Meet SND’s 2012 World’s Best news sites and apps: SB Nation, and the Guardian and Observer iPad app

The Society for News Design is thrilled to announce the 2012 World’s Best Designed news sites and apps: SB Nation, and the Guardian and Observer iPad apps.

Judges met in Muncie in late February and reviewed hundreds of sites from around the globe. Sites were nominated by members and nonmembers through the Best of Digital Design site, self nominated via that same site, submitted through suggestions and outreach by SND’s 16 Regional Directors and from the SND34 digital judging teams.

The World’s Best judges Tyson Evans, Antonio Pasagali, Dave Stanton and Kaitlin Yarnall reviewed the entries, winnowed the list in multiple voting rounds and worked over the course of the weekend to choose the World’s Best Designed news sites and apps. Winners required a unanimous vote.

This is the third year SND has selected the World’s Best Designed sites and apps (Visit SND33 and SND32)

Judges’ Overall Statement

The baselines for digital news design are changing and becoming more mature. Over the past year responsive design and custom typography became expectations instead of an experimental exceptions. Touch compatibility is essential; Flash is prohibited. There’s a reductionist movement to confidently display hierarchy while tastefully integrating smart customization and social.

The web’s expanding toolkit is allowing sites to feel snappy and fluid. Conversely, the tablet space feels constrained by its tools. Tablet publications are either gratuitously interactive or notably stark, and the software used to produce them is all too obvious. There is a clear difference with web design being facilitated by burgeoning standards and native tablet design being restricted by available tools.

The lines are blurring between newspapers, magazines and television as the web matures into a medium reflective of its enormous reach and varied usage. The tools, talents and creativity we saw in this year’s submissions make us proud to be digital first.

Judging Team:

  • Tyson Evans, deputy editor, interactive news, The New York Times
  • Antonio Pasagali, creative director, Prodigioso Volcán (Madrid)
  • Dave Stanton, managing developer, Smart Media Creative
  • Kaitlin Yarnall, deputy creative director, National Geographic Magazine


World’s Best Designed Website: SB Nation


SB Nation pushes the boundaries of a news website. It is beautiful and visually compelling without gimmicks. Its design is intentional and clean.  It is uniquely “sporty-elegant.” Photography is given a cinematic treatment and allowed to shine. Such photo-heavy layouts are frequently attempted on other Web sites, but often crumble under the distraction of poor photo editing, that is not the case on this site. Typography from Hoefler & Frere-Jones is beautifully deployed, underscoring how huge a leap Web type has made in recent years. The site also proves that template-driven design can be elevated to greatness.

The site is responsive in the most ambitious sense of the word. Complex, compelling, and innovative storytelling techniques make excel on a range of screen sizes. It shows some of the best thinking we have seen in the mobile space. Its framework is elastic and robust enough to support more than 300 niche sub-sites and blogs and still feel snappy. The site’s version history is published, which clearly illustrates the virtues of iterative design.

Breaking news and features are handled equally well. It employs “storystreams” that are the boldest attempt we’ve seen yet at imagining how stories thread together over time. These storystreams can be applied anywhere, but used judiciously, making them feel intentional and highlighting editorial intent.  Overall SB Nation feels like a generational leap for a sports site, and a worthy beacon of forward-thinking design for news sites in general.

Overall we were impressed with its parent company, Vox Media. It is a company to be watched. The Vox team is improving significantly with each release instead of just riding a style until it falls flat.

World’s Best Designed Website:

Overall we were inspired by the amazing creativity of Russian news design on the web. Many sites and apps impressed us but rose above the rest.

Lenta looks and feels good. The site is beautifully designed with the right amount of clean and relaxing white space throughout the entire navigation experience. The type treatment is perfect and precise in terms of hierarchy The subtle yet functional details seemingly integrate perfectly into the UI. Also, the superb photo editing and the restrained yet consistent color palette make this site a pleasure to view.

It has the classic elegant look of big news site, yet still feels approachable, with its own fresh style touches. This is especially impressive given the amount of stories it produces and the size of its audience. The adaptive solution of the vertical navigation bar on the left seems appropriate and functional when experienced from a tablet or large browser. Across platforms the site feels consistent.

The article layouts are distinct from other news sites. The content is centered on the page without any disturbing elements in the right rail. It is beautifully executed.

The special project pages, archives, and other special areas of the site, amplify the overall beauty and identity of the site. It is simple, approachable and a pleasurable navigational experience.

World’s Best Designed iPad News App: The Guardian and Observer


The Guardian and Observer’s iPad experience is sublime. Each issue is rich in art direction, ambitious yet disciplined in its layout and features a jaw-dropping use of photography — particularly on a Retina device. The degree of both control and delight packed into each day’s issue is impressive. Navigation is intuitive and the finite nature of a day’s issue makes for a cohesive and offline-friendly snapshot of news. There are smart links to related content, both within the app and back to the Guardian’s Web site. With the smart use of simple tools — grid, color, typography — the app strikes a perfect balance of identity, style, serenity and pacing. The care and attention to detail of each article’s presentation is obvious and awesome for a daily publication.

