3 Questions: The SND35 judges

To get to know them better, we asked the judges at SND35 Best of News Design™ three questions. Here are all the mini-interviews we conducted during the competition in Syracuse this year.

Lotta Ek

Lotta Ek is art director at Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm, Sweden’s largest morning newspaper, and was a judge for the World’s Best competition. 

You’ve traveled a long way. How do you like Syracuse? 
It’s beautiful and with all the snow if feels like home.

So what are your impressions of the newspapers entered in the contest?
I’m overwhelmed with the amount but it is great to see all those newspapers. But many of them still look very much like each other, and I recognize them … they look the same as they did before.

What are your hobbies or interests away from work? 
My home and my family at the moment because I have three kids who are quote small — 2, 7 and 9 — but I like to cook and hang around with friends.

Greg Branson

gregGreg Branson is assistant managing editor/presentation and innovation at the Kansas City Star and was a judge on the long-form team.

What are your impressions of the entries this year?
The good stuff really shines through when you find your baseline. Very quickly you say ‘this is still good, but this stuff should win awards.’ Just because you didn’t win awards doesn’t mean it wasn’t good.

Do any trends stand out? 
When you look at the book you can kind of see the ebb and flow of different trends. This year, I just don’t see that. If there is a trend, it’s that winners were the simple things. It’s all about designing content. I’ve seen a lot that is overdesigned, that didn’t let the content be the content.

What do you do in your free time? 
I do a lot of riding. I enjoy cars quite a bit, and also biking. I like big wide-open spaces, and that fits in with cars and bicycles. They all go together, especially living in Kansas.

Elizabeth Burr

elizabeth3Elizabeth Burr is senior art director at the San Francisco Chronicle and was a features judge at SND35.

What has impressed you as a judge?
Every year when I see the book, I am really amazed, but being here as a judge, the dedication and workmanship of the pages really comes out.

Do you notice any trends?
The European papers use a wide gutter for the pull quote, mug or factoid. I see that in more papers now. People are using the negative space really well.

What inspires you, or could be called your passion, in your personal time?
My family time. Seeing my daughter (age 8) say ‘I want to design a magazine.’

Will Alford

will2Will Alford is a manager/new projects and business development at Cox Media Group and was on the team judging the news category at SND35.

What’s inspired you while judging?
I think in a lot of interesting pages, but I’ve also seen pages with just too much information.

The probably leads to the news question: Any advice for designers entering next year?
The best ones had a lot of data, but with data edited out that wasn’t part of the narrative that the story was telling. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I grew up near the beach, and I still like it there, taking long walks with friends.

Jason Benavides

jasonJason Benavides is features designer at the Charlotte Observer, and judged the features category at SND35.

What are your impressions of the work you’ve seen while judging features?
I’m very impressed. Even the ones that don’t make the Award of Excellence still show good work.

This is your first time judging for SND. What do you think? 
I was honored to be asked to do it, and now that I’m here it’s been very inspiring. It makes me want to be a better individual.

Do you have any passions outside the world of design? 
I’m a bit of a sports junkie, too. Co-ed football is where I met my wife, and now we have two young children, 1 and 2 and-a-half. We love doing things outside together, throwing the ball around. The 2-and-a-half year-old is going to be a lefty.

Fabián Cárdenas

fabian2Fabián Cárdenas is the art director for El Heraldo in Barranquilla, Colombia, and was World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper competition judge at SND35.

What was your takeaway from being a judge?
A wonderful experience and having a different perspective about the world of newspaper design.

Do you have any advice for people entering next year?
To work with passion and dedication and to take risks. Don’t be afraid to experiment, because it can get you far. Get out of your comfort zone and if you make mistakes, that’s the way to learn.

Are there any trends you’ve spotted?
I think the trend that I have spotted the most is that newspapers have taken their designs more into magazine design, but not all of them do it the right way.

Frank Mina

mina2Frank Mina is AME/Presentation at the San Francisco Chronicle and was a visuals judge at SND35. 

What advice would you give to designers entering the competition in the future?
Editing your pieces so that the entry works as a whole and a piece unto itself. Watch the tempo and flow.

What has surprised you as a judge?
How fulfilling it is to be able to look at so many amazing entries and to be able to set the bar so high so that only the best of the best are awarded.

What is your favorite sci-fi movie? 
“The Empire Strikes Back.” (How  many times have you seen it?) Oh geez. Countless.

Stephen Case

caseStephen Case is art director of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and was a visuals judge.

