By Brad Needham

The world is a big place. To break it down for this blog, when in came to celebrating all the magical newspaper entries from the Society for News Designs Best of News Design competition I have broken it down into Canada (because I live and work here), the U.S. and the rest of the world. And that is not to diminish the rest of the world. The work coming out from newspapers around the world is astounding, which in itself is astounding given the times we’re in. Which brings me to where I want to start. The World’s Best Designed Newspaper, SND’s highest honour.

This year I had the great honour of being a facilitator for this competition. I got to watch them wittle down the entries to four finalists, and from there to choose one paper. The discussion was riveting. It came down to the New York Times, de Volkstrant, Het Parool and Die Zeit. Anyone who follows me knows I love de Volkstrant. Seeing it make the final was very satisfying.

After days of review and debate/discussion, Die Zeit came out on top. While all these newspapers have huge strengths, Die Zeit is worthy of this lofty title.

What makes a world’s best-designed newspaper? So, so many things. One word that was heard again and again was “considered.” Everything is so considered. All the little details. Nothing was overlooked. Things like drop caps, the spacing of words that wrap around images, kerning, and so on. But also the big things. Photo choices, how and when illustrations are used, how the text worked with art and the design. The funny thing was it was so well designed, it was remarked that the design falls to the background. Except when it doesn’t. The design is so remarkably clean, but sometimes they go big. And their use of photos and graphics? Considered. Everything is so artistic, they said. The judges could tell there was collaboration between editors and designers, which is imperative if you want to go from a nice paper to a top paper. Even more needs to happen to elevate a paper to world’s best designed. Congrats to Die Zeit for doing all of this and more. It shows.

While Die Zeit may not have many of those big “wow” pages, it still has some amazing, striking pages that take their clean and refined design to another level, and that clean design is already at another level. It really is a paper that rises above. I’ll start by showing some pages from Die Zeit, followed by a selection of some of the best pages from the rest of the world, Canada and U.S. excluded. You can see those here (Canada) and here (U.S).

“Great print design paints a coherent experience for the reader where every carefully chosen element contributes to convey more than the sum of its parts.”

Judges’ statement

Die Zeit

Die Zeit is a weekly paper out of Germany. So that is one main difference from the papers it was up against. First, I will show a selection of some consecutive pages. Just to lull you into thinking it’s just a nice clean design. But this is what readers would see every day as they start flipping through their newspaper. After those pages, I’ve included some with sizzle. Text as design, illustrations and graphics, colour.

This one is one of my faves from Die Zeit. Every year one paper does a funky text design that grabs onto me and won’t let go. This was this year’s. I love the bend, that the text is still so well spaced and readable. The E. And they did more incredible text designs. They made a chicken out of text. A chicken! Wait for it. It’s coming.

Die Zeit, Jan. 28, 2021

This page is just funky. That’s all. I love the text treatment. The border. The pic. It actually reminds me of a design I once did, just better. So good.

Die Zeit, Feb. 4, 2021

A chicken! Out of text! Over a two-page spread!

Die Zeit, March 31, 2021

I’ve included a few more separately. They were too good to be missed.

Die Zeit, Feb. 18, 2021
Die Zeit, Jan. 21, 2021
Die Zeit, June 2, 2021

And so so many more stunning, smartly designed pages. This slide show has a number of them, but it’s still a small sampling of the work that comes out of this paper every week. Just such amazing attention to detail on every page.

The rest …

There were more than 3,500 entries in this year’s competition, up from the previous year, which is encouraging. Of those, there were more than 800 winners. If that sounds like a lot, keep in mind the 3,500 entries consist of what designers from around the world considered their best work, work worthy of award consideration. I look at 500+ front pages every day. That’s just covers. I can’t even begin to fathom how many pages are produced each year. How many great pages weren’t entered.

Alas, you’ve seen Canada. You’ve seen the U.S. Here is a very slimmed down selection of pages from the rest of the world. One of the things I love about newspapers from other countries is that they often look so different than the typical North American newspaper. They take a different approach, have different design philosophies. But one thing is clear with all them: they want to wow their readers. This will mark my last post from SND 43, but it may not be the last you see of some of the pages in this post as I try to gently coerce the incredible designers behind some of these pages to talk to me about their work. First up, Politico Europe and Politiken!

Politico Europe

There is such a range of pages from Politico Europe. A lot are illustration-driven. And the illustrations are beautiful or haunting or striking. I will start with the snowman. Every time I saw this little guy, and the person in the window, I felt something. I want to feel happy. But then …

Politico Europe, Nov. 25-Dec. 1, 2021

This spread is so well done. The art is striking, the headline is strong, both words and design. It’s clean, but with some surprises. The headline is almost jarring as set up, but I feel it’s supposed to be. It’s not the age of peace, after all.

