SND35 Judging: Guide for First-Timers

(Andrea Zagata first attended SND judging in 2009 with students from Michigan State University. She has offered this guide to first-time facilitators the past two years, and this is the 2014 incarnation.)

What to pack

• Business cards
• Warm clothing that is easy to layer
• Camera or smartphone to photograph work you might want to remember later.


Friday is a day to arrive, get settled, take in the lay of the land, and meet some new people. You might ride the shuttle from the airport to the hotel with another contest attendee, or you might run into them in the hotel bar. If you think you see someone who looks like they belong with a bunch of dorks from SND, you’re probably right, so introduce yourself when you see them eyeing your Chuck Taylors curiously.

When you arrive at the hotel, check in and make sure they give you a packet with your name on it. It will also include an itinerary and a name badge, which you are not to lose!

If you’re early, you can check out the student symposium at Newhouse School. (Details on this to come.) It’s a fun way to hear what advice your peers are giving to students and say hello to a few people before the work starts in the morning.

Friday night dinner is on your own, but there are lots of places within walking distance. If it’s not too cold, go exploring. If it’s too cold, ask somebody how to get to Varsity Pizza or Pita Pit.


The bus leaves early in the morning! I hope you didn’t stay at the hotel bar for too long, because it’s going to be a long day. There is a Starbucks across from the hotel if you need an extra kick, but be aware that the line always long and plan some extra time if you really need that White Caramel Macchiatto over ice, or whatever. The team captains will count their judges, but it is hoped that a bunch of adults can get on a bus. Don’t be the one person who crushes that hope!

When you get to Drumlins, there will be bagels and fruit and muffins and other delicious things for breakfast. Hang up your coat, drink some more coffee, and wait for instructions.

The contest categories are divided among four judging teams, and facilitators should split up somewhere around evenly among the teams. It’s fine to go help with the categories that interest you most, but please don’t leave a team short because you’re all like “OOO illustration.”

There is plenty of time to walk around and look at work while categories are being judged. Please keep in mind that as a facilitator, you’re there to help. Things you should help with: Reading translations for judges. Setting up and taking down categories. Following instructions from your team captain when a category is ready to be counted. If a judge is standing around looking lost, they probably need help with something, so please ask!

Check in with your team captain regularly to see if there is something you can assist with. If your team is on a long category that seems like it might take a long time to judge, see if you can help elsewhere, or take in some of the entries out on the tables.

Lunch will be lunched and dinner will be dined. The competition coordinator will let you know when the work for the day is done, and it’s back on the bus! The hotel bar is fine, and Syracuse’s college town atmosphere has lots of other options if you’re feeling like an adventure.


Repeat Saturday, with two important differences.

• Sunday is jersey day. Wear your favorite (football, basketball, soccer, hockey, or any other sport you desire) jersey. It’s a Sunday tradition at judging.

• Afterwards, at the hotel bar, there is a karaoke fundraiser. It contributes to the SND Foundation, which provides things like travel grants and scholarships for design students. It’s also a blast, so bring some extra cash and your best singing voice!


Repeat Saturday. The rest of the categories will be judged on this day, and the Best in Show discussion will also take place. It’s a debate among the judges to find the best of the Gold Medal winners, and it is one of the best learning experiences in Syracuse.

After the judging, the bus will go back to the hotel and you’re free! Have some drinks, exchange some business cards, and relax with your newly found friends.


Some of the facilitators have been to the judging multiple times and already know each other. Don’t be afraid to say hi, everyone except Rob Schneider is really nice.

It’s fine to form opinions on work you see on the tables, but keep in mind that what you are seeing is what people feel is their BEST WORK. Be respectful and mindful of that. Some of it will be stuff you wish you’d thought of, some might be things you’d never want to design in a million years. It’s not up to you to decide if it’s good or bad, because you’re not a judge.

Be aware of who is around you when you’re speaking. It’s horrible form to talk about work when a judge is trying to form an unbiased opinion of it. You also won’t know who in the room may have worked on something. It’s fine to discuss things quietly, just do so in a respectful manner.

No papers are to leave the judging site until the contest is over – so no sneaking samples away in your bag!

In Summary

Be friendly, respectful and helpful. Introduce yourself to strangers and make new friends. Listen to medal discussions and be inspired by the work of others. Have fun!

About Andrea Zagata

is a news designer at The New York Times.

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