SND33: World’s Best Designed website: BostonGlobe.com

A team of top journalists met earlier this year at Ball State to chose the winners in SND’s Best of Digital News Design competition. They came from Madrid, New York, St. Louis, Toronto, London, Washington DC and Chicago.

The judges are: Jonathon Berlin, Chiqui Esteban, Brian Ellcierto, Tyson Evans, Jeremy Gilbert, Jennifer George-Palilonis, Sara Quinn, Joey Marburger, Ryan Mark, Rob Schneider, Will Sullivan, David Wright, Chrys Wu and Ben Wuersching.

Leading up to the judging we asked members to submit nominees for the World’s Best Designed Website and apps. After carefully considering that list and those submitted by entries into the SND’s Best of Digital Design competition, the judges have selected one website as this year’s World’s Best Designed for 2011:

That site is the BostonGlobe.com which decisively raised the bar for digital news design with its embrace of responsive design.

Congratulations to the Globe staff.

- Meet the judges here.
- See the full list of digital winners here.
- Check out a searchable database of the print winners here.
- Read about last year’s World’s Best sites and apps here.
- Read the judges’ overall statement and Special Recognition honors on the jump.

Judges’ overall statement: Stories carefully crafted with ambition, precision and user needs

Interaction design is maturing rapidly. As the craft evolves news designers have not been left behind. The best of the work challenged long-standing industry conventions making better use of data, employing responsive techniques and overcame the limitations of content management systems.

Our priority, storytelling: Designs focused on storytelling, stressing form over function and making the most of limited resources were rewarded. Winning work needed to be more than just beautiful, it needed to be journalistically sound with great storytelling and editing. Many of the best entries took known narrative tools and stretched their capabilities resulting in richer, more compelling stories. Other entries created new ways of telling stories that will be useful not just in a single moment but going forward.

For web entries: Web-based design seemed to be maturing, designers are finding ways to make experiences richer and more inviting but the news apps viewed in the contest did not always measure up to these web experiences. The range of tools and techniques in the market today is impressive, even overwhelming. It is not surprising that the largest news organizations most often struck the right balance between exploring new storytelling possibilities and polished presentations. But the news-viewing public is blind to circulation/traffic and staff size. Small- and medium-sized organizations also showed exciting, new ideas but often fell short when it came to execution.

For mobile entries: Although there were many intriguing mobile and tablet entries these apps did not seem to universally embrace the touch-medium. More needs to be done to make news apps the polished equivalent of the web-based entries. Touch-based news apps should take special care with multimedia elements. These apps should better fulfill their different place in the lives of their users and address specific needs, not just replicating print or web-based experiences. The focus on the user, awareness of load times, intuitive interfaces and touch interaction and crash-resistance of innovative news tools far outpaces what most news organizations are doing themselves. More experimentation, more awareness of the user, is needed from the companies that produce the news.

Our ambitions: The entries receiving the highest awards in this competition needed not only to be innovative, but practically peerless. For an entry to achieve a gold medal or the honor of World’s Best Designed, it must combine a rare blend of vision and execution. Many entries were strong in one area, but not both.

The news designer in 2012 is a sophisticated storyteller with a world of tools at their disposal. The work we saw was inspiring and we are eager for the innovations that await. All designers must continue to strive to keep the users at the center of our work and provide them with clean, precise ways to understand the news.


World’s Best Designed Web Site & Judges’ Special Recognition: The Boston Globe

The launch of BostonGlobe.com decisively raised the bar for digital news design. The Globe’s intrepid embrace of responsive design rewrote the equation of our industry’s expectations and ambitions and defined state-of-the-art across the Web. Most importantly, the site embraces the increasingly chaotic ecosystem of devices without sacrificing thoughtfulness or splintering user experience.

Much of the past 17 years of news design on the Web has been spent mapping analog conventions to digital experiences, sometimes quite crudely. The Globe site is a refreshing shift away from crafting news design as a single artifact and toward news design as an organism that responds to context, to device and to the user.

The designer Wilson Miner recently described responsive design as “one of those little shifts in thinking that cracks open a whole new set of questions and possibilities.” And this is certainly true for The Globe, which is aggressively rebalancing the signal-to-noise ratio of storytelling and even rethinking the shape and behavior of advertising.

Working with a team of external developers and designers at The Filament Group, Upstatement and Ethan Marcotte, one of the thought leaders and authors of the book on responsive web design, the Boston Globe staff created a remarkably beautiful design that allows content to sing with typography and grids, also while functioning across all platforms — from mobile to full desktop — and even adapt to a 13 year-old Apple Newton MessagePad.

It’s no small feat. The Globe’s responsive design is remarkable and deserves to be noted as one of the key moments in media design history, akin to USA Today’s embrace of color and graphics. Its impact will affect a generation of digital journalists and is an example of what’s possible when smart design and rich content is balanced with a focus on being standards compliant and future-friendly across all platforms.


Judges’ Special Recognition for Reductive, Adaptive Design: Chicago Now

The Chicago Now redesign is a reductive refresh that rejects the conventions of a traditional newspaper-driven layout. The designers ruthlessly eliminated cruft and elevated the importance of content. At the story level, content is king, sharing space with a sensible branding system and little else. Above all, it solves all of these problems within the context of an adaptive design. This redesign is an impressive upgrade and an example of thoughtful, forward progress in digital news presentation.


Judges’ special recognition for The Roanoke Times and Other Smaller Organizations

Telling great stories and designing successful experiences is never easy. Whether the team or the organization is small, limited resources can limit but they can also inspire great creativity. Several small teams and organizations stood out in this year’s competition. The Roanoke Times is emblematic of the challenges of a smaller community and team. Roanoke’s coverage may not be able to be as broad as national or international news organizations but it is deep within their community. The multimedia storytelling explores highly personal issues and forces viewers to confront issues that rarely surface in their daily lives. Another organization, The National Post translated its humor and whimsy to their audience’s digital experience. Whether it was Muppets facing off in fan voting or an interactive gallery of 40 faces of Harrison Ford, the Post’s voice is clear and engaging. La Informacion consistently challenges conventional thinking about informational graphics viewed on digital platforms. The visual storytelling is bold, the illustrations vivid. The Dallas Morning News may not have much time to allocate for interactive projects but somehow still manages explore many different storytelling directions including sports-related games, tracking local food trucks or voting on for their favorite Mavericks cheerleader. These were not the only small organizations that show great promise and not all the storytelling was equally or evenly polished but the intent and the passion are clear. There is great promise and storytelling in these smaller organizations.