Papers and books crowd Indiana University lecturer Steve Layton’s desk. Next to where he sits is last year’s Society for News Design hardcover, Best of News Design. Under it is the 2011 book, and under that are the printed pages that will become the 2013 edition.
It’s the 34th year of existence for the SND news design awards book, but it’s IU’s first year to design it.
For several months, Layton has led a team of students collecting entries and designing the annual book highlighting SND award winners. Layton said they will finish it by early November for the annual SND conference in Louisville, Ky.
Alumni and the Indiana Daily Student have created an impressive history of design for the School of Journalism, Layton said. SND chose IU based on that reputation.
“(SND) is the most significant organization that does this sort of thing,” Layton said.
The work began in early February when Layton, Matt Callahan, BAJ’13, and Aliya Mood, BAJ’13, traveled to Syracuse, N.Y., for three days to witness the judging for the Best of News Design contest.
The trip was far from smooth. They were delayed one day by Winter Storm Nemo and finally reached Syracuse by flying into Ithaca, N.Y., then driving an hour and a half to the contest.
Once they arrived, the three were given entries as the judges ranked them, and they chose how to display them in the book. Callahan said some of the entries were 50 or more pages long.
“It was daunting,” he said in an email interview. “Essentially, it was 30 hours of cutting pages apart with Exact-o knifes over three days and making split second decisions on what individual page best represented a body of work.”
Mood, now a designer at the Phoenix Gannett design studio, said they were able to see all the entries, a fantastic learning opportunity for a designer.
“It was definitely exhausting,” she said with a laugh during a phone interview, adding that they were on their feet for up to 12 hours.
Callahan, who is currently interning at The New York Times and will spend this fall at the Virginian-Pilot, said he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“I learned so much from watching the judgment process and seeing the thousands and thousands of entries that didn’t win,” Callahan said. “I got a new appreciation of what an award of excellence means.”
“Not to mention,” he added, “that Aliya and I got to karaoke with three other IU alumni at an after party – ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ by Tom Petty.”
Layton said there were 727 winners in the print division, which they viewed and edited in Syracuse. They later collected about 180 more winners from the digital division.
Despite this being IU’s first year to design the book, IU already has a strong tie to it. Ron Johnson, director of IU Student Media, designed the books cataloguing the 2001-07 contests. He came to IU in 2008, while he was designing his last edition.
Johnson said SND has a long-standing tradition of including every winning design in the book, including those who placed lower than first. He said it’s one of the best learning tools for designers.
“This book is literally just a treasure trove of page design ideas,” Johnson said. “You look around any newsroom, including the IDS, and you’ll see them everywhere and dog-eared.”
The book is now nearly finished and is going through final proofs, Layton said.
Originally he had nine students working on it, but he said Callahan and senior Missy Wilson have shouldered the majority of design work. He said others have left for internships or become busy with schoolwork.
Wilson, who is spending this summer at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, said she and the other designers had to use restraint and simplicity to make sure the content would stand out.
“We don’t want people to notice our design, but rather the winning pages,” Wilson said in an email interview.
Though IU students designed the book’s content, Osama Aljawish, a senior designer from Syria, designed the cover. Of five finalists, Aljawish’s design received a majority of 48 percent of votes from SND members.
Mood said having a personal connection to the hardcover will make it even more special when she receives her copy in the fall.
“I’m always excited when I get my SND book. It’s like Christmas,” Mood said. “It’s actually even better than Christmas, honestly.”