Politico Europe, Oct. 14, 2021

In this slide show, again, there is a great variety, starting with this dark image, and ending with a section about doers and dreamers that makes me smile. Every page makes me smile.

Politiken

I’ve long been a fan of Politiken. I feature pages from this publication on my Instagram frequently. This was a page I featured here. I put it in with my Christmas collection even though I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a Christmas page. But the entry was called wrapping paper! So it is.

Politiken, Dec. 24, 2021

And now for something completely different. The next two pages are from the same award-winning portfolio by designer Caroline Niegaard. What strikes me about these is that they are chaotically bold. They are full of energy.

Politiken, Dec. 29, 2021
Politiken, Feb. 27, 2021

And many more. I love that this paper takes risks. And that its work is so varied. The last three I’ve chosen to show are completely different, but still within character.

Below are some others I have pulled out to highlight. Just some of my faves, but there were so many more incredible entries from other papers. First from de Volkstrant, a page that was featured on my Instagram, and then two from Dagens Nyheter, which I think does an incredible job on covers regularly.

de Volkstrant, Oct. 1, 2021
Dagens Nyheter, Dec. 21, 2021
Dagens Nyheter, Sept. 22, 2021

This page from La Nacion is just so lovely. There is another from them in the slideshow.

La Nacion, Dec. 17, 2021

Arab News has many great pages, but this opinion page really jumped out at me. I love the illustration, and the page itself is just clean and crisp. The American flag features prominently in pages, particularly opinion pages, around the world. It’s used in so many different ways to convey so many different ideas.

Arab News, Dec. 22, 2021

There are a few more South China Morning Post pages in the slideshow. While this is one really works because of the illustration, it was just such a compelling illustration. For the most part I didn’t include pages that won just for illustration. But they also used the small bit of display text so well. I am positive the space in the top left was left for display copy.

South China Morning Post

And the final slideshow from SND 43. There is a wide cross section of pages from multiple publications, such as The Age, The Guardian, The Day, Economic Observer out of China and more.

And that’s it. Another year, another awe-inspiring competition. Inspiring is the right word, as it would be impossible for any newspaper designer seeing the incredible work submitted to walk away without some new ideas, some extra enthusiasm or desire to push just a little harder.

READ MORE: A look back at SND 42
Best from Canada
And the rest

By Brad Needham

More than 3,500 entries. That’s more than 3,500 newspaper pages (way more, as multiple page entries like sections are one entry) that designers and newspapers around the world decided were their best, and submitted to the Society for News Design‘s annual design competition. Nearly 800 winners (798 Awards of Excellence, 68 Silver Medals and 18 Gold Medals). So how does one winnow that down into a blog post? One doesn’t! I tried. Not a chance. So I started by breaking out Canada due to my obvious Canadian bias! But there are still more than 700 left to choose from. So after that, I attempted to cram the rest of the world into one post, but nope. So American papers get their own post, followed by the rest of the world. Even still it’s challenging. Despite newspapers falling on tough times, designers are killing it. So this is an act of curation based on my tastes. And leaving out dozens upon dozens of entries that I dearly loved so that this doesn’t go on forever.

I had the good fortune of being a volunteer facilitator for the second year in a row, for the organization that truly changed the arc of my journalism career. Beside my desk sit five tattered SND books, which they release annually capturing the winners of these competitions. I am beyond humbled to be in three of them, one for a portfolio of work. I had six books, but one got stolen or borrowed and not returned. Do I begrudge that person? No, because my path started by … borrowing two from my first newspaper job when I left. One of those is missing. That’s just the circle of design life.

For SND 43, I was part of the World’s Best-Designed Newspaper competition. Results will come soon. But here, I present the individual entries. If you’ve not been following along, a quick summary of awards. AoE is an outstanding page, one that is deeply considered, uses typography and/or white space and/or art, etc. incredibly well. It’s not design for design’s sake. It is designed with purpose. A silver rises above even further, is exceptional among the outstanding. It could be considered state of the art. And gold. Well, on a gold page, it needs to rise to near perfection, above the outstandingly exceptional. It should be hard for a judge to find a flaw. That is why there are so few. Kerning between two letters, a crop that seems just off, too much or too little white space. All sorts of tiny details prevent a page from being elevated to this level. Because of that, finding the best way to present this (by paper, by theme, by region) is so challenging. I will start with the only gold medal for a portfolio of design (there was another for illustrations).

Brandon Ferrill, Washington Post, Gold Medal for portfolio

The first page in this slideshow was really the talk of the weekend. Universally loved. And fun. There were some hard pages, some big subjects in 2021. COVID-19 was still raging, the Capitol riot, the Taliban in Afghanistan. And so on. And then we have this happy-making page. The entire portfolio is striking. That judges moved an entire portfolio to gold says so much about the quality of this work. And trust me, you will see a lot more from the Washington Post here. When they go big, they win. We win.

