By Brad Needham

Another year, another Society for News Design Best of Newspaper Design competition! For the second year in a row, I was honoured to be a facilitator, this year in the category of World’s Best-Designed Newspaper. What a thrill. Results of that will come out on March 28.

I feel like the competition could give me fodder for months and months of content. But I will restrain myself to three posts. The first will be on the outstanding work done by Canadian papers. Next will be the rest of the world (so will be much longer!). Then finally World’s Best.

I know I am a broken record, but SND means so much to me. As a print design lover, it first and foremost offers a community of like-minded people. But it also still celebrates print design in a time when that is becoming less frequent. Looking at you Canadian media awards competitions. So many of those involved in print design are behind the scenes. Sure illustrators and photographers get credits. But art directors don’t. Page designers don’t. Headline writers don’t. But without these people, the information you get would be dull.

Canada produced some incredible work this year. However, because I have been following print design much closer over the past year, both here and on my Instagram, not much here will be new to anyone who follows me! It was a different experience this year at SND 43, as there weren’t many surprises, at least from Canada. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t exceptional, and doesn’t mean I won’t highlight it again.

There were only four newspapers to submit for awards this year, which is such a tragedy, as I know there is other amazing stuff going on in Canada, particularly with my soon-to-be former employer Postmedia, particularly the National Post. They are still producing some of the finest pages in the business, particularly in Canada. And much of that is a credit to one of my former featured designers, Raina Toomey, who moved on to the National Post in late 2021. Postmedia stopped submitting, I believe, after Gayle Grin left. She recently wrapped up some consulting at the Toronto Star, and her touch is obvious there. There were more than 300 entries overall from Canada, more than 3,500 in the competition.

The Globe and Mail won 25 awards, including 24 Awards of Excellence and one Silver Medal. To explain, an AoE is for outstanding work. Work that stands out, goes above and beyond. A silver medal rises above that, just on another level or through a higher degree of difficulty. There are also gold medals, though no Canadian publication earned one this year. For a gold, judges should have a hard time finding any flaw, down to kerning between two letters (a topic that was discussed this year, with a comment: “You could almost fit an i in there.” It should be state of the art, challenging the industry norms. The Toronto Star won eight AoEs, Le Devoir won 5 and 24 Heures 2. I won’t show all the all work here, but a selection from each.

Globe and Mail

I won’t talk too much about each page for the Globe as I have talked about the paper a lot. Things I love about the Globe are the use of illustrations — and the quality and sophistication of the illustrations — as well as its bold and smart use of white space.

Globe and Mail, July 24, 2021

This was Canada’s only medal, for illustration by Connor Willumsen.

Globe and Mail, April 17, 2021

This was one of my faves from the Globe this year. There is so much going on. A lovely illustration by Kathleen Fu. Newspapers, she’s incredible. Take note.

Here are a few illustration-driven pages. There is some really lovely stuff here. I love what Canadian papers do with their Remembrance Day covers. This one by the Globe was so well done. Elegant. Illustration by Kayla Whitney.

And a few more. The Globe does so much with their design, particularly on Saturdays and features sections. I loved the bear cover. It works for the Globe, going so dark on dark, because their cover is on glossy paper. That design might be lost on most papers. Congrats to the Globe for a solid year. Being March already, I can tell you they are off to a good start in 2022 as well!

Toronto Star

Of course I have a soft spot for the Toronto Star. I worked there, and worked directly or indirectly with the Star or Torstar for more than half of my career. Anyone who follows me will know how much I loved the page that came out after the discovery of unmarked Indigenous graves in Saskatchewan. It was so powerful. Here it is, and a few more.

Toronto Star, June 25, 2021

I just loved the imagery here. It was so powerful at a time that needed something powerful. Something to keep the focus on this issue. It’s striking.

And here are a few more. The Star decided to invest in its print product in 2021, which was such welcome news, adding four entirely new positions, including an art director, Becky Guthrie, formerly of the National Post. You can see her influence. I hope that we continue to see such strong work.

Le Devoir

I don’t see Le Devoir as often as the previous two. But I love the design. It is smart and refined. It looks European. Nice clean lines, often simple. Here are a few top-notch pages from them. I will show four of these off individually as none have appeared here or my Instagram, starting with my fave of their submissions.

Le Devoir, Oct. 17, 2021

I love the contrast. The love the lines. The beautiful illustration by Audrey Malo. It is so clear where your eye is supposed to start, and clear that it’s not supposed to stop there. So well done.

