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.


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