SND Digital: The judges, and what impresses them

With the SND Best of Digital Design Competition under way, I asked the judges to share their thoughts on what they’re looking for, or advice they’d offer to those looking to raise the bar on digital presentation:

Follow along all weekend for more updates on twitter, #BestofDigitalDesign, and at

Team 1

Jessica Gilbert, creative director, McClatchy Company
“Bring something new to the user experience. There are some presentations where, you read it, and there’s serendipity to how you can follow the elements of the story. Also, have it work and be interesting on the phone, that way anyone anywhere can delve deep into the visualization.”

Sarah Slobin, visual editor, Wall Street Journal
“Find a fresh way to tell the story using the elements that you have, honor the visuals and allow readers to see the story from start to finish without forcing them to work to find what it is you’re trying to convey.”

Javier Zarracina, graphics editor, Vox
“Concentrate on the storytelling and not so much on the technical tricks. Editing is the main skill. The standouts have good storytelling and technical editing; that hasn’t changed since day one.”

Team 2

Kat Downs, Washington Post
“A combination of immersion and annotation. As an industry we’ve been moving toward handholding and walkthroughs, which as a whole is amazing, but often has flattened the graphics and the ‘wow’ factor. There seems to be a focus on simplifying and on accurate storytelling, and using our power for good. It’s a good evolution. But we need to think of phones first. Most of what we’re seeing are desktop projects adapted for phones.”

Dave Stanton, Mobiquity
“The Washington Post’s “How Dry is California” clearly was developed for phone first. You can tell by the gestures: it’s meant to swipe by pages instead of scroll. And tap instead of scroll. This feels like it was built on the phone as the primary debug device. And it gives you more control over the speed at which you consume it.”

Josh Penrod, Minneapolis Star Tribune “Crisp storytelling and tight editing. Some of the projects we’re seeing, while the aesthetics are great, feel a bit indulgent. How much is too much? In print design we talk about the newshole is shrinking so we have to be rigorous in editing. Good digital projects are adopting this approach in spite of unlimited space.”

Team 3

Megan Chan, Politico
“Is the design elevating the journalism? When you look at the L.A. Times’ San Bernardino piece, in the context of breaking news, every single piece of design informed the story, every lever pulled had a purpose.”

Len DeGroot, Los Angeles Times
“I look for creativity and the ability to push boundaries without sacrificing the narrative. The Guardian’s [measles spread] interactive is a good example. It’s a super-clever way of illustrating effectively with a nontraditional approach, and a creative application of a tool we all have used.”

Chiqui Esteban, National Geographic
“I’m looking for excellent narrative components and then something extra. It doesn’t have to be technical. One thing we saw in that Silver Medal from the Guardian was an interactive that creates collisions between the parties. We have seen this done in similar ways. But the Guardian showed not just the collisions, but how the resulting coalitions could work. It’s a storytelling improvement.”

World’s Best team

Brian Boyer, NPR

Matt Mansfield, CQ Roll Call

Isabel Meirelles, OCAD University (Toronto)

Also on hand, running the show:
Lynne Perri, Journalism Faculty, American University
Maddi Pariser, senior, Journalism major, American University
Eden Campbell, junior, Communications major, American University
Jeremy Gilbert, Director of Strategic Initiatives, The Washington Post; Co-Director, Best of Digital Design Competition
Ryan Sparrow, Journalism Faculty, Ball State; Co-Director, Best of Digital Design Competition
Tyson Evans, The New York Times; Secretary-Treasurer, Society for News Design
Joey Marburger, Director of Digital Products and Design, The Washington Post
Courtney Kan, Designer, Gannett Phoenix Design Studio; Editor,
Kyle Ellis, Director of Strategic Programs, Society for News Design
Stephen Komives, Executive Director, Society for News Design

About Stephen Komives

Previously served as Executive Director of the Society for News Design, from 2009–2019.

Leave a Reply