Le Devoir, Nov. 21, 2021

The one above and below are both driven by the design, not an illustration. A great illustration is great on its own. I can be enhanced if used well. But these are just nice designs, with a basic image, images that couldn’t be more different. And below, the little condiment spills take this page to a new level. Love it. Smartly filling in some white space, but also using what is left wisely.

Le Devoir, July 14, 2021
Le Devoir, Sept. 5, 2021

And then an illustration-driven page. It’s a nice, simple illustration (for a talented illustrator! Who just happens to be Cécile Gariépy). And it’s used so well. The text doesn’t take away from the fantastic art. Nicely done, Le Devoir.

24 Heures

And finally a couple from 24 Heures. Both illustration driven. Smart art, well played, yet completely different illustration styles. Even the supporting material is played differently, with the head down the side on one, and on the art on the other. But it doesn’t take away from the art. It uses the space well. First by Benoit Tardif, next by Pauline Stive.

Just some incredible stuff. And this is just from Canada’s entries.

So that’s that. I am so happy to see there is still some amazing work going on in Canada, and around the world. Up next will be about some the best newspaper pages from around the world.

Read more, Designers Behind the Designs:
Stacie Kammerling, Star Tribune
Adam Rogers and Colin Smith, Villages Daily Sun
Caitlin Miller, Spokesman-Review
Raina Toomey, Postmedia
Tammy Hoy, The Canadian Press

By Brad Needham

There is something special about design in student newspapers. Student newspapers often push boundaries that mainstream newspapers cannot. The designers have less experience, which isn’t a bad thing. While skills can be refined with experience, enthusiasm can also wane with the restrictions major newspaper designers face. It’s why I look back so fondly at my time at the Guelph Mercury, where I had essentially free rein to do whatever I wanted. It made for much bolder designs (and a few fails!). The same could be said about my time in student newspapers at the Reflector at Mount Royal University in Calgary. I had so much fun.

There are so many reasons to celebrate student papers and the creativity behind them. One, they tend to be very good. Two, they are often bolder. Three, young aspiring journalists or designers or even those doing this for reasons not related to journalism deserve some time in the spotlight in an industry that is making that considerably harder.

But the main reason I wanted to do it? Because there are still student newspapers. Print products. Newspapers fellow students hold in their hands. So many schools have gotten rid of theirs, which is so sad, both as a lover of print media, but also as someone who hires young people to work on print products. The skills are getting much harder to come by as schools close their papers in favour of online-only publications.

So I issued a callout on Twitter to those in this realm. I was tickled to hear from Lua Presidio, the visuals editor from the Ubyssey Publications Society at the University of British Columbia. The Ubyssey is always doing exciting things. Their covers are always dynamic and bold. And the theme is generally carried on throughout the issue, not just a one-off design to blow out the cover as is often the case in traditional newspapers.

I asked Lua some questions. Here they are, in no particular order (other than the order in which I wanted to present them)! The first question presented was the last question I asked. But I agree so strongly, I moved it up. Designers, print designers especially, so often go unnoticed nowadays. Organizations like the Ontario Newspaper Awards axed its design awards, and the National Newspaper Awards pit print designers against digital designers. Thank goodness for the Society for News Design, which still loudly and proudly celebrates print design.

“We really are putting our hearts and souls into making these. I see some amazing work out there that I would love to see get more recognition.”

Lua Presidio, on celebrating design in student media

What got you interested in this, and why did you reach out after my tweet?
I thought it was a cool opportunity to showcase the work of student journalists who aren’t actually dealing with words. Not many organizations are paying attention to that when it comes to student journalism (understandably so since very few newspapers have full-time visual staff), but we really are putting our hearts and souls into making these. I see some amazing work out there that I would love to see get more recognition. (The Eyeopener and The Gateway are two of my personal favourites — amazing design teams).

What goes into designing a cover and an issue? What is the process?
The design process and what it takes varies a lot. It depends on what type of issue/project we are working on, the time frame we have to complete it, and if any breaking news arises for the day/week we publish. For regular issues it’s usually a week’s worth of preparation where we decide which article should be featured on the cover. We choose an article based on relevancy. Then, the editor for that article and I work together with the Photos Editor to come up with a concept for that cover. If the concept is around a photo, the Photo Editor will take care of it. However, if it’s around an illustration or photo modification, I am responsible for it. Usually I try to pitch out these covers to have a variety of styles and people featured on our pages, but depending on the week I end up doing a large sum of the designing of covers. If it is a bigger project like the gender issue, “Performance,” the process is very different and much longer, but still relies on the collaboration between editors.