Facilitator’s special recognition

At last year’s competition (my first), two pages immediately took my breath away. And it kept piling on. I waited for that experience this year. Nothing will compare to that first experience at SND. Not because the pages aren’t just as exceptional, but you start thinking differently, more critically. You know what can be done. What’s out there. But this year there was a page that really struck me (so many did). But I kept going back to this one. And it wasn’t the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times or the Star Tribune. It was the Des Moines Register. Maybe it is because I am a champion of the underdog. Maybe it’s because it uses newspaper clippings, which doesn’t often work but really does here. It’s so smartly done. Maybe the lack of colour. Seemingly simple, but quite complex. And the judges must have mostly agreed. It won a silver medal.

Des Moines Register, July 18, 2021
Des Moines Register, July 18, 2021

U.S.: The Big 4 conference

When it came to papers in the U.S., the four I mentioned above really stand out: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Star Tribune (Minneapolis, and employer of my most recent featured designer, Stacie Kammerling). I will give each paper a slideshow and little blurb. I will exclude the portfolio above from the Washington Post below.

Washington Post

I tried to choose a favourite. I really did. But the first three here are so close, for very different reasons. Some pages are driven by illustrations, some by text alone. I’ve said this before: A good illustration is good on its own, enhanced by a good design. But then there is just good design, and designing with text is skill. Also, when it comes to opinion pages, the Washington Post is among the best in the world, if not the best, largely based on smart illustrations. And I had to narrow this down. I cut some amazing pages out.

The New York Times

What can I say about the New York Times. It’s funny that it’s known as the Gray (Grey) Lady. Because once you get past that iconic grey cover (much less grey than it once was), and past the news section, it’s a marvel. Design beyond most designers’ wildest imaginations. The kids section alone is a masterpiece. Truly brilliant.

There were so many jaw-dropping pages from NYT, so this is truly just a snapshot of the work they produce. There were some I couldn’t do justice to as it would require seeing the entire section. I have included four pages from a section about the struggle of mothers because of the subject matter, and because of the judges’ comments. The section, they believe, is designed in a way intended to make you uncomfortable. It’s far from a standard design. It is jarring. I am so envious. If they are ever looking to hire a designer with a Canadian perspective, feel free to reach out. I accept. In a twist, the one A1/front page I included is so strong because it’s grey. I wrote an entire post about it when it came out in early 2021. The first two pages in the slideshow is two of my faves from the competition. I love little pictures. And the god page is boldly and smartly done.

Star Tribune

Funny thing about all of these four is that if you look at the front page each day, while they are well designed (particularly the Star Tribune, which is just a nice, clean, newsy front most days), they don’t look flashy. But then you get inside. Or then you have those big days. And wow. What is absolutely paying off for the Star Tribune is the state fair. There are always beautiful pages that come from there. To see more Star Tribune pages, other than what I’ve included here, see my recent post on designer Stacie Kammerling. A much more serious story this newspaper has handled so powerfully and with such grace is the George Floyd story. Just incredible, sensitive, yet provocative, boundary-pushing work. I will start there. Then to some fun and fair stuff (the contrast of last year’s fair and this year’s fair in cartoon figures is magical), and I have even included one of those hard-working front pages. And yes, I cut a lot again.

Los Angeles Times

And finally, the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps my favourite paper from last year’s competition. I still absolutely loved it this year. I have started with pages that just use design. Brilliant and bold typography, strong photos, creative white space. Then I get into breathtaking illustrations, followed by a few pages from a special section, which is a clear strength of the Times. They had some outstanding complete special sections, but again, I had to make some choices.

And more

Having these papers down here is not meant to dismiss any of them. They did some incredible work. I had to pare it down somehow. You can see them all here. Below are a few outstanding pages separately, and then another slideshow with more.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 21, 2021
The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 21, 2021

This page from the San Diego Union-Tribune was one of my top pages from the competition. It’s a new take on using tallies. It is so well executed.

Houston Chronicle, April 11, 2021
Houston Chronicle, April 11, 2021

I put this Houston Chronicle page in for its simplicity. Proof that you don’t need to do big and wild designs to look good. I love it.

Louisville Courier Journal, July 25, 2021

This Courier Journal (Louisville) page is so compelling and is a creative play on the COVID imagery we have seen again and again. This is new. Very clever.

Here is a selection of pages from The Business Journals. They had a number of winners. They are doing such smart things with illustrations and text. The text on the first page is both understated and bold at the same time! Small, but reverse white on red with a touch of transparency.

And last but definitely not least, a selection from some other publications. I am positive I will look through the pages again and curse when I see a dozen that I forgot about. That’s how much there was to look through. It is a tribute to the incredibly hard-working and talented staff at all the newspapers or news hubs. Thank you for all your work. And your readers do too, even if they don’t know it. It’s hard to know what goes into not only the execution, but also the conception. Amazing.

