2015 Medal comments


Sites are nominated by members and nonmembers through the Best of Digital Design entry site, self-nominated via the same site, submitted through suggestions and outreach by SND’s regional directors and from the Best of Digital judging team.

The Marshall Project

The Marshall Project has nailed every. Single. Thing.
The publication has an incredibly strong design language that works in every place it manifests itself — on the web, on mobile, on social, in email newsletters. All in a beautiful design vocabulary that travels easily from place to place.
The newsletter isn’t just well-designed, it’s an excellent example of the kind of publishing that we all should aspire to – brief and useful, with way-pointing to deeper dives if needed.
The site itself, with incredible attention to detail, is a standard-bearer for the industry and a shining example of less is more.
The Marshall Project’s special features are among the very best in the industry, and the deft use of illustration and information graphics is superb. The Next To Die is one of the best examples of using a social channel to inform on important, timely problems. The Marshall Project is urgent and respectful, insightful and contextual. This is audience-first design, at its best, and in service of great, important, difficult journalism.


Quartz, currently owned by Atlantic Media, shows the kind of design innovation that can happen on a small team inside a mammoth media powerhouse. The low-key ambition here is admirable and creates a frictionless experience.
The content and delivery inside this narrow business vertical are superb — and the team is finding unique, surprising ways to engage with a passionate community, by meeting needs for readers and advertisers alike. The team is also fearless at eradicating things that don’t work and experimenting wildly.
Visual distinction sets apart content. All interactions are moments to be designed.
There’s a mobile-first focus on social distribution that keeps Quartz users happy on several emerging platforms (and the money follows, with 42 percent of ad revenue delivered through mobile). The new Quartz app is an unusual experiment — the judges were divided on it’s merits, but it does seek to be audience-centric, skimmable and dive-able, and has an end — it’s like the newsletters we love so much, but delivered in parts. You can be done for the moment. But come back an hour or two later, and there’s a couple more things that you really need to know, and be done again. Until tomorrow morning.


Features [Single-subject project]

i. The Guardian, How The Measles Outbreak Spreads

Breaking/Daily News [Single-subject project]

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Click the image to view the entry.

“It takes a tool that we are all familiar with and uses it in a different way. Simplifies a complex subject. One of the most creative uses of D3. It’s already influenced other projects that have been created since.”

ii. The Wall Street Journal, Demographic Destiny: What Will the World Be Like in 2050?

Use of multimedia

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Click the image to view the entry.

“Remarkable, fluid. You have a lot of data but also feel like you’re being put in the place. It is a show-stopper, such a good use of these new devices for design. It’s very technical but it didn’t feel gratuitous. The art direction is the thing that makes it really impressive. It hits all the compelling points.”


Breaking/Daily News [Planned coverage]

i. The Guardian, UK 2015 Election

“It’s a great example of distilling information to a level of clarity without dumbing it down. There’s a variety of ways information is broken down, ability to filter to an impressive level of detail, and smart use of color to further the storytelling.”

Breaking/Daily News [Non-planned coverage]

ii. Los Angeles Times, San Bernardino Shooting coverage

“You never get down the rabbit hole. This entry has a great mix of media types on deadline. It’s really elegant with nice attention to details, purposeful editing, and thoughtful integration of multimedia.”

Features [Single-subject project]

iii. National Geographic, Trajan’s Column

“I love it. Visually it’s incredible. It’s delightful. It’s informative. The piece was phenomenal and the animation was incredible. The visuals are more than a ten. There is nothing like this. Nobody in news is doing stop-motion like this. Technically the explanation is impressive. It’s a wonderful thing.”

iv. NPR, Rain Forest Was Here

“Unique and excellent visual journalism. It shows, it teaches, it explains. The translations were well done. The narrative arc was well-paced and the graphics were deftly integrated. NPR has set their own high bar for this type of storytelling and this project shines. Deceptively simple and seamless; it was totally immersive and poetic. It makes you lean forward and back. The experience works thoughtfully across devices and screen sizes. This caliber of storytelling requires great photography, which this delivers.”

v. The Washington Post, Car Ride With Lena

“Gentle stretch of the medium. Genuinely felt like a conversation. Fresh. Stylistic. The pacing, storytelling and editing underscore the conversational nature. You don’t feel like the extra touches interrupt the experience. The white that captures the silence in the conversation is novel and heavy.”

vi. The Washington Post, Clinton Donor Network

“Campaign finance stories can often be dry and inaccessible but this was inviting and very compelling. The data and infographics were paced thoughtfully and pulled readers through the story.”

Features [Coverage]

vii. Asahi Shimbun (Japan), Tsukiji – Kitchen of the Time

“Every aspect of this was beautiful. There were so many layers to explore, from a gigantic market down to a very small piece of sushi. It was packed with information but didn’t feel overwhelming; it was peaceful and balanced.”

viii. National Geographic, Climate Change

“I love the art design and the variety of the language and visuals. It’s very accessible. The images work very well with it. The package was a sophisticated, simple — nothing was overwhelming. Everything makes you want to explore the next piece. Seamless. Remarkable. Things you want to know. The exercise in restraint argues for its ability to stretch the medium.”

ix. The Wall Street Journal, Stolen Boy

“Incredible story, the pieces are great. The style of the graphics is very strong, emotional. The tone of the illustrations helped to truly feel the story. There was a very interesting feel where it went form day to night with the black and white. It’s a story that a reader will want to come back to.”

