SND41: Enter today

It’s that time again. 

Time to enter the annual SND Best of News Design Creative Competition

You all know what that means. Sifting through stacks and stacks of tear sheets. Slicing, taping, filling out forms. Checking and re-checking rules and categories. Agonizing, analyzing, questioning. Gaining confidence, losing nerve, puffing with pride and deflating with doubt.  

And I’m looking forward to every minute of it.

Facilitator David Kordalski sets an entry out at the 1988 judging.

I’ve heard friends and colleagues say, “I don’t enter SND anymore because (choose one)

“It’s too much of a pain to enter.” (SND has taken steps to simplify things)

“Print’s not relevant.” (It is, maybe now more than ever)

“I can’t win.” (You can, but it’s not supposed to be easy. If it were, it wouldn’t be worthwhile)

And finally, “It’s not worth the effort.”

To that, I call bullshit. Here’s why: 

The process of entering SND has been one of the most important learning tools in my development as a news designer. As a visual storytelling advocate. As a leader. 

Not the winning. Certainly not the losing. It’s the process of entering that’s the key.

I’ve entered this competition faithfully since 1986. Yes, I know that some (most) of you weren’t even born then. Hell, some of your parents weren’t even out of elementary school. And in this industry, so many things have changed. But there’s one thing that has stayed very much the same — the quest for excellence in what we do and the satisfaction that comes from telling the next story better than how we told the last.

Simply put, taking an annual run through the year’s body of work helps me take stock of where I stand in that quest. Entering the contest offers a moment of self-reflection, of introspection. It’s an opportunity to take a deep breath, step back from the daily grind and ask, “Did I really try hard enough to get in front of that project?” “Was the art direction on point?” “Are my picture editing and cropping skills still sharp?” “Are words and pictures telling the same story?” “What was I thinking with that type treatment?” “Was I trying too hard to win a contest, but not hard enough to raise reader understanding?” “What was I thinking?” The questions go on and on as I flip through our year.

I look forward to this late fall/early winter rite of passage slightly more than I look forward to a root canal. Put it in the painful, but necessary category. It’s valuable. Sometimes humbling. Often maddening. Cathartic, really.

At every stop in my career, whether as a young designer in South Bend, Indiana, as a neophyte leader of a Dayton team that punched way above its weight, as an awestruck fanboy at the then-groundbreaking Detroit News, as The Plain Dealer’s conductor of one of the most dynamic groups of visual talent ever assembled, I’ve been part of a fair amount of SND awards given to pages that helped define the state of the art. I’ve lost many times more.

But every page, be it a Gold medal or in the discard pile, was entered for the same reason: We were proud of the effort. And that reason was determined during the entering process.

Way back when, I even wrote about the benefits of watching as my pages systematically didn’t measure up on the competition tables, as my best work of the year only earned the “judges’ crumple” after going out 0-5, 1-4, or the near-miss heartbreak of a 2-3. My conclusion then: Try harder. Get better. Listen. Learn. Advocate. And try harder again. My conclusion now: Try harder. Get better. Listen. Learn. Advocate. And try harder. Again.

Nowadays, I’m pretty much a one-man art department at a small but serious weekly business publication in Cleveland. I’m readying for the 41st SND Best of News Design Creative Competition. 

I’ve downloaded the Call for Entries, the tally sheet and all the other helpful accoutrements from SND here.  My straight edge, tape, file folders and post-it notes are gathered. My X-ACTO knife is keenly sharp.

Let’s hope the work is, too.

Good luck, everyone. Hope to see you on the 41st Competition tables in February, and maybe, just maybe, in the book after that.

David Kordalski is the creative director for Crain’s Cleveland Business and Crain’s Detroit Business, and is a past president of SND. He’s also very good at taping entries.

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