So there you go. Print is alive. I just proved it.

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

Old news? Booooooring! Old newspaper designs? Exciting! If you disagree, you’re in the wrong place. Beside my desk, on a special table dedicated to newspaper design, sits a handful of Society for News Design Best of Newspaper Design books (as well as some awards and the National Geographic from June 1985, featuring the young Afghan girl with the piercing eyes). I still look through the SND books, and am amazed by how the newspaper design has held up years later. So when I thought about posting newspaper pages from the previous week, I though certainly those would hold up!

Most days there is a newspaper front page or two that stands out. Maybe it will never be award winning (recognition for newspaper design is becoming an endangered species), but there are pages worthy of attention for the effort and creativity put in. I look through more than 500 pages every day. Some days nothing catches my eye. But that’s why it’s worthy of attention when something does.

So, life permitting, I’m hoping to post a few of my fave newspaper designs from the week prior. I post daily on my Instagram. I will generally choose from the pages I posted there, though there are occasionally pages I don’t get around to posting.

These short posts will be driven by the pages not my words, unlike the babbling above! But I had to set it up somehow. Don’t judge me.

Here are a few from last week.

Der Standard Austria

Front page of Der Standard from Jan. 23, 2022.
Der Standard, Jan. 23, 2022

I made no secret in twitter and my instagram that I loved this page. It is not lost in me that it is completely driven by the art, which I find stunning and so smart. Print and digital together. Newspapers barely visible through the sky. and it is to celebrate the 10,000th print edition. How many more will there be? Is that what this hints at? The demise of print or how print and digital will work together for a common goal?

The art is being auctioned off as an NFT (non-fungible token).

Toronto Star

Front page of the Toronto Star from Jan. 23, 2022.
Toronto Star, Jan. 23, 2022

A nice Saturday page by the Toronto Star. It’s likely every weekly roundup will feature at least one page from a Saturday publication of Canada’s big three

Monopoly houses are nothing new in design. I’ve done it. And I almost did that t another time before creating one of my favourite pages, pivoted below, before taking another approach. But in this page the for sale signs make add that extra touch.

Front page of the Guelph Mercury from from June 9, 2007/
Guelph Mercury, June 9, 2007

This was mine. I thought the design was begging for a green monopoly house, given the headline. But I took a different path. If you can believe it I did the art myself.

Tributes to Elza Soares

Here are some tribute pages to great Brazilian singer, Elza Soares, the samba queen as someone remarked on Twitter. The Metro page is amazing but the others, Correio Braziliense, O Estado de S. Paulo and Folha de S.Paulo, are great as well. Nice tributes.

There were some other great pages. You can see all of the ones I like on my Instagram.

By Brad Needham

In 1999, I started journalism school at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. I had big plans. National Geographic photographer. Maybe foreign correspondent in war-torn countries. By the time I graduated in 2001, everything was on track. Except the job. In 2002, I set up a meeting on the other side of the country with a well-known Canadian photographer. Maclean’s, here I come, I thought. My best friend, C.J., and I set off on a road trip. Thousands of kilometres, one week, and a 1991 Chevy Sprint Turbo. Bubbles. And now I ask you to come along. Jump in the way-back machine, imagine yourself in a sky blue Sprint Turbo (the Turbo is worth mentioning every time. Every. Time. Just ask C.J.’s brother), and join me on my cross-country, 20-year journalism lookback journey. I don’t like to celebrate myself often, but I also don’t leave my profession often. After this, I will return to regularly scheduled broadcasting in this blog by focusing on designers still in the biz, and those who are lightyears more talented than I am. I peaked in 2010 (there might have been a higher peak, but the journalism world was having none of it, as it started to contract around this time).

Anyway. Bubbles. The journey began in Calgary. A couple of provinces in between, mostly fine, and then Ontario. Many routine police stops later (driving late at night with Alberta plates in Ontario) and almost no time to sleep, 36 hours later in total, we made it. I had my meeting. I brought my best stuff. I was proud. The verdict? Some potential. He loved the photos later in my portfolio, and said about the one for which I nearly had my head run over by race horses: “you were just there.” Yes, I was. And it was a damn fine photo (if I ever find my pre-digital portfolio, I will add the pic here). Alas, maybe photography wasn’t my path.

Enter Fort McMurray. The daily newspaper, the Today, offered me a job as an editor/designer. I moved up there (on a map, as the Friendly Giant would say, look up, look waaaaay up). It was there, as I have mentioned a few times in this blog, that I discovered the Society for News Design’s Best of Newspaper Design books. And I found my new love. Newspaper design (in case the book title didn’t get you there).

