An emerging design scene in lovely, youthful Russia

Last week I attended the Fifth Annual Russian News Design Workshop in Moscow. Three hours after arriving I gave opening remarks for the results of the Russian Creative Competition Newspaper Design: Excitement and adrenalin did kick in and it was thrilling to be there.

This was the fifth workshop. Five years ago, Dmitri Surnin, Russia’s first SND regional director saw the need for a Russian based workshop and competition. At that time, Dmitri was the director of a the Russian Independent Print Media program of the New Eurasia Foundation and arranged for their sponsorship. Dmitri is now the editor-in-chief of Moscow’s Moi Raion, but the New Eurasia Foundation is still a major sponsor of the Russian News Design workshop and competition.

This was a comprehensive, well-rounded two-day conference hosted by Dmitri and Russia’s current regional director Svetlana Maximchenko, editor of SND’s World’s Best Designed Akzia. Svetlana thanked SND Vegas for inspiration of a good workshop. Topics were universal.

‘Good design with Limited Resources’ was discussed by staff from Vecherni Krasnoturinsk, Zhukovskie Vesti, and Nasha Vologda. Now that is as good topic globally as well as in Russia!

On the first day topics included ‘Best Information Packages’ presented by Dmitri and his art director; Alexei Konkov and Igor Romanenko, former editor-in-chief and deputy editor Sergei Biruk of Sloboda. ‘The Development of Nordic Design’ was led by SNDS president, Anders Tapola. Svetlana and her art director, Ksenia Vekshina of Akzia, led a session on ‘Breaking the Rules of Design’. Sergei Meshavkin, art director of Moi Raion led a session on ‘Simple Ideas’. We also heard about ‘Type in Newspapers’ by typeface designer Tagir Safaev and a redesign of Trud by art director Timur Ysupov.

Two impressive winners of the Best Newspaper Design in the Russian newspaper competition showed their work. The newspaper Vedomosti, with art director Alexandra Konstantinova, and the newspaper Delovoy Petersburg, with art director Ivan Anishev, and head of production Alexander Areshin.

That evening the winners of the Russian Creative Competition Newspaper Design were honored at an awards ceremony with lots of musical splash. Afterwards there was an opportunity for mixing at a reception.

That night and the next, our hosts Svetlana and Dmitri were extremely hospitable, escorting us all over town and showing us many things we could never have found ourselves, including some great restaurants. I loved the subways! They were built in Stalin’s time and are beautiful, complete with chandeliers and sculptures. If I had had the time, I would have taken pictures of all the Stalin subways. But I did use the subway visually memorizing the Cyrillic typography.

The next morning, I opened the workshop with ‘International Perspectives’. I showed trends in newspaper design over my past year as SND president. Trends from the USA to China, including all the big SND award winners. The audience was visually hungry, taking many photos.

There was an amazing session with illustrator Alexander Vasin. He showed so many wonderful Russian illustrators! I want to commission them all. They are especially excellent at illustrating business stories. Svetlana promised they would post these illustrators on their web site next week so we have access to them. So eventually check these illustrators out! By using them it might give you great conceptual art and help grow Russian membership too!

Former SND judge as well as Russian newspaper judge, Marek Knap, Art Director Edipresse Pollska, from Poland, talked universally about design, and in a meaningful way about newspaper/ magazine design in Eastern Europe.

Leading photo editor in Russia, Audrey Polikanov, from Russian Reporter magazine, talked about the integrity and challenges of his role.

Foidor Shumilov
and Olga Primvalova, a husband and wife infographic team had a great concluding session on ‘How to Create Good Infographics. As a team they had attended the annual Malofiej Infographics Summit and they had much to share. The following day they gave a hands-on graphic session and they plan to develop these sessions, most likely from their home base at the university in St. Petersburg so they have more computers available for training.

I found this workshop to be compelling and inspiring, sharing a lot of the universal topics: integrity of photography, how to manage our newsrooms on a budget and a huge interest in SND’s judging of good design.

The history of the newspaper scene in Russia is fascinating. Suppressed by the Communist regime in the perestroika period, there was an enormous hunger for information and opinion resulting in an explosion of newspapers to meet the demand. Many of those papers were launched out of sheer enthusiasm for free journalism but had no business plan so many were short-lived.

Design standards show European influence, especially business papers from Moscow and St Petersburg. The Russian visual journalists are keen to find links where they could see papers from around the world to help implement design standards and improve visual techniques. I found this to be true in Chinese newspapers too. In spite of each country’s unique typography, good design is universal. There is a definite respect for local flavor and they seem in touch with their own communities. Yet I could see the growing impact of globalization in their design.

The youth, vibrancy and enthusiasm of the Russian media for good design acknowledges SND’s role in promoting high standards in this area.

My thanks to Svetlana and Dmitri for inviting me as SND president to share their passion.


Gayle Grin is the President of the Society for News Design and the Managing Editor for Design & Graphics at The National Post in Toronto.