Last week I had the honor of serving as one of the judges for the Society of News Design (SND) competition to choose the World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper. Along with my colleagues (Steve Dorsey and Denise Reagan from the U.S., Paul Blickle from Germany and Alexandro Medrano from Mexico), we chose 5 newspapers. They are (click on each link to read our impressions on each of the newspapers):
Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm, Sweden
Die Zeit, Hamburg, Germany
The Grid, Toronto, Canada
Politiken, Copenhagen, Denmark
Welt am Sonntag, Berlin, Germany
Although I work for National Geographic magazine now, I love newspaper design and I spent 10 years working for daily newspapers (El Mundo in Spain and The New York Times). Judging the design of a newspaper is a tremendously difficult task, as the design is the expression of a newspapers voice shown through their use of photography, visual storytelling, headlines, graphics, combination of long and short format narratives, hierarchy of elements, editing and a myriad of nuances related to how they best try to serve their readers.
We took 4 days, often working 12 hours a day, to analyze close to 300 daily and non-daily newspapers. Each newspaper submits five issues, which must belong to different months and include weekend editions. Language and cultural barriers are obvious. Asian newspapers are entirely different from Western publication in their design approach. We had translation when needed but ultimately is nearly impossible to do justice to everyone. It’s also important to point out that we judge only those newspapers that decide to submit entries. There are a few (not many) of the best newspapers that didn’t enter the contest.
This is the overall statement released by the judges at the end of the competition:
“What distinguishes a World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper? A culture of careful editing of all content that puts the reader first — through stringent attention to detail.
Too many designers are not driven by the content in front of them; they’re just moving elements around pages. In the best-designed publications, that connection jumps off the page.
Quite frankly, it was easy to weed out publications in the first round of judging. So many papers couldn’t nail the fundamentals of typography, grid, white space, hierarchy, etc. — the basics we’ve been talking about for 35 years as a Society.
That’s not to say that there weren’t many excellent entries. Everything that made it past the first round was solid, but it takes more than being solid. It requires diligent and nuanced execution — and tons of personality.
It’s disheartening to see so many American newspapers that, after decades of discussion and education, still pay little or no attention to inside pages. Publications that spend a great amount of time finessing their covers but treat their inside pages like vessels to fill with commodity news until they’re full to the top are missing the point and the opportunity to be relevant.
Another disturbing trend: the lack of illustration and especially information graphics in so many newspapers. These are the tools that newspapers can use to distinguish their content from the pack and add context and understanding to their report.
Several fascinating innovations popped up such as new micro format papers (Diario DF, Mexico City) and the use of technology like augmented reality to enhance printed pages (Reporte Indigo, Monterrey, Mexico). Many Asian papers are starting to use Western design methods but are still maturing (Qianjiang Evening News, Hangzhou, China). Latin American newspapers burst with energy but some lack focus. In the Middle East, the quality of printing and production is impressive; we look forward to the evolution of their individual personalities.
In the five publications we selected, details elevated them from their peers. In these papers, every page counts. These staffs perform an extra layer of editing to refine and strengthen the final product.
Ultimately, these winning newspapers have been brainstormed, edited and curated for readers. They add analysis and context and serve to connect readers to their larger community.
Congratulations to the winners. Multiple other newspapers reached the final stages (Público from Portugal, Gulf News from the UAE, Svenska Dagbladet from Sweden, The New York Times…). All of them and many others are terrific in many ways but I think we ended up being very much on agreement about the final selection.
Here is a slideshow with a few selected pages of each of the winners:
Please visit the SND website to learn more about this and about the SND Awards judging that took place at the same time as the competition I judged. SND is a non-for-profit international organization for news media professionals and visual communicators (thanks SND for the use of the images in this post).
Special thanks to Steve, Denise, Paul and Alexandro, my fellow judges for their friendship and insights!
Finally, here is a random sample of photos I took during the judging: