Best of Digital News Design Winners

From Ryan Sparrow, Director of the Best of Digital News Design Competition:

This year the Society for News Design reinvented its annual digital competition in a big way. With new categories and divisions, we sought to showcase the very best our industry has to offer, from photography to iPhone apps and way beyond.

The Best of Digital Design competition launched this spring when 20 industry leaders spent a month poring over more than 500 entries from around the world. They met in person at Ball State University in February to discuss the top 150 entries.

In total, 60 awards were given: One Gold and Best of Show. 15 Silver Awards, four Judges’ Special Recognition and 40 Awards of Excellence. Categories were judged by divisions based on average monthly page views.

The World’s Best portion of the contest is still under way. The decision was made to award a World’s Best to both a news Web site as well as a mobile or tablet application to fully recognize the different form of each. Finalists will be announced in the coming weeks. The winners will be announced during the Annual Workshop and Exhibition in St. Louis.

Some observations:

  • Information graphics was the largest category judged, with 140 entries, followed by video, then photo projects.
  • Judges agreed that some of the most innovative work being done on mobile and tablet apps were coming outside of the news industry. Applications such as Flipboard, Pulse and Instapaper were held up as models that news organizations should strive toward.
  • The best entries in all categories achieved a tough balance among aesthetic design, user interface, news value and storytelling.
  • Video and photography presentation showed a leap in integrating story forms and improving overall reader experience, a trend that’s sure to continue.
  • Another trend: the move away from Flash as more organizations embrace mobile and tablet platforms.

As the director of this new competition, it was exciting for me to be a part of this SND revamp. In the coming year the team and I will be working out the bugs — narrowing or expanding categories, clarifying rules, and doing whatever it takes to keep pace with the explosion of innovation, creativity and important journalistic work being done in our exciting field.

– Ryan Sparrow, Director of Best of Digital Design

Judges’ General Comments

This is a pivotal moment in the evolution of news design. Traditional news organizations continue to grapple with disruptive innovation. New storytellers are emerging and user expectations across a variety of platforms are higher than ever. Dealing with these forces is a major challenge for all journalists.

This judging team recognizes the power of visual storytelling, the role of user experience design and the importance of clean, simple presentation. The best visual stories build on existing forms and standards but apply them in new ways. They push the limit of digital platforms, blending creative techniques and creating immersive experiences that were not possible in the old, analog world. These works are risky and experimental but effective. Great design is transparent, and it amplifies great stories.

The winning entries showed an originality critical to the future of the industry. Rather than conforming to nascent trends, news designers should constantly challenge convention while meeting the needs of their users.

In this moment of transition users demand more. We must answer their call and we see an exciting future for news design.

(view judge bios)

Gold Award & Best of Show: Haiti Earthquake Coverage by The New York Times

The judges award the only gold medal of the competition to The New York Times for their extended multimedia coverage of the Haiti earthquake. The judges believe that the technical sophistication, range of disciplines and timeliness evident in the pieces makes this body of work the best of the competition.

The New York Times created a steady stream of excellent interactive presentations of amazing photos, data and reporting. Even though these pieces were created on breaking news deadlines, quality was not sacrificed and creativity abounded. These pieces would not be nearly as wonderful if it were not for the excellent reporting and wide range of disciplines working together. The presentation of photography was creative, innovative and perfectly executed. The design fell away and simply facilitated the experience.

The sum total of this work was deeply touching and deeply immersive. It is the height of the use of technology in presenting journalism.

Judges’ Special Recognition

  • The New York Times: The judges recognize the New York Times for its explanatory motion graphics, a consistent seamless blending of media to set a standard for explanatory visual journalism. The works demonstrate imperceptible transitions between and marriages of video, graphics, data visualization and expert analysis. This is across all subjects. In sports it ranged from a breakdown of Mariano Rivera’s cut fastball to an analysis of Lindsey Vonn’s Olympic gold-winning downhill run. In news, it was explanations of failure and escape from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. These pieces provide a rich, beautiful experience.
  • NPR: The judges recognize NPR for their experimentation and eager embrace of new platforms. They have been smart in their mobile strategy while maintaining standards and identity. Their family of iPhone and iPad apps were designed with the user in mind, providing a rich relationship with every atom of NPR content. With an apparent self-awareness and an embrace of what they are good at — incredible audio story-telling — they established a way to serve their stories and shows on demand, wherever, whenever and however a user decides. There is beautiful simplicity in the user interface which allows someone to read or listen to the day’s top stories and the playlist feature gives the user control over the order in which they listen to stories.
  • Pictory: The judges recognize Pictory for its artful embrace of community-driven photo stories. Every note is pitch-perfect, starting from the request for submissions to the finished showcases. The editing is smart and the design is particularly thoughtful. Pictory has elevated the often-derided idea of “user-generated content” into an art form of collaboration. It is a dynamic more media organizations should embrace.
  • ProPublica: The judges recognize ProPublica for defining the design language of data-driven news apps. From tracking states’ unemployment insurance and Wall Street’s credit default swaps to investigating pharmaceutical payouts and dialysis facilities, ProPublica has established a consistent set of expectations for a new breed of storytelling. Granular, permalinkable data, clear hierarchies, simple but effective visualization and transparent engagement with its readers and partner organizations underlie all these projects and set the standard.