Judge’s Special Recognition: StateFace by ProPublica


StateFace is a simple but ground-breaking design tool — a typeface of U.S. state shapes. The creativity and utility of leveraging a typeface to provide lightweight map shapes filled an obvious need and became quickly ubiquitous. We felt compelled to recognize StateFace after seeing its usage in so many election packages. Libraries and APIs don’t exist as distinct categories in this competition but perhaps should. We want to applaud and champion efforts to build tools that facilitate more effective, beautiful and faster design.

SND34 competition links
– The unofficial winners list from SND34’s Best of Digital Design.
Coverage of the judging.
– Searchable database of print competition winners.

70 comments had the best design of all news web sites last year. It was easy to read, easy to find news. But it has been killed this year. The design that you honor as “best” is not better then any another news website. At all. I am disappointed in designers and in yours judges team.

@Vald. It might be just a difference in objectives. You want to get to the information you want quickley and efficiently, where is they want you to stay on the site longer, read what you would not normally read, and of corse ads. And they quite achieved it. I was able to complete with reading the news in aproximately 45 minutes a day, where is with the new design it takes me over an hour. 🙂 Same content on the site, just different layout and article locations. Good on ya,! Cheers for that!

1. Да ладно, редкостное безвкусие и всех бесит этот дизайн, я лично даже не скролю его.
2. Все бывшие читатели ленты дураки и не понимают в дизайне, по этому статистика LiveInternet показывает падение трафика ленты в несколько раз, что как бы намекает

Лента, хватит заниматься самообманом, наймите нормального дизайнера, а не выскочек поколения пепси, не тот сайт

Действительно лучший. Новости предлагаются сразу, не надо совершать лишних телодвижений, в отличие, к примеру, от переполненного лишними элементами сайта РИА-новостей.

This award is a joke, because SBNation’s redesign has driven away users and crippled the fan driven sites that its “elastic and robust” framework is supposedly adequately supporting. Obviously the voters just looked at the pictures and care nothing of usability. Going to a picture heavy layout on a site that lives on user-debate only begins to describe the deficiencies of this site-redesign. And you think it is the best in the world. Yikes. is the World’s Best Designed Website? Conflicting similarly shaded colors, more clutter than a habitual hoarder, content tabs that force a page refresh and this list goes on. This is at best a stock WordPress template (no disrespect to WP) – side note – Do you know anyone in the market for the Brooklyn Bridge?

I don’t like a new design of
A site may have more colorfull palette. I disappointed with bugs from RSS filters.
However these means nothing for me because this site is in “Must Read” category. has a brilliant content about real life in Russia which other sites haven’t.
They are like The Island of Truth in a The Sea of Lie.
More over their news are perfect facts without any blame that shows a whole picture (if you could read all news in a chapter then you see different points of view).
It is very proffesional in comparison with other news sites in Russia.
I want to thank them for a perfect work with content in different detalisation. Their news titles are corresponding to the article’s summary and summaries are corresponding a full story.
At last I may say that their project Lenta.Doc is the best video library of modern history of Russia. Those guys do their job better than CNN and BBC reporters from Moscow definitly.

Clearly the rankers aren’t actual users of SBN, from whom the response to the “United” re-design has been incredibly negative

Jake: The recognition was for, which is the national site, not the individual team sites.

I’m a regular user of several SBNation blogs and find it straight-forward and easy to access. I enjoy the emphasis they have placed on the comments section which is the heart of most of their sites. I would be surprised if their readers are leaving because the blogs I read are all very active. The re-design was a big change at first but after about a week the advantages were clear to me.

Not sure what Jake and Mike are on SBN about. The award is for the design of and the way it presents news. Not sure if you guys actually read it, but I do and the user experience is better than ever since I’ve been reading.

As for the team sites, I think they were a little out of step with readers at first, but I’ve noticed a ton of improvements popping up as the big wigs or whoever heard us and our feedback. I dunno. Even then I don’t really know what the complaint is — have to scroll an extra click to get to fanposts? LOL what am I missing?

Just this week I noticed they fixed mobile commenting finally, which kinda goes with the “iterative updates” thing they’re getting credit for in the award.

I am not sure what site Scott is reading, but the SBN redesign is horrible. If the redesign wins an award than the previous design would blow them away. They replaced content with overused stock photography and have driven away much of the community from what was a community driven series of sites. It might seem pretty on a fly by judging basis, and fits current web design fads, but it is a really poor design in terms of actual usability.

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The World’s Best judges Tyson Evans, Antonio Pasagali, Dave Stanton and Kaitlin Yarnall reviewed the entries, winnowed the list in multiple voting rounds and worked over the course of the weekend to choose the World’s Best Designed news sites and apps. Winners required a unanimous vote.

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