After SND33, 3 judges reflect on what they saw

After viewing 230 entries in this year’s World’s Best competition, three judges share their impressions:

Rhonda Prast

Rhonda Prast

Q: What trends have you spotted? Have you seen any shifts in how designers use white space, treat type, display photography or illustration?

I noted the decline in the physical size of many broadsheet newspapers. Many more designers are having to produce attractive pages with less space and fewer resources (and probably with less time). Long, narrow templates are common.

I also saw a handful of large informational graphics. Only a few newspapers can afford to allot resources for data reporting. But many newspapers are now doing smarter smaller graphics as part of telling stories. In addition, more papers are using better entry points in layouts regularly.

Newspapers outside the U.S. were chock full of advertising. We saw huge issues from Australia, Europe and Mexico. If only we could find that same healthy balance for American publications.

Q: Can you generalize what you have seen from Latin America, the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia?

Print innovation is seemingly happening everywhere except in the U.S. Why do so many American newspapers look so much alike?

What’s needed: Real innovation on page one, risk-taking with headlines and surprising visual solutions on covers and all inside pages. I understand why it’s happening in the U.S., but it’s a shame.

Canada continues to have superb newspapers. They keep the quality level very high, both in content and presentation. I also see a consistent irreverence in the mix with serious journalism, which is refreshing. They look like they’re having fun. Ambition is part of the culture of those newsrooms.

German newspapers are incredibly elegant and beautiful with amazing typography and a real commitment to the reading experience. I saw many similarities in the visual presentation to magazines. Mexican newspapers are full of vigor and energy. Scandinavian newspapers are fat and healthy and devoted to a simple and effective typographical and grid hierarchy. Politiken is a great model. When you see these papers, you want to spend hours with them. Illustrations are gems on their pages.

The paper stock and printing quality of many European newspapers can’t be matched – there are few in America with that quality standard. One judge noted the continued commitment to the print product, even with the inevitable growth of digital initiatives. Newspapers are alive and healthy outside of America. I would love to see U.S. publishers take more risks. Readers would love it.

Q: What might have tripped up some otherwise worthy entries? Is there advice you would offer designers who want to compete with the top tier?

Most of the newspapers that landed in our mid-tier rounds had well-designed covers with clever typography and a strong use of photography or illustrations. But when those front pages were turned, the innovation stopped. Text-heavy inside pages with uninspiring presentation and visuals killed a lot of entries on the spot. We were looking for innovation, creativity, visual surprises, unusual story forms, excellent photo editing and cropping and a smart presentation of content throughout the paper.

This does not mean newspapers with more space = better presentation and a higher chance to win. It means designing the available space thoughtfully and creatively.As one of my fellow judges said: make every page count.

Another element that was lacking in most newspapers was a consistent visual voice throughout the pages. The ones that made our top 11 had that voice. Although there were many attractive American newspapers, it was discouraging to see so many American newspapers with basically the exact same formula.

My mantra for designers this year:

Engage the reader at every opportunity. Don’t make your inside pages a throwaway. Be bold, be consistent, make smart font and leading choices. Build in white space. Write good headlines. Set the bar high for photographs and illustrations. Be different than the competition. Know your audience.

Papers that had all those qualities stood out and were memorable. After reviewing 200+ papers, we could remember the onesthat had the ‘it’ quality. When many of these entries were pulled out of envelopes, our first thoughts were “wow.”

Unfortunately, we did not see many large papers that had won in the past. They were disqualified for not following the rules! Very sorry to hear that.

Bob Unger

Bob Unger

The five newspapers we selected for World’s Best are very different from one another typographically and stylistically.