Use of Multimedia

x. The New York Times, Bieber, Diplo and Skrillex make a hit

“This is a perfect example of breaking down a cultural phenomena in a sophisticated manner. It took an extremely creative approach to dealing with audio. Super innovative in blending video and motion graphic that is fresh and engaging and pulls you through what is a fairly long video.”

xi. The New York Times, A New Whitney

“The animations were focused in such a way that it gave you a sense of place. They work beautifully on mobile, and are really tightly edited.”

xii. The Wall Street Journal, Demographic Destiny

“The different assets use a variety of technology, and it all has a purpose. They didn’t just do 360 video, they annotated what is in NYC. The way they approached the navigation and thought about the packages is really interesting.”

Information Graphics [Planned Coverage]

xiii. The New York Times, The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up

“Everything is customized and contextualized to you. Imagine trying to plan and execute this, the idea is overwhelming. Contextual articles are something we haven’t seen done this well, the whole way through. It pushes the medium.”

xiv. The New York Times, Your Contribution to the California Drought

“It challenges the assumption that we should represent this type of information with charts. We relate to what we eat, not to numbers. Someone has thought this relationship through. The reader doesn’t know what’s coming next, and can’t wait to see and be surprised.”

xv. The New York Times, How the U.S. and OPEC Drive Oil Prices

“Extremely complicated to script and execute. It’s easy to downplay the difficulty because it looks so seamless and well-done. This pushes the state of drill-down aggregate charts. It moves you around in a smart, calculated way, taking you on a narrative through trendlines.”

xvi. The Guardian, Homan Square: A Portrait of Chicago’s Detainees

“The transitions are useful in moving you from moment to moment – and they’re super-fast. For how complex the technical approach is, the speed component is impressive – we should all put a priority on speed. It’s focused and successful all the way through.”

xvii. The Marshall Project, The Next to Die

“There is something powerful about the faceless nature of the visualization, it eliminates assumptions you might have based on race, style, other attributes. It’s a shining example of how you can tell stories differently, how you can create an emotional relationship with a database.”

xviii. Tampa Bay Times, Pinellas County: Failure Factories

“Putting the data into a new narrative structure, and incorporating the narrative into the graphic itself instead of running it adjacent, it makes people care. This is how you create emotion through data visualization. This presentation was used as a precursor to the story going live; it’s a great example of how to deploy resources as a warm-up act.”

xix. The Washington Post, How Dry is California?

This is a classic example of ‘show, don’t tell.’ It takes a tough topic and helps the reader understand it in a surprising, memorable way. Your phone almost becomes the chart. Normally we don’t like the idea of scroll-jacking (hijacking the behavior of the scroll), but this project wouldn’t work without it.”

Special events

xx. The New York Times, Mapping Saturn’s Moons

“Clean and controlled. You have the opportunity to play with it; if you’re REALLY interested, there’s enough there to spend on each component. Works as a quick pass and a deep dive. The planet cartography and topographic rendering is so impressive.”

Portfolio [Individual]

xxi. NPR, Wes Lindamood Individual Portfolio

“Impressive variety and well executed — big visuals, layered smartly with maps, charts, along with well-executed and high-utility product design. This checks a lot of boxes when it comes to immersive storytelling. The audio experience of the whales story is incredibly emotional and mesmerizing and invites you to focus on what you’re hearing without being fussy.”

xxii. The Marshall Project, Andy Rossback Individual Portfolio

“Really great. Good range but still feels very much connected and consistent. It’s a cohesive portfolio. ‘Prison Meal’ is great. Appreciate the thoughtful treatment audio players with the transcript that autoplays. Footnotes. Pull-quotes. Annotations. Typography used as tasteful accents. Story-led design. Picks the right tools for the right moment and right story.”

xxiii. The New York Times, Derek Watkins Individual Portfolio

“Multiple styles and integration of lightweight vectors. Love the Japan’s view, capper and footer with labels in the satellite images, cutline ties it all together. Greenland they get you from high to low. The graphics in the Chinese island seem a little crazy but what’s inside is amazing! The graphics are stark and beautiful.”


Jessica Gilbert, McClatchy Company
Sarah Slobin, Wall Street Journal
Javier Zarracina, Vox
Kat Downs, Washington Post
Dave Stanton, Mobiquity
Josh Penrod, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Megan Chan, Politico
Len DeGroot, Los Angeles Times
Chiqui Esteban, National Geographic

Jeremy Gilbert, The Washington Post
Ryan Sparrow, Ball State University

Judging was held in February 2016 at American University in Washington, D.C.