Are you glad you’ve traveled so far to help out with judging SND35?
To be honest, when I first received the invitation to be a judge, my immediate reaction was to go “I don’t want to do this” because I know how arduous a job it is and how much responsibility comes with it. Don’t get me wrong, there was never a doubt I wouldn’t do it. How could I possibly miss an experience like this? But I never took it lightly. It’s been exactly how it was explained to us, tough work, long days but thoroughly enjoyable. I found when you were in the midst of judging you were fine, but once you finished a round and stepped back you realized how taxed you were. I loved our group, thought we all got along well. Everyone had a point of view and opinions but it was very comfortable to speak your mind. Overall I’d say we were on the same page and we had a great time doing it.

What are your thoughts on what was entered? 
The entries are a mixed bag but the cream naturally rose to the top. Some work really jumps off the table and it was great to see those rewarded. A trend I saw was the entries that worked best for us were the ones that grabbed your attention visually, both simple and complex, but then held your attention with smart ideas. Trends for the work were big stories get big hits by papers and that’s when visual people really get a chance to shine.

What’s your favorite movie?
One of my favorites is The Big Lebowski and I often get accused of imitating him.

Kristin Lenz

kristinKristin Lenz is art director of Inc. magazine and judged long-form entries at SND35.

What advice to you have for anyone entering this contest in the future?
Edit yourself much more harshly. A lot of things that we haven’t awarded in the long-form category have been because of one single page that stood out as a sore thumb. Tight, tight editing. 

What inspires you? 
I do a lot of other design type things. I enjoy photography, I dip my toes in screen printing and letterpress and those old-school forms of communication, and I recently took up running long distance, so that’s been an interesting new source of inspiration. 

What trends have you spotted?
In the long-form category today we judged special sections and there was not a lot special. The cover would be good, and you turn the page and you see just another day’s newspaper. I held a high bar for what is “special,” and there wasn’t as much special as I thought there would be. Also, there’s been a lot of reprinting of really old front pages, which I think as newspaper people we have a nostalgia for, but I found a lot of their use unnecessary. 

Jennifer Daniel

jenniferdaniel2Jennifer Daniel is a visual journalist at the New York Times and was a judge in the visuals category.

This is your first time judging the competition. How are you enjoying being a judge?
There are a lot of publications I haven’t been able to see in person before like the South China Morning Post, the National Post, and a bunch of German pubs, so that’s pretty great.

What are your impressions of the entries?
Competitions are a crap shoot … still I’d never think to enter the same work into multiple categories to increase my chances … yet that seems to be a popular strategy. Generally it backfires for me–the third or fourth time I see the same thing I’m like, “Seriously? Again?”  Though, I blame SND for that—the distinction between categories in the same discipline are so finely sliced it often feels arbitrary when looking at them en mass. Really? Does it matter if it’s a feature deadline vs just deadline? Probably not. Through, I am glad to see they made individual categories for topics like Sports, Business and Culture this year.

What are your passions outside of design?
I’m one of those people who always has a hobby, but it’s always changing. I guess lately it includes bread tab collecting, biking every day, and beer tasting. OK, OK, just drinking beer.

Rich Boudet

rich2Rich Boudet is Sunday sports editor at the Seattle Times, and was on the team judging news entries.

Have you spotted any design trends? 
Vector illustrations and circle graphics, lots of circle graphics.

Do you have advice for anyone entering the contest in the future?
Don’t take a result with too much pride or depression, it’s a big contest. Also, sometimes a win or loss can hinge on elements the designer is stuck with, like typefaces. Figure out the very best way to use your type palette.

What inspires you? 
Seeing great work from all over the world. That’s the best part of being here!


Ying Wu

yingYing Wu is assistant professor/design editor at the University of Missouri.

You were a judge in the digital competition, but this is the first time you’ve judged the print competition. What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve seen so far?
I’m surprised there are so many entries from all over the world. Not only in English, but Chinese, Arabic…

Is there a category that has surprised you?
The sports category has amazing design. There are not many limitations in the content, and there are visual elements you can design with.

Have you spotted any trends or patterns?
I can tell a paper from America from a paper from Europe by the white space or the type selection. European papers have more logical, classical design.

Tricia Reinhold

triciaTricia Reinhold is creative director at the Gannett Phoenix Design Studio, and was a features judge this year.

What design trends have you found while judging?
Small, precise color palettes. Whether the colors are one or two strong, saturated primaries or a few soft and muted shades, they’re being used smartly in a very direct fashion.

Did this hold for illustrations as well?
Illustrations also had a very limited palettes which made for amazingly clean, powerful and highly graphic imagery.

What inspires you?
» Clean simple lines, in illustrations and in page structure.
» Interesting grids with a pop of something that surprises me, whether it’s spot color, simple line drawing(s) sprinkled in to help tell the story in a visual way or a highly graphic illustration.