Excelsior uses bold a bold color pallet and a ton of photographs on virtually every page that give it urgency. FAS and Politken use sophisticated typography, masterful illustrations and wide broadsheet display to give them an authoritative look. The National Post revels in its narrow page width and tells stories visually as well any newspaper I saw. I particularly liked its page 1 story headlined “How We Die” that examines every manner of Canadians’ passing with an extraordinary graphic that shows the web of life and death and that I couldn’t take my eyes from. The Grid has the feel of an underground paper minus most of the politics, but there are interesting things on every page that made me laugh or shake my head. They know their audience and they reach it brilliantly.

And I think that’s what all of these World’s Best newspapers share: a certainty about who their audiences are and a bold approach for reaching them. All have a unique voice. All are superb. All share a commitment to print that other newspapers should emulate. They never waste a page and never waste their readers’ time. These newspapers look healthy, well-staffed and richly resourced. It was inspiring to see international journalists and newspaper owners who still believe in excellence in print. But it was also a reminder, too, of how much has been lost in so many places where journalists and ownerships seem to have lost faith, gutted their products, and undermined their relationships with their readers and their communities.

Looking beyond the winners, we saw a lot of newspapers around the globe are converting from broadsheets to tabloids, and we saw some fairly good ones, but none that we believed that had the consistent excellence that would move them into the top tier. Designers and editors of those tabloids seemed to be struggling with their front pages in particular, trying to identify the right look and feel. I expect they will find their answers in the months and years ahead because many of them already are awfully good.

The formula for excellence will always be less about format and typography than about the unreserved commitment to the community of readers that newspapers serve and clarity about the nature and interests of those readers. What is a perfect look for a sophisticated audience in Oslo will not likely be perfect for an audience in Buenos Aires or Charlotte. A newspaper must find the voice that speaks clearly to its unique audience of readers, and the best newspapers will always do so.

Søren Nyeland

Søren Nyeland

Q: What trends have you spotted? Have you seen any shifts in how designers use white space, treat type, display photography or illustration?

Trend 1: The niche-papers like The Grid and the economic papers are getting more sophisticated and speaks with a voice of their own. I expect to see a lot of these publications winning in the upcoming years.

Trend 2: The standard of visual storytelling — like when using the comic technique — gets better and better. While at the same time big size infographics gets worse and worse. It’s not a catastrophe though because the energy has been transferred to the tiny infographics like locator maps. These blend perfect into the page mix.

Trend 3: I saw many new great newspaper typefaces that pleases the eye. Both for the body text and the display text.

Q: Can you generalize what you have seen from Latin America, the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia?

A lot of quality daily morning papers in Europe transferred from broadsheet to tabloid in the past five year. And they perform better and better on the new format all though none made it to the final five this year. The German broadsheet papers have to be recognized for disciplined and clean use of white space, long articles, distinct but restrained typography etc. Specially the weekend papers stand very strong in the world picture.

In Asia, papers will have their breakthrough soon. I saw a Chinese paper and an Abu Dhabi paper that showed new ways of dealing with top quality sheets of white paper and minimalistic design. Both of those were in English but I also saw beautiful papers with Chinese or swung Arab letters. There’s no limit to where that can take newspaper design.

The U.S. newspaper industry is a sleeping giant. But I saw signs of new energy in a paper from Buffalo. And the usual suspects like Los Angeles Times and New York Times are doing great papers. Personally I would like to see papers like USA Today enter the competition.

From Latin America I saw publications with wild colors, engaging sports, women’s legs, dramatic news coverage, etc. These countries really believe in it.

In Canada you find original publications with a distinct voice. Great variety. That’s why Canada won two WBDN’s.

Q: What might have tripped up some otherwise worthy entries? 

Some very big papers appeared in a near to perfect condition but with no surprises. The U.S. papers need to focus on their inside pages.

Q: Is there advice you would offer designers who want to compete with the top tier?

Read the entry book carefully so you don’t get disqualified. It’s ridiculous that some of the best designed publication in the world didn’t make it because of entering wrongly.

Last but not least: “There will always be news. There will always be design. News design face a great future. Amen.”

About Lee Steele

is design editor of the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers and 2015 president of the Society for News Design.

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