Two newspapers from Germany and one from the US have been awarded the title of World's Best-Designed for 2009, in a competition run by The Society for News Design. The awards went to der Freitag of Berlin, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and The New York Times.
An international panel of judges selected the winners from hundreds of entries from around the world. Overall, the judges said: "The overview of news design in 2009 is a fascinating mixture of bad news with good. The reality of distress in our business is obvious. There are many signs of reduced resources, including smaller news holes with crowded words, less local news, an abundance of feature stories on the front page, a continued shortage of good photojournalism and more use of stock illustration. An overall feeling of looking a little confused and perhaps a bit stuck, prevails."
"But wait. The good news is that far from going away or giving up, we saw much earnest effort towards reinvention." "We find the most successful results are those that went back to newspaper basics," they continued. "Rather than competing with the Web by mimicking it, the smarter route seems to partner with it while offering what the Internet can't provide." The judges also said that they found the newspapers outside the US generally appeared healthier. They added that advertising was important and should be seen as part of newspapers' product and visual strategy.
The judges were: J. Bruce Baumann, formerly of the Evansville (Indiana) Courier & Press; Dennis Brack of The Washington Post; Miguel Gomez of Al Nisr Publishing Group in Dubai; Lily Lu, consultant at the L5 Communications and co-founder and executive director for SND Chinese; and Margaret O'Connor, formerly of The New York Times.
"So bold, yet so simple," the judges said. "Page after page, this weekly delivers a steady diet of visual surprises in a manner that is disciplined and sophisticated, not shocking and chaotic. How does der Freitag strike this difficult balance? Strong fundamental design architecture -- solid typography, intuitive navigation -- combines with a refined approach to choosing and displaying visual content."
"Color is used sparingly and strategically to guide readers. Week after week, there's a consistent order to the paper, but it does not seem predictable. The typographic palette is similarly restrained but its tone is not flat, thanks to an effective mixture of varying weights of one font. There's no distracting clutter or inferior images. der Freitag isn't afraid to let readers just read. The paper in a word: delightful."
Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung
"A remarkable mix of visual elements unfolds across the blanket-size pages of this German broadsheet. Instead of driving stories into unbending forms, the Sunday paper's designers craft unique storytelling solutions based on the demands of specific content," the judges said. "Effective use of white space and the grid, coupled with judicious use of color in type, contributes to overall clarity. And rigorous attention to maintaining an assortment of text lengths makes the paper sustentative, yet eminently digestible. The result: a newspaper that is unwavering in its respects for readers' time, intellect and curiosity."
The New York Times
The judges said: "A large-circulation general-interest newspaper is a tough beast to visually tame. Every Sunday, the local edition of The New York Times has a dozen or more sections, covering the world from Bali to the Bronx, and topics ranging from nuclear bombs to nose jobs. A DNA of visual discipline binds sections with distinct accents together into a paper that speaks with one voice. A design architecture of timeless elegance provides a solid foundation upon which to build innovative visual storytelling that weaves through the paper."
These awards are a timely celebration. As readers migrate online and print circulation falls, it is often suggested that newspapers should play to their strengths and focus on doing what websites cannot. This includes publishing longer-form features and analysis that are easier on the eyes in a print newspaper. It also means creating a more engaging, focused reading experience, without the distractions readers face when reading news on their computers. Good design is integral to this, and the winners of these awards should inspire many other publications.