But the city was small (and cold) and the bugs were so, so big (when hot). So I went to test my writing chops in Red Deer, Alberta at the Advocate. Less than a year later, I was off to the promised land: Ontario. First at the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, then to the Barrie Examiner (RIP), then to the paper that firmed up my love for design (because someone told me I was good at it. Spoiler: it was SND), the Guelph Mercury (RIP). I was proud of some of my work in Woodstock and Barrie. Even Fort McMurray. Looking back, pre-Barrie work wasn’t as good as I thought it was at the time. But the Mercury made me. I was given so much freedom and time by my mentor and boss, the legendary Phil Andrews. I oversaw the Here section, a weekend features section all about Guelph. It was for this section that I won my first Society for News Design award, and still the one I’m most proud of as it was for a portfolio of work.

Those are three pages I think were part of my portfolio. I know “Getting corked” was, as it was the one in the book! I made the book (sitting in my soon-to-be-former office, so no pics available). The book that started me down this path. It was a dream come true. I even was fortunate enough to attend SND Boston where I picked up this fashionable … tote bag.

I then had the good fortune (with my newfound design street cred) to be asked to redesign the Mercury, from top to bottom. This was no refresh. I was even tasked with redesigning the flag. That is quite an honour. And scary as hell. Thanks to the Virginian-Pilot (at the time the best designed paper in North America, maybe the world, imho) and the Star-Tribune for the inspiration. Especially to the kind soul at the Pilot who sent me a box full of print copies to help me get further inspired. I was very pleased when the first issue went out (below) and almost all the feedback was positive. That’s almost unheard of! People hate change. But they appeared to like this. To this day, this is one of my proudest career accomplishments.

First day of the new Mercury.

Two years after my first SND award, I won again, this time for a front page that I was given full freedom on, the fifth anniversary of the major blackout that swept through Ontario and much of the northeastern U.S. When I designed it, my boss said he looked forward to seeing that page in the next SND book. And much to my surprise, he was right.

Shortly thereafter, I moved on to the Waterloo Region Record. And shortly thereafter after, so did production of the Mercury. It was a sign of things to come in the industry (and this blog post). But I continued to work on the Mercury from the Record. At the Record I continued designing, but also moved into a very basic art director-type role. I had a vision, drew it poorly on a small yellow sticky note and handed it off to one of the Record’s great designers, Tania Praeg-Geddes and Diane Shantz. And wouldn’t you know it. Two years after “All the lights went out,” with the help of the great Diane, we did it again. We earned the Mercury its fourth SND award in five years (it won another for a page produced by again soon-to-be-former colleague, now at The Canadian Press then at the Mercury, Kate Hopwood). This time the page likely won mostly for Diane’s brilliant illustration. It was much better than the hairy legs I drew on my sticky note. 🙂

Then came the email from the Toronto Star. They had an opening. I answered the call. I did some work I was proud of at the Star, but my heavy design days were over. Sitting at another bank of desks was a team of designers, whose entire job was to design covers. But I am happy to say I got to do some front pages for what is or was (depending on who you talk to) Canada’s largest daily circulation newspaper. The one on the right below isn’t a super fancy design, but it was my first A1 at the Star. So it’s special to me. I loved my time at the Star. But, as previously mentioned, the industry was contracting.

I was laid off and I moved to Pagemasters North America. It was eight glorious but mostly design-less years as a manager, overseeing a team of incredible editors, helping them grow and develop. So I still had a hand in others’ designs. Even super designer Tammy Hoy occasionally asked for my advice. Five of those years were spent overseeing the Star after they outsourced to Pagemasters North America (see, the Mercury was a sign of things to come in the industry and this post).

And now I depart marking what is likely the end of my journalism journey, at least as an active participant. For now. Anything is possible, but I am excited for what lies ahead. I know I have been so fortunate in this industry. Or as some would say, unfortunate. I made it 20 years. I lived through some not as lean times. I was blessed with opportunities and support. The Mercury was an incubator. It launched many to greatness. As I start looking back, I look ahead. I hope to be able to blog more, and showcase print design talent from around the world, from those who are sticking it out in this industry and doing outstanding work. I will do it here, and hopefully even more often as I will need my print design fix, and on my Instagram. Until then, a journalism cliche …

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By Brad Needham

When I got access to all the entries to the Society for News Design best in print newspaper design competition, I was like a kid in a candy store. It was such a delight to see some of the best pages from around the world. But as a proud Canadian (slightly dampened by our slow progress on COVID-19 vaccinations, particularly for essential workers), I quickly searched for Canadian entries. I was both tickled to the see the incredible creativity that flowed from home, but also a little saddened to see there was little variety in entrants. Lots of entries. Very few titles. Dominated by the Globe and Mail, a selection from the Toronto Star and some from Le Devoir.