Douglas Okasaki

douglasDouglas Okasaki is senior designer at Gulf News, and was on the team judging the news category.

What was your takeaway from being a judge?
I felt a certain sense of responsibility of being fair with the entries. I’ve been always in the other side, as a competitor and I know that the expectation is quite big to win a award. Analyzing and thinking about the page is a great exercise. Usually, as a designer we make the page automatically not questioning why. The competition raise these questions.

Do you have any advice for people entering next year?
Don’t be discouraged if you did not win any award this year. Make your objective to be better each year. Winning awards can be easy, but keeping the innovation and enthusiasm is the most difficult.

What are your passions outside of work?
Work is my passion and I am blessed to work with something I really like. There are some interests that are not a part of work. Sometimes I’ve been obsessed by any subject, for example aliens, but as a passenger.

Peter Nguyen

nguyenPeter Nguyen is design director at U-T San Diego, and was on the team judging the World’s Best.

What was your takeaway from being a judge?
That there’s an amazing amount of intelligent, beautiful work being done that we’d all be smart to look at and learn from.

Do you have any advice for people entering next year?
Simplicity and impact, impact, impact! Smart doesn’t hurt either.

What are your passions outside of work?
I’m inspired by movies, art, books. I believe firmly in bringing your passions to your work and using that to create unique and unusual solutions.

Domenic Macri

domenic2Domenic Macri is art director of Report on Business Magazine and the Globe and Mail, and was a features judge.

What are your observations about the entries this year?
Some have great ideas and not execution. Some are tight and disciplined, but lack some daring.

Any advice for people submitting entries for SND36?
Stand away from your own work and try to judge it on its own merit in terms of typography, concept and execution. Submitting work that is subpar is only going to bring your good work down.

How do you blow off steam when work is done? 

I’m an obsessive soccer fan and player, have been all my life. And I have another brutal obsession: Italian motorcycles.

David Kordalski

kordSND President David Kordalski is Visual Editor at The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, and was on the team judging the news category.

What are your impressions of this year’s contest?
I think there’s a tremendous amount of really good work, but the stuff our team is awarding kicks things up to a much higher notch. And I have’t seen really anything that didn’t deserve to be on the table and entered. Also, I notice some of the more interesting and innovative work is coming from the mid-size and small papers.

Have you spotted any new trends?
Quite a few graphic novel treatments, quite a bit of handwritten type and an awful lot of circle graphics. Some are used appropriately and some frankly aren’t.

What are your passions outside of work?
I build Mission furniture and plan to take a tour of the Stickley factory while I’m in Syracuse. I also grow bonsai trees. I told someone it was to make lumber for doll furniture but they didn’t believe me.

Heather Hopp-Bruce

heatherHeather Hopp-Bruce is op-ed design supervisor at the Boston Globe, and was a features judge.

Have you noticed any design trends?

Giant random floating drop caps, but the actual first letter of the piece is still intact; chalkboard backgrounds, especially when fish is involved; type-heavy covers with a combination of gray and maroon/brown/gold words; hodgepodge big type and numbers; hexagons everywhere! Hexagons are the new circles; speaking of circles, there were lots of circles connected by thin lines; blood splatters; 45° angles; A-Z something; zipper analogies; text big and small highlighted by fake yellow highlighter; board games; relationships between music or musical artists illustrated by very thin lines which are frequently cyan and magenta; column-wide gutters

Do you have advice for entrants?

The philosophical answer: Be true to yourself, your vision, and your style within the parameters (time, resources, differing opinions) that we all work within. Don’t worry about what other designers or papers are doing; pour yourself into a style that feels right to you and be relentlessly faithful to your own uniqueness. You’re a designer because you sense that talent within yourself: nurture it and use it to create something absolutely yours. Because we saw a lot of papers beautifully executed but few that took our breath away, few that felt pure.

The practical answer: Exceptional photography or illustration does not automatically translate to great design. People can usually tell that your page is covered with hexagons (or lines, or boxes, or whatever) because you find the content to be boring; really good pages start with really good content. In opinion, the illustration and presentation need to reflect the nuances of the writer’s point of view and enhance the reader’s understanding of that view, without introducing the opinion of the illustrator or designer (you’re not the ballerina — you’re the set and costume designer). If you are submitting a page in a language other than English, it is important that you included a translated description, the more thorough the better. If you submit to the “misc” category, you need to really sell the judges on why it belongs there. If a page is good enough to go in your portfolio, also submit is as a single page entry; if it’s not good enough for a single page, will it really help your portfolio?

What inspires you?

