SND39: So You’re Entering On Your Own …

Tips for the designer, illustrator or photographer taking a first crack at the Best of News Design Creative Competition (Reminder, the deadline is Feb. 8 and the call for entries can be found here):

If you only have a few bucks to toss at the competition but you think your work may stand out among the best in the world, you’re going to want to maximize your chances. This is no guarantee of an Award of Excellence, but maybe it will help boost your odds.

Figure out what work really stands a chance. A good baseline at SND is: Does this work make an immediate visual impact. With entries nearing 10,000, the most surefire way to grab a judge’s attention is with a clean, bold and attention-grabbing visual. This could be a powerful image, high-end graphic or strong type treatment. Of equal importance, there should be nothing in the entry that takes away from the impact. If it’s on a cover with five other story starts and mediocre photos, the pressure on the visual impact is exponentially greater.

Determine what kind of entry it is. Before you rush to the news, sports or features page design categories, consider the circumstances surrounding the work. Was it done on deadline? Consider the breaking news category. Was it entirely a photo page? There’s an entire subcategory just for photo page design. Was it a special section page or a daily section page? There are categories for both. If the photo, illustration or graphic that makes the page work is so clearly above the page as a whole, there are categories for those as well. If you only have $20 to spend on one page, you want the most value you can get out of it, and that comes from getting it in front of the proper judges.

Never, ever, ever, ever start out with a portfolio. The rarest instance of a savant swooping in and picking up one of these awards notwithstanding, portfolios are won by years of trial and error, by designers refining their craft to the point nothing they do is a weak point, and all six pages they enter work with one another to make a winner. If you have $40 to spend and have a choice between taking a stab at a portfolio or taking two stabs at some really good single pages you’ve done, your aim is going to be to land in the book and make a mark. Go with the single pages every time.

Realize when work doesn’t hold up. If you can afford six entries but only did one page you believe really stands a chance, your move is not to find five others and take a flier. Your move is to find six places to enter your one really good page. That may mean it is entered as a special section page, news page, breaking news page, photo page design and single page photo. That’s ok. If it wins in six places, the possibility of the entire competition — 27 total judges — remembering it, and you, for months or even years is real.

Ask when it’s over. If your work didn’t win, find one of us who was there. Send us a PDF of it and ask what we think held it back. We’ll give you an honest answer and do all we can to see that your next entry is pushed over the top.

Coming tomorrow: Advice for the art director or manager entering for an entire staff for the first time.

About Josh Crutchmer

is design and graphics editor at The Plain Dealer.

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