When I entered the contest in 2007 and 2009, I entered as a designer for the now-shuttered Guelph Mercury. We had a circulation of just over 10,000 at the time, if I recall correctly. We were the little engine that could. Sadly I didn’t see that this time. Two of Ontario’s design heavyweights (despite being relative lightweights in circulation), the Mercury and Barrie Examiner, have both closed. Other papers are being done in internal or external production centres. To be very clear this doesn’t mean there isn’t some incredible and award-worthy work coming out of these places. You only need to look at my profile on Tammy Hoy to see what is being done. But there is less time for most places to spend on design. And they’re not entering anymore, as media organizations shift their focus to digital (I assume that’s why?). Hopefully that will change for SND43. I hope to spread the gospel to Canadian newspapers so that there are more titles next year.

But I digress. As much as I like to think everyone is here to read my witty insights and elegant prose, I know it’s beautiful newspaper pages that drive this blog!

So first, here are some from the Globe, with very brief bits about what I like. As with most beautiful pages, they speak for themselves. But as I learned at SND42, there is so much to say about why these pages are excellent.

The Globe and Mail, The way through

As a subscriber to the Globe and Mail, I loved this page the second I peeled it out of the plastic bag (maybe two if it was raining — or, gasp, snowing — that day). It is hard to come up with a novel concept when it comes to the unmistakable shape of the COVID-19 ball, with its protein spikes always threatening to hook on to something. But this was new (for me, though as you can see here another newspaper did something very similar, proving how hard it is to take a unique approach in newspaper design). A tangled COVID knot, showing the almost unnavigable path through this complicated situation. Beautiful and well used white space. Of course it’s a Saturday Globe cover, and I’ve come to expect nothing less, but this was one of the standouts even among the weekly excellence.

Globe and Mail, Too much oil

At first glance even a seasoned designer might not see this idea as novel. Reverse white text on a black background. But this isn’t just to make it pop. This page works, it rises to a new level, only because it’s about oil. Too much oil. The black has a real purpose. And you can see the oil swishing at the top. It’s someone taking an old idea and making it new, giving it purpose. It’s a bold use of space.

Globe and Mail, The Trump Administration, illustrated by Kagan McLeod

This page is almost entirely driven by its illustration by the incredibly talented Kagan McLeod (who also did the National Post cover illustration to mark Prince Philip’s death). There is so much happening. It’s so busy, but in a good way. Like a Where’s Waldo picture, you can spend so much time taking in all the different ideas and details. The text is played respectfully, letting the illo do most of the talking.

Globe and Mail, Where do we go from here

While the Globe had many more outstanding pages, this is the last I’ll look at. I like it, again, because it takes an old idea and makes it new. I see lots of graph-driven pages. But usually those graphs dominate the page in order to make them stand out as main art. It’s a graph after all. But in this case, the graph is tiny. I mean, it is a graph after all. But that makes it stand out even more. It’s a tiny focal point. But your eye goes there. And it illustrates a rapidly shrinking number. Once big, now also tiny. And another Report on Business cover. I love to see so much creativity on business pages.

Toronto Star

Toronto Star, Fate of the Union

Some in Canadian media will recognize this Toronto Star page, as it was also nominated for a National Newspaper Award for presentation/design. On top of COVID-19, George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, there was an election for the ages in the U.S. And one complicated by COVID. Often results are late. Often a country is divided. But in 2020, both reached new levels. Mail-in ballots meant delaying your press start by three hours likely wouldn’t net you results. The question mark made up of the states was such a creative way to illustrate this. Red, blue, too early to call. Fate of the Union is such a great headline as this was one of the most important election in U.S. history. And the world was watching.

Toronto Star, A day to reflect, Canada

The work that must have gone into this page is extraordinary. It takes 3,000 images from Star photographers since the beginning of the pandemic lockdown and makes up one image of a woman wearing a Canadian flag mask. And the head works so well with the mosaic. But again, it comes down to how much work and the thought process that must have gone into this. It’s mind boggling.

Le Devoir

Le Devoir, American colours

This Le Devoir page is a fun and different approach to the U.S. election. Going into it it was anybody’s guess. The polls were so close. So Le Devoir highlights that with empty stars, ready to be coloured in, complete with pencil crayons.

Thanks, Canada

There were more great entries from each of these papers. I salute the effort they put in, as well as papers like the National Post and others, which didn’t have entries as far as I could see. Print is still kicking in Canada, and while it might not be as vibrant as that in the States and other countries around the world, it’s still alive. I hope 2021 will see more entrants, and, more importantly, more bold and inspired print designs. If newspapers want to show readers they still care, they need to make an effort. And I will be here to celebrate it when they do.

Have thoughts? Share them below.

