Vimeo.

Josh Crutchmer, of the Chicago Tribune and a blogger at SportsDesigner.com, sat down with us for a “Q and A”. The biggest thing we wanted to know: Who will be named Sports Designer of the Year? Click the video above to see who joins the list of great names – Wayne Kamidoi, Vince Chiaramonte and Derek Simmons.

Who runs SportsDesigner.com? How long has it been going? How often are items being posted?

SportsDesigner was the brainchild of Seattle Times sports designer Rich Boudet. Rich started the site in 2004, back when VizEds was fairly new and in the wake of newsdesigner.com. He runs it to this day. I came on board in early 2006, along with four others. Out of that group, I stuck around and the site has felt to me like an equal partnership since.

It averages 4-5 posts a week, but that varies according to the time of year, news and the state of the industry. Our annual peaks are when football previews are coming out, the Super Bowl and the Best of Sports Design.

Every year you have a print and online sports design contest. Does this conflict or compliment with the Best of News Design contest that SND holds?

There’s a fundamental difference between SND’s competition and the Best of SD.

At SND, you have the best visual journalists in the world looking to define the state of the art for their industry that year. The awards, and the number of them, are left solely to the discretion and agreement of judges. And they’re looking at tearsheets instead of PDFs like we do in the Best of SD.

Why do you think there are different winners in each contest?

The Best of Sports Design is out not to define the state of the art, but to take the entire process that is sports design, break it down, and let those who were involved speficically in it decide who did it the best. It’s nothing to see a Best of SD panel consisting of a sports designer, an AME/Presentation, a copy chief, a photographer and a student. The number of awards isn’t left up to the panelists as much as it is a cutoff of the top 10 percent of vote-getters in each category. And then we try to involve site visitors with the online “Editors’ Choice” voting at the end of it.

Think of SND as the Academy Awards and the Best of SD as the People’s Choice Awards. And I think, for a lot of folks, it’s becoming something more than a simple badge of honor to have the same work honored in both competitions, because they’re so different.

For those who aren’t familiar with the contest, can you explain how it works? How are entries submitted? How are winners selected?

How the contest is run. Entries are submitted online and my first job is to separate them into their categories, audit the categories and then strip all references to the designers or publication away from the entries, creating ballots consisting of a number and a link to an entry. That gets e-mailed to a panel of six (five judges plus either me or Rich, to cast an extra vote in case of conflicts).

The panelists rank their favorites in each category. We score it like an AP poll would be scored in college sports (using averages instead of total points to cover conflicts). Roughly the top 10 percent of vote-getters in each category are cut off as winners. If there’s a big voting gap, we’ll have fewer than 10 percent, but if it’s close we will have more, so nobody gets left out on technicalities.

At that point, I’ll have at least one panelist watch as names are matched with entries. Panelists are notified of the category winners, and then the world is.

How do you select the panel of judges?

We have 30-35 panelists a year. Of that, about half are sports designers or design directors with a background in sports. The other half consist of sports editors (from papers big and small), students, photographers, copy editors and non-sports designers. The goal is to have a cross-section on the panels and not necessarily seek the 35 best sports designers in the world.

I like to roll over about 20 or so panelists each year, to balance new eyes on the entries with a familiarity with what’s done well in the past.

I’ll operate both off of a list that I keep and at the requests of interested potential judges. I want about a 50/50 mix of people I know (and who by proxy are willing to be a check and balance on the fact it is largely a one-man-run contest or point out a mis-entry, etc.) and who I have never met.

I try to run stuff by Rich before it’s final just to make sure I haven’t let anything slip through the gaps, and that’s a major help to have him backing up second base.

The sports designer of the year panel is not a vote. It’s an e-mail discussion among seven panelists (also rotating each year) that is frank, candid and blunt in its efforts to pick the one person whose work made the biggest impression.

How long can you continue to run this contest as a one-man band?

I can handle the contest at the size it is now – between 500-600 entries. If it ever gets above that, I am going to have to re-think it. But at those numbers, as long as the panelists are willing to scrutinize their entries and make it clear to me if they see something that’s not working, I feel good about how it runs.

You’ve had quite a distinguished list of winners for Sports Designer of the Year. Is there one common trait you see in all of their work?

The common trait is that they do the work people remember. It IS no coincidence the winner and almost all finalists every year have been SND portfolio winners. They’re doing work that’s so good it’s universally good.

The reasons have shifted. Vince and Wayne largely won for elevating information design to an art form on sports pages, while Derek and Tim were lauded for some incredible ideas they turned around and art directed and then executed at the highest level. But they all got the details right. They all brought gold-standard work on the judges in waves, and they all got the little things that go with that right too.

What’s next for SportsDesigner? Any big plans?

There’s a couple of features I’ve personally been kicking around. I’d like to do a big retrospective on the specific history of sports design and feature some influential editors and personalities, and follow that with a roundtable on what this current era needs from us. But doing that right would require a contest-level of commitment and time, so it’s not like it’s coming tomorrow.

More immediately, site visitors should gear up for an inundation of NBA and NHL playoff work with the usual summer features like golf majors, the Indy 500 and College World Series.