I’ve noticed the theme from the cover carries on inside for many issues I looked at. Has that always been the way?
Generally yes. I like to keep styling consistent and when deciding on anything for an issue, cover is usually what comes last because I always want the cover to reflect the content and not the other way around. The cover should make readers want to pick up the issue, but it shouldn’t be more interesting than the content itself.

Why did you select the editions you did? What do you like about them?
I sent you three editions that I think tell a complete story with the cover.

Ubyssey Gender cover by Lua Presidio and Elizabeth Wang

The Gender issue had an extensive preparation behind it and it’s one of the issues I hold closest to my heart although looking back at the inside design I wish I had done things differently.

Ubyssey climate cover by Alex Vanderput

The 2020 Magazine “Hot Mess” I love because it’s a meme reference that was transformed into this beautiful illustration most people don’t even recognize as the meme. And yet, the sentiment of the world burning while we do nothing really captures some of the themes present in the issue. The 2020 Mag was about climate change and hot mess was a very quick, catchy way we found for describing the entire world situation.

Ubyssey May 26 (COVID) cover by Eisha Sharda

Finally, our May 26 issue is one of my favourite representations of the before and after that the pandemic has brought about. The article talked about some of the positive aspects of the pandemic, and I think the cover reflects those positive aspects well without ignoring some of the difficulties that were also brought about during the pandemic. There are other covers that I also love and could have shared, but they were some of the ones I designed myself, and I don’t love to toot my own horn that much.

Tooting horns

I have no problem tooting horns. I wanted to show off a few other covers and pages that I really enjoyed, the first by Jasmine Foong, and the next two by Lua.

Ubyssey cover by Jasmine Foong

I just find this cover visually pleasing. Plus it brings back memories. My original career path was photographer, and I was a film guy. Digital photography was just in its infancy when I was in university. I remember my professor putting the strap around my neck to ensure that his wildly expensive, heavy 1MP camera didn’t shatter on the ground at my feet. I also love this as it’s so fitting to this blog. Adapting. To survive newspapers have had to adapt. And that has led to moving money from print to digital. So while designers are working with less (time, money, updated software) they are still killing it. This cover is an example. It’s actually relatively simple. A picture. Depth of field. Sepia tone. But I love it. Confession: I love simplicity in design. If you can be simple and have it work, that’s magical. Things like white space, not coloured boxes. A simple photo, not a cutout. Text as your art, no photos. Amazing. This cover makes me wistful, and if a cover can evoke emotion, it’s working.

Ubyssey cover by Lua Presidio

This seems like a simple illustration and in a way it is. There are no features, no fine detail. But that’s why it’s so great. It’s almost featureless, which is the new trend in illustrations, and rightly so. So people can see themselves in the image. But on this cover, this is where the almost comes in. There is one feature that binds. And that is that all these otherwise indistinguishable people are Black. Despite the figures not having an identical skin tone, the reader knows they are meant to represent the Black community at UBC. That was the focus of this issue. As the editor’s note says, addressed to the Black Community: “In 2021, the push continues.” Here is the message below.

Ubyssey inside pages by Lua Presidio

This is what student newspapers are about. This is the kind of thing you can’t do at a big newspaper. There are some design rules broken. The font is not perfectly and easily readable for two reasons. It’s reverse text and the font isn’t simple. But I like it. It tackles a big subject with a non-standard but powerful (yet relatively simple) design.

I hope to do more on student newspapers. As long as they are around and people are having fun designing them, I plan to celebrate this budding newspaper creativity, in hopes that it continues on past post-secondary education and into the traditional media world.

By Brad Needham

Behind every successfully designed newspaper page is a talented designer. And often a slew of other people. As part of this blog, I plan to feature designers. I want to find out what makes them tick. What gives them that creative spark. Newspaper pages can be like art. Sometimes designers have oodles of time to bring these designs to reality. But sometimes it’s a day. Or less. Either way, I applaud them.

I hope to run a profile every month, of either an established designer with a deep portfolio, or an emerging designer, with a few great portfolio pieces and a boatload of potential.

