Best of Sports Design 2012: An Assessment

It’s in the books, folks. The Best of Sports Design is back, and based on interest and entries this year, no future hiatus is scheduled. With that said, take a look at all the winners here, and I will follow with some things we as a collective sports design industry can take away from 2012 in sports design.

What stood out?

Well, the general theme to this year’s winners was, “smart” if I can pick one word. I think even ahead of creativity and resources, the best work this year made readers come away feeling educated, or at least having been asked to think. In the Snow Fall series from the New York Times, the designers didn’t use a single tool beyond what was needed, which was, photography, white space and typography. A lot of people will look at that project and think, “I could do that with that content too!” and they’re right to a point. The NYT DID take an incredible story and serve it to readers in a way that left them feeling like there were no leftovers. Every square inch felt valuable.

The same goes for the Los Angeles’ Times “Not In Play” illustration and Buffalo’s “Anger Management” illustration. There were a lot of illustrations done at that level, but not many had the subtleties of Not In Play (the rainbow seams) or the depth of Anger Management (the headlines). They both gave readers a reason to spend an extra beat with those visuals, and that set them apart.

The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post both had images of every U.S. gold medal as part of their winning Olympics entries. Same goes for El Correo’s well-received Olympics graphics and the Times of Oman’s Olympics work. Both of those made you feel smarter for having spent time with the visuals. Those are the highlights, but they also represent a clear theme in the 2012 winners.

Disappointments

As a whole, the live stuff made me sad. We’re all still papers of record and I don’t know whether it’s a product of cutbacks in space, creativity or commitment (or all three), but the ability to play a live cover around storytelling photography, a bold headline and an organized, simple grid felt like a lost art outside of the winners this year. Quite frankly, a lot of live stuff felt … designed. Which is the opposite, in my opinion, of how it should feel.

Same goes for breaking news, where too often organization and planning seemed to lose out. There were exceptions — the Boston Globe’s very well-planned Big 3 obit, for one — and those exceptions won.

Multimedia entries were low again, though some incredible work shone this year. We posted those over on the SD Facebook feed.

Advice to those who didn’t win

The first thing I’ll say is, assess how you enter. Entering this competition isn’t the same as entering SND, where you’re allowed to take as many shots as you want. Theoretically, you could enter 500 entries in SND and win 500 awards. In Best of Sports Design, no matter how much you enter, we’re still only aiming for the top seven percent. Consequently, if you entered 50-60 times in the single page categories, you effectively ended up battling against yourself. And many times I saw entries from the same publication canceling each other out in judging. Not unlike two Heisman candidates from one school stealing votes from each other.

Expectations

Well I was elated at the global reach of the competition. I hope that for first-timers outside of the U.S. that the success of international entries this year can be a jumping-off point. I think it’s very important for sports design on a global scale to feel like a collection of ideas we can all learn from. Maybe the New York Times will never look like Adrenalina, but maybe the respective efforts to reach readers can provide lessons for both.

Small papers

We didn’t have many small paper entries this year. We had even fewer small paper winners. In my opinion, there’s a two-part answer:

First, the goal of Best of Sports Design is to recognize the best work, and shall remain so. More winners won’t equal a better competition, it’ll equal more winners. So for the easy solution of, “split it up by circulation category,” you have to consider: The Times of Oman, Adrenalina and Dagens Industri would have landed in a small circ category this year. I think you’d simply see those papers clean up there, and not necessarily provide a small paper in the U.S. Midwest with avenues to win. What I want this competition to do is to recognize the best work and end there, and I see us continuing to pit everyone’s work against each other.

With that said, in the past we have had a “Small Paper Best in Show” panel in conjunction with the voting. This requires interest (read: entries) on small papers’ behalf, and if interest is there in the future, we’ll bring that back.

Colleges

They didn’t play this year. I don’t know what to do about it, but I know we’ll open the competition to colleges again next year.

Sports Designer of the Year

I have no idea.

I mean that literally. I have no idea. I do not know who won. I do not know when it will be posted. For the first time ever, I’ll get to be surprised like you when it is revealed right here in this space.

The award is given by a panel of seven sports designers, art directors, managers and editors from around the world, all of whom most people agree deserve to make such a commendation. I was part of the panel until the field was narrowed down to five, and with the panel’s support, I recused myself. My conflicts this year are too great for me to take part in the discussion. I was replaced on the panel and have been kept away from discussions since. So I am as excited as you may be. Stay tuned.

What’s left

We’ll continue to have a presence here. (Thanks to Kyle Ellis, Jonathon Berlin, Rob Schneider and Stephen Komives for letting us play here.) We’ll also continue our social media presence at Facebook and Twitter. All of the judges will be thanked on the Facebook feed after SDOY is revealed.

Until then, let’s have a discussion. In the comments here, on the SD social feeds. Via email. However you see fit. What can we do to improve sports design as a whole?

One of the disappointments in the demise of the SportsDesigner blog, along with the demise of the original NewsPageDesigner, is that we have lost our outlets for discussions. We don’t have a place we can turn for regular back-and-forth about sports design in 2013. People, myself included, still get worked up, no doubt, no doubt and no doubt, but that perpetual showcase — and the pondering the showcase lends itself to — is what we’re missing. You can blame Rich and me, though we’d say blogging is hard! Blame changes nothing though. What we need is to seize opportunities for discussion when they arise, and this competition is certainly one of those.