Good writing is always inspiring. I’m also inspired by coming to a point in a design where I hate it, and hate everything I’ve ever done, and I’m definitely going to have a panic attack or maybe I should quit this career altogether because I am a talentless hack and why hasn’t everyone noticed that because it is SO OBVIOUS? After a half hour or so of that I usually come up with something I really like, then go to lunch and think the whole way how the page I just thought up is going to rake in SND medals. Which it doesn’t, but there’s always the next time, right?

I also like to think of pages as a song, music to the lyrics of the writing.

Jørgen Høg

hogJørgen Høg is editor in chief at Søfart in Denmark and was a judge on the long-form team.

What do you think of the entries you’ve seen as a judge?
It’s good sometimes but on average I’m not impressed. There’s a lot of American spirit — football, baseball, basketball and all that — but as I European I think it’s way too much.

It it difficult being a judge?
It’s three days of hard work but apart from that it’s nice to be part of this jury. But the plan tomorrow is to go out for a run and get some fresh air.

Have you spotted any trends?
If there is anything it must be simplicity: keep it simple. I graphics and layout you can do anything on a computer but you have to go along in a professional way. But if you use the tools correctly you can have success. Simplicity … and consistency.

Naedine Hazell

hazell2Naedine Hazell is special projects and publications editor at the Hartford Courant, and was a World’s Best judge at SND35.

What have you noticed about the entries?
In news, photography has gotten much weaker, but features and sports photography has gotten better. The ascendency of sports in general is remarkable. I wonder what the reason is. Perhaps it is because we know when a game is, but news is much chancier, much less knowable.

Do you have advice for anyone entering in the future?
Read the directions (on the call for entries). I would also advice people to take more risks. They don’t have anything to lose at this point. And the furniture on the page needs to be settled better. They are starting to get furniture from other rooms!

What inspires you? 
I get my inspiration from the photography in the story. The photos speak to me and the design should come from that. When the story, photos and design come together, it’s like a symphony, a gourmet meal, a fine wine…

Gayle Grin

gayleGayle Grin is managing editor/design and graphics at PostMedia and design consultant, National Post in Toronto, a former SND president, and was on the World’s Best team.

How did your first day of judging go?
I felt really thrilled when I voted my first yes, and then the next paper I saw I liked even better.

What’s your takeaway from the competition? 
I’ve seen some very poorly designed papers that have very good photography, and some very well-designed newspapers that seem to have a disconnect with photos. The photos just landed on the page, not purposefully placed. I’m also seeing a lot of good design, but not a lot of surprise. The papers I expect to be good are good, but sometimes they underwhelm me. The other thing I notice is papers are trying to do so much for attention, there is no focus. They just seem to be very busy. My eyes don’t know where to go.

So what are your passions, aside from news design?
I love to cook for a crowd, and I like to dance.

Paul Gonzales

gonzales3Paul Gonzales is deputy design director/features at the Los Angeles Times and was on the team judging visuals.

Do you have any advice for people entering next year?
Make sure you enter only your very best work. And if there is any work you are especially proud of, don’t be afraid to enter it in multiple categories. It gives you more of a chance to win when different judges look at the work under the specific criteria of the category they are judging.

What are your passions outside of work? 
Good movies, great theater, tasty dinners, delicious wine and a dirty Grey Goose martini with blue cheese stuffed olives. If it all takes place in Tuscany, all the better.

Are there any trends you’ve spotted?
Pantone 18-3224, skinny jeans which are still trending, and full beards with a clean cut parted hair style.

Rose Engelland

roseRose Engelland is photo editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education and was judging the visuals category.

You’re judging a lot of entries from other countries. How is that? 
There is a lot of beauty. It’s touching to me. It’s like they are little works of art. It’s clear that people are still driven to create beauty and meaning. Some are superb, but some are crass. Some looked like ads instead of editorial.

What do you think of Syracuse?
I’m hoping we’ll get to go to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. We need to have a field trip.

What are your passions?
Travel, food, African music. I used to play drums, but I don’t do that anymore.

Holly Braford

hollyHolly Braford is a New York-based freelance designer and illustrator and was on the team judging long-form entries.

Any surprises being a judge at SND?
I cannot believe how emotional some of the entries made me. It’s no big deal to tear up at home with the newspaper, but I was embarrassed at first by how emotional I became during the medal discussions. Isn’t that what it’s really all about?

Do you have any advice for people entering next year? 
Edit your entries in long-form categories. You don’t have to put every single page of a project in the entry. I voted out many entries that were diluted by pages that just didn’t elevate the entry to excellence. Don’t be discouraged if your work loses. It’s probably still good. You’d be astonished by how many pages out 2-3.

What are your passions outside of work? 
I love state fairs. Sadly, I’ve only been to Ohio, Florida and Minnesota. Look out New York! Hide your fried cheese curds!

About Lee Steele

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

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