In the first instalment, I bring you the great Tammy Hoy, a Canadian Press and Pagemasters North America designer. Disclaimer: I am the managing editor at Pagemasters and I have worked with Tammy for eight years. That is not necessarily why I’m featuring her, but it’s why I know very well the depth of her talents. But I will be writing what I know! So early on, dear reader, you may notice people with connections to me! I hope to find designers to feature from further afield as well, but Tammy is a great choice regardless. A quick look at her website, tammyhoy.com, anyone could quickly see a whole lot of visually mastery.

In these features, I will do a Q&A, and let the designers do most of the speaking. So I will stop talking for now. Without further ado …

A collage of newspaper pages by Tammy Hoy.
A screen grab from tammyhoy.com showing designs by Tammy Hoy.

Designer profile: Tammy Hoy, Pagemasters North America/The Canadian Press

How did you get into newspaper design?
It was a series of unlikely but fortunate events. Back in 1994 I was studying Illustration and design at Sheridan College and my roommate mentioned a job ad that he saw for freelance newspaper design work that was posted in the wrong department at our college (That department being animation and not design). I was really excited and I hoped it might be a great opportunity to get some real-life work experience while still at college. I called the number on the ad and they asked me if I could make it to 1 Yonge St. within the hour. I told them I could be there in two.

 I was so nervous. In my interview I was told that they needed a front-page illustration for a new section on technology; and they needed it by tomorrow! It was a sink or swim situation. I told them, I’ve got this.

It was a super exciting opportunity, but the worst part of it, ironically was the technology at the time. Envision this, I had to produce an illustration overnight using one of the first versions of Photoshop. I had no scanner because at the time they were a couple thousand dollars. We did not have cellphones so I couldn’t transfer any kind of image or reference material to my computer. I literally had to draw something with a mouse and make it look high tech. And on top of all this, it would take an hour to apply a filter. Layers were not even invented yet! Needless to say I did my best with what I had. And they liked it!

I can certainly see that I’ve grown but they’re not bad considering this was the ’90s, an era when rotating logos with flames were in still in fashion.

 In the coming months I completed several of the front pages for this section and invested in a scanner so that I could add some imagery to some of my future art. I loved every minute of it. I continued on that year to complete my degree in Illustration and Design at Sheridan College.

That same year my mum saw a job ad in the Toronto Star looking for an artist to work in the newspaper industry. I jumped on it. I started out in the graphics department at The Canadian Press and later began creating full-page newspaper designs, motion graphics and various other artistic material for Pagemasters North America, a subsidiary of The Canadian Press.

What do you like about newspaper design?
I like that once you build a good working relationship with your editors the sky is the limit in terms of what you can create. Within the confines of the newspaper’s style there are so many unique opportunities to express yourself. 

The goal being to work with the editor to create something a little unique that also goes well with the story. It’s also rewarding to meet extreme deadlines because you get to see your work published the next day or a few days from the day you put it together. There really is no time to fuss over things or overthink.

I love it because it’s also a beautiful collaboration between typography and art. The trick being to combine both, to create something really special.

What advice do you give when teaching people about design?
Think outside the margins and use white space to your advantage.  While margins are there to maintain consistency, you don’t always want your page to be completely bound by a grid. Fronts and special feature pages are a great opportunity to go outside the lines a little. The best pages are ones that surprise you.

I’m in my happy place when I have lots of room for art.

Play with the space to create a flow. Your eye should travel through the page elements, typically top to bottom. Think about things like the crop of a photo. Would an extreme vertical or extreme horizontal work better?  Cutting out a photo is a great way to add interest to a page. Mixed media can also be really interesting. Adding hand-painted art, collages, art with different shapes are all great ways to deviate from your standard rectangle.

Do you rely on one design principle more than others (white space, text as design, colour, cutouts, etc.)?
I really think a good page will make use of many elements, but if I had to pick only one thing, I would say I prefer designs with larger graphical elements. If you are able to push some of your text to the next page take advantage of that and make your art big. Make your headlines pop, use that white space to your advantage. Add some cutouts. I’m in my happy place when I have lots of room for art.

Tell me about a design you loved that was rejected.
I designed a front page made up entirely of different woodgrain. I loved it! It had fine grain, big grain, coloured grain, all running every which way and just this very small little headline positioned over top.  I was a little disappointed when they decided not to run it but hey you move on. You win some. You lose some. That’s what it’s all about.

How do you feel now about the first handful of pages you were proud of? Still love them? Wonder what you were thinking? Wistful for times gone by?
Haha, it’s really not a fair comparison when you consider the technology of today versus the technology of 1994. Just for fun I dug up some of my first illustrations and pages. I can certainly see that I’ve grown but they’re not bad considering this was the ’90s, an era when rotating logos with flames were in still in fashion. My first page entitled “A journey of discovery” is very apt. Life sure is about learning and improving as you go.