There are average newspaper pages and there are good newspaper pages. And there are almost unbelievably great newspaper pages. That is what the Society for News Design is all about. If you read this blog, you likely know all about SND by now. Over the course of a few days last week I was fortunate enough to be a facilitator in the SND42 Best of Print Design competition. I got to listen to some of the greatest minds in the visual design space talk about some of the best pages in the world throughout 2020, a tumultuous year to say the least. The judges spoke. They gave their awards and their medals. And for the most part I agreed with everything. In many cases their keen observations bowled me over. While I didn’t get to look at all of the more than 3,000 entries, I did try to look at as many as I could. I wanted to share some of the pages I was secretly rooting for, yelling at my muted computer when the team captain asked if anyone else had anything to say.

Here are a selection of pages from this year’s competition that blew my mind, mostly from the news category my team was judging, but not all. I haven’t included any of Canada’s best here, as that will be separate post.

De Volkskrant on George Floyd

This page is timely again after the conviction of Derek Chauvin on all charges, including two murder charges, in the death of George Floyd. This page certainly didn’t get past the judges. It was much talked about. It does so much, capturing the iconic image of George Floyd, but also movement it sparked in one illustration (by Noma Bar). And that’s just the beautiful illustration. The rest of the page is strong too. The words are small, deferential. They don’t take away from the image. This captures the power of print.

LA Times year in review

I hope to get the chance to talk more about this page with someone who was involved in it in a future post. But this was the first page that took my breath away. Not only do I find it to be such a striking image (illustration by Wayne Brezinka), it in itself is a celebration of print, with newspaper clippings pasted throughout. It looks like a crafting project, just better than any crafting project I’ve ever seen (though my daughter does some killer crafting).

Indigo’s disappearing sharks page

This page did so much for me. As I listened to the discussion as to whether it should be a medal contender, I found myself loudly voicing my opinions while muted (facilitators aren’t allowed to weigh in, but I did in spirit). I loved the text, the tear, the obvious shark that is not there, which was the point. It’s about disappearing sharks. The 3D effect. The colours. Despite being about a depressing topic, as many of the pages are (hence their power), the design made me happy.

Washington Post, RBG

I don’t need to say much about this one. It’s stunning. It’s powerful. It’s simple. It’s respectful. The silhouetted look is the focus. The words are small, and don’t take focus away. The earring and the collar. The slight but necessary hint of glasses. This page is more about the illustration (by Edel Rodriguez), but the respectful treatment of it makes it a complete package. They could have used a photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They could have used a more traditional illustration. But neither would have the power that this did. I saw this one the day it came out and it struck me then just as powerfully as it did when up against the world’s best. Read more about it here.

New York Times, One Nation, Under Quarantine

When I saw the wall of grief page from the New York Times, I thought that was the pinnacle. It was so powerful. Could there be a stronger NYT page? Enter SND42, and One Nation, Under Quarantine. This page is so strikingly simple and complex at the same time. Playing off the flag, a symbol of unity. The Stars close together, separate but united. But not here. Quarantine drove Americans, drove everyone, apart. The stars normally so close now evenly spaced, physically, socially distancing. It’s such a symbolic visual.

Die Zeit, COVID’s impact

This page has a lot of text. It could almost be considered too grey. But the visual of the meteor tearing through the page changes that. Letters flying around. A disease like COVID wasn’t unexpected. It was predicted. Like we might be able to predict a meteor’s path. But we didn’t prepare. And thus the impact has been devastating, like this meteor tearing apart a piece of regular life, a newspaper. The meteor is tight to the text. With almost any other illustration it would be too tight. But that’s the point. It’s still burning through. The impact still being felt. And the text is still readable, so key to design. A page can be the most beautiful thing in the world. If the design affects readability, you’ve lost most of your readers.

The Star Tribune had so many great pages. It’s such a hub of design and creativity. So with pages on George Floyd and COVID-19 and the U.S. election, why did I choose one about the fair? Because it makes me happy. It was a tough year. There were so many big and hard stories. But when I saw this page (there are many just like it), I smiled. It brought out the kid in me. Not only is the illustration lovely (by Nuri Ducassi, whom I had the good fortune of working with at the Toronto Star), the page itself is just wonderfully designed. Simple, effective and fun.

Speaking of simple fun, these New York Times pages from its kids section are just that. Fun. And who doesn’t love the age-old debate about which is better (and which drools), cats or dogs. But I think we all know the answer. Feel free to share in the comments below, but really, do we need to? We know (wink, wink). Again, pages driven by brilliant and beautiful illustrations. But a great concept. And a smile.

LA Times, Will we ever kiss again?

Last but certainly not least, the kiss. Another LA Times page driven by an illustration, but what an illustration it is. This haunting image by Eddie Guy is beautiful. How else to explain it? It gives me chills. And it’s even more impactful now, I’d argue, more than a year after the pandemic was first declared. Vaccinations are rolling out, there is a sense that we could return to some version of normal, but it’s been so long. and it’s been so hard. The biggest loss in all of this, after the tragic lives of so many lives, is personal, human contact.