Awards by Category

Breaking News

More than 50m

Extended Coverage

More than 50m

Information Graphics

Fewer than 50m
More than 50m


More than 50m

Photo Projects

Fewer than 50m
More than 50m

Section/Topic Presentation

Fewer than 50m

Use of Multimedia

Fewer than 50m
More than 50m

Video Projects

More than 50m
Fewer than 50m

Mobile / Applications

More than 50m

Web site redesign

More than 50m
Fewer than 50m

The Judges

  • Chris Clonts is the editor for online and multimedia at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He likes slaying sacred cows (or modifying them), such as in 2010 when the paper for the first time charged users to enter its famous Peeps diorama contest. He has worked primarily as an editor and designer at six papers, including 10 years at the Detroit Free Press, and is on a personal campaign to convince restaurants that their sites shouldn’t be entirely in Flash.
  • Tyson Evans works on the interactive news desk at The New York Times, building data-driven Web apps on deadline. He was previously the new media design editor at the Las Vegas Sun. He is a frequent volunteer with the Society for News Design, Bridget O’Brien Scholarship Foundation and the Online News Association.
  • Danny Gawlowski is the video editor at The Seattle Times. He studied photojournalism at Ball State University and documentary filmmaking at the Seattle Film Institute. He was a part of the team that was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting for coverage of a police slaying and the ensuing manhunt. It was the first time that online coverage was specifically mentioned in a Pulitzer citation. He is also a faculty member of the Kalish Picture Editing Workshop and a board member of the Associated Press Photo Managers Association.
  • Jeremy Gilbert is an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, teaching media product design and digital innovation. He has directed award-winning, student-based digital projects, helped revamp the interactive curriculum and is researching the future of mobile journalism. Before coming to Medill, he led The Poynter Institute’s website redesign and worked as a design director, redesigning a pair of award-winning Florida newspapers.
  • Jennifer Imes is the graphics editor of The Indianapolis Star. She has been with The Star for nine years and oversees a small but mighty graphics department. Currently the staff devotes more than 50 percent of their time to digital graphics. Before joining the star nine years ago, Jennifer was a graphic artist at The Miami Herald and The Baltimore Sun. She graduated Ball State in 1998 with a journalism graphics degree.
  • Jason Luebke graduated from Ball State University in 2006 with a BS in Journalism Graphics. Jason worked for the Florida Time-Union and the Rockford Register Star as a graphics artist and designer. After leaving the Register Star, Jason worked as a flash developer for Indianapolis-based Mediasauce. Jason now works for Brandwidth, a digital marketing and development firm, as a User Experience Developer. Jason will graduate in May 2011 with a MA in Human Computer Interaction from the School of Informatics at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis.
  • Ryan Mark is a news applications developer at the Chicago Tribune. He spends most of his time hacking web design and presentation for the news apps team at the Tribune. His work has received awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, Investigative Reporters and Editors and Society of Professional Journalists, among others.
  • Miranda Mulligan is the design director for and, the websites for The Boston Globe. She is a designer and educator with over ten years of professional experience in print and web design, photography and information graphics reporting. She has also worked for The Virginian-Pilot, interned with The Sun-Sentinel and The Philadelphia Inquirer and volunteered for Online News Association, Virginia Press Association, the National Press Photographers Association and the Society for News Design.
  • Jennifer George-Palilonis is the George & Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of Multimedia Journalism at Ball State University where she is also the head of the nationally recognized Journalism Graphics Sequence. There she teaches upper level courses in information graphics reporting for print and online media, interactive media design and content development, and multimedia storytelling. She is the vice chair of the visual communication division for the Association for Journalism and Mass Communication and the national education director for the Society for News Design.
  • Yuri Victor is the digital design and content manager for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He is a former internet entrepreneur with more than 12 years experience programming and designing digital products. He has worked in almost every capacity at newspapers from reporting, editing and photographing stories to rolling 600 pounds of paper around the press. He often volunteers with the Society for News Design and the Online News Association.
  • (Conflict judge, voted when a judge recused themselves) Jonathon Berlin is the graphics editor at the Chicago Tribune and SND’s vice president. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two boys. The most embarrassing thing on his iPod is probably the soundtrack to the Phantom of the Opera (original London cast).

Preliminary Judges:

These judges assisted in the initial review and narrowing of the entries prior to the final judging at Ball State University.

  • Meredith Birkett –
  • Billy Calzada – San Antonio Express-News
  • Sergio Goldenberg – Georgia Tech
  • Karsten Ivey – Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
  • Joey Marburger – Washington Post
  • Alfredo Marin-Carle – Ball State University
  • Wes Meltzer – Orlando Sentinel
  • Tom Price – Ball State University
  • Laura Ruel – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • John Sale – Memphis Commercial-Appeal
  • Suzy Smith – Ball State University
  • Todd Stewart – Orlando Sentinel

Competition Director

  • Ryan Sparrow is an instructor of Journalism at Ball State University where he teaches in the nationally recognized Journalism Graphics Sequence. Before teaching, he was a photographer, editor and designer at newspapers in Indiana, Kentucky and Florida where he won numerous awards for his photographic work. In addition to teaching, he consults and freelances for various publications and non-profit organizations. He is a member of the Kalish Picture Editing Workshop.

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