What would you say is the biggest change you’ve noticed since you started designing (new rules, time, etc.)?
I would have to say it’s the technology. When I started at The Canadian Press none of us working there even had an email address. Can you imagine? The company was super excited because they had just upgraded to colour computers and shortly after that they upgraded to 28.8 baud modems. That’s right, we were using dial-up connections to send graphics back and forth from home to work.

When it came time for the yearly federal budget we would travel to Ottawa and lug mountains of equipment to produce graphics. We had giant tube screen monitors tied to dollies and full-sized hard drives packed up in crates on wheels. We would show up at 6 a.m. to set everything up! The cleaners would be vacuuming around us as we transmitted the files back to Toronto.

Today the material is released digitally and graphics are created on the fly from home or from the office. The speed at which photos, graphics and pages are created has increased exponentially and they’re available on the web almost instantly. Pages are built in databased systems so they can be edited,  proofed and sent to print at lightning speed.

How do you design when there is no obvious art?
This is a great question. Having great art with a story is awesome but having mediocre art or no art can sometimes be a lot more fun!  It’s the perfect time to turn a negative situation into an opportunity.

If I am short on time I will sometimes have a look at stock art. Rather than just picking something generic and slapping it on to my page, I try to create something new by combining several pieces of stock art or by playing it up with some creative typography. For a page on old games becoming popular again, I used various pieces of stock art combined with some of my own hand-drawn elements to create a scene depicting a game of croquet with the headline displayed through the wicket.

 For a local story on a new intersection where all the art galleries were moving to, I decided to create something from scratch. I took my phone outside and photographed the street sign at an intersection outside. I came back to the office, cloned out the street names in Photoshop and carefully imposed the new ones in. It was something unique and went really well with what the story conveyed.

So draw something, pick up your camera, go outside and shoot something. There really are so many options and it can be a lot fun to try something new.

It might be like picking favourite family members, but if you had to pick up to three favourite pages, what would they be and why?
That is hard but here you go:

Tarnished Gold
This was a page on the spectre of Harvey Weinstein haunting the Golden Globes. Instead of running a typical photo of Weinstein I felt the page would have more impact if I drew just an outline of him and displayed it as a shadow.  I used a complementary gold colour to represent the Golden Globes. The little profile pictures at the top also draw the reader in. I felt this was a good way to illustrate a sensitive topic.

Donald & me (front and spread, Yes I’m trying to squeeze an extra page in here)
I really like this package  because of the graphical elements. You really can’t miss the stars and stripes when it comes to Donald Trump, so I used them to guide your eye through the feature without (hopefully) overpowering the pages. I also made the decision on the front to make the message of the story larger than Trump himself. Part of being a designer is to remain objective. 

Orange wine
This is one of my favourite pages because the wine looks like it’s jumping right out of the glass and almost off the page. There is so much movement and colour.  Working the display text into the splash was a challenge but I am happy with the end result.

Thanks, Tammy! And now a couple more that I love

When I was perusing Tammy’s website (did I mention Tammy has a website? And not just with newspaper designs) it brought back a lot of memories. All of these pages I’d seen come to life in my time at Pagemasters. I agree with all of her choices. The Trump package is amazing. The orange wine splashing around the page. But since I am supposed to celebrate design, I wanted to share a couple more that I loved for various reasons.

The Secrets of Wonderland page has always left me in awe. I mean, sure, the art is great. A perfect starting point. But having the text come in around those fingers, making it look three dimensional is gold. It’s also a bold use of a cover. One article, one monster piece of art.

The Where to shop next page speaks to me for a different reason. I have long been a major fan of the Virginian-Pilot. This is a page that just sticks so true to the Pilot’s design philosophy, I thought it needed to be called out. As an outsourcer, Pagemasters is occasionally and misguidedly criticized for shoddy work from those who don’t actually see what we do. All these pages prove otherwise, but this one is so close to the flavour of the Pilot, its long and storied history of design that I wanted to shout out Tammy for capturing it. You wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from a page that ran in 2011 or 2015. It just screams Pilot. So I shout Tammy’s praises from the rooftop. And to boot, a bold headline, fun art treatment, colourful. The pictures lead the eye all the way down the page.

If you are a designer or know of a designer who wants to be featured, click here to send me an email!