There were so so many more incredible pages. It was astounding to see so much creativity in one place. I have some that rival these above on my scale of favourites. There was just so much talent on display. But I will seal this one with a kiss.

I hope that SND42 will be the gift that keeps on giving. I plan to talk about the amazing work that came out of Canada, and with any luck I will talk to some creative types who played a role in some of the pages that got so much love in the competition.

By Brad Needham

The power of print. Newspapers. It’s the reason I started this blog. Every day I look through hundreds of front pages from newspapers all over the world. Over the course of a few days last week, I had the privilege of looking through some of the best designs in the world at the Society for News Design print competition. It was mind blowing. It actually left me stirring with emotions. To look at one of the most challenging years in our history, at least recent history, through the lens of newspapers around the world. The loneliness and emptiness of COVID-19. The coming together and rallies around George Floyd and the racial reckoning. We probably watched videos. Read countless stories online. Maybe we remember some. But newspaper pages live on. They are a time capsule. I was fortunate enough to be asked to be a facilitator at this year’s SND Best of Print competition. It was even better than I was hoping for.

Some of the judges, organizers and facilitators from SND42.

In my first real newspaper job, I stumbled upon old, tattered SND books. I looked though them, in awe of the brilliance. Wondering if I might be able to learn something. I took them everywhere, even on vacation. I had yellow sticky notes marking inspirational pages. Some books had dozens of pages marked, the sticky notes tattering like the books (two of which I stole from my first workplace — sorry and thanks). Less than 10 years later, I appeared in one of the books. Then again two years later. And again two years later. That was 10 years ago. Every time, the feeling was magical. As newspapers were contracting, I made the fateful decision to move to the Toronto Star shortly after the last award. After just over a year I was laid off, and moved to Pagemasters North America to lead … the production of the Toronto Star. But my design days were mostly left behind. Being at this competition made me wistful and left me with a strong sense of longing. How I wanted to do it again. When I heard that the competition almost didn’t happen this year, I was floored. While print media may be in a period of contraction, I can assure readers there are so many who are still giving it their all. Some of the pages were so powerful. Some brought people to tears. (I might have been one of the tearful.)

De Volkskrant’s entry, “How should things go on after the death of George Floyd?”

I will sprinkle a few of the entries through this post, but I will do another post soon reviewing what I will call my best in show, an actual category at SND that is sometimes awarded and sometimes not. To meet the highest standards, a strong majority of judges need to agree that one submission stands above the rest. In a competition with thousands of outstanding entries, with judges from diverse backgrounds, feeling different emotions, being pulled in different directions, finding one that stands out from the crowd is no easy task.

Los Angeles Times a year in review.

Being in the room listening to the judges was such a joy. And one of the most educational moments in my career in terms of design knowledge. Ten years after my last award and I feel like I know so much more. Listening to the insight different judges had, on both the strengths and failings of different pages. On Sunday while out for a walk, I listened to the Best in Show discussion on my phone. It was like a tennis match, each judge skillfully volleying their opinions, only to have another judge counter with an equally insightful opinion on the other side.

There were pages from all over the world. It was fascinating to see all sorts of representations of the COVID ball, depictions of George Floyd (see the Houston Chronicle and Die Zeit above). It was surprising to see creative concepts, seemingly unique, repeated in slightly different ways. Below, the Globe and Mail and Politico Europe use a tangled string to illustrate getting through COVID, while The Economic Observer and Politico Europe use an upward view of buildings and plane in the sky for very different stories.

This was the first year the competition was held virtually. So instead of newspaper pages spread out on tables, it was PDFs being opened on laptops. While the pages were all crisp and clear, no yellowing of print from pages pulled from the archives, some judges commented on how they felt certain entries would have hit them differently laid out in all their print glory. Instead of cups holding votes for Awards of Excellence or not it was computer tabs, with a virtual separator between those that got three votes and those that got four or more, which would then be up for medal discussion (an entry needs three of five votes to win an Award of Excellence). Instead of taking 15,000 steps over the day, those partaking were lucky to get in 1,500 sitting in their basements, in front of bookshelves, old cameras, bourbon. And instead of more than 10,000 entries, there were a little more than 3,000. If SND will have me between now and next year, I am determined to change that. After looking through pages every day, I know there are potential Awards of Excellence out there that weren’t submitted. Maybe medals.

The experience overall was worth its weight in gold medals. There were five this year. Here are a few more tweets with judges’ commentary from SND on some of the big winners.

I will use this soapbox to encourage people to support print media. I will argue here or there or anywhere, on a train or in the rain, that there is no media more powerful, with more impact, than print media. I encourage those from smaller newspapers to start thinking about next year’s competition. Put yourself out there. The vast majority of the entries were outstanding. Some rose above, and some rose even further. Even those that didn’t win still showed that the creative spirit is alive and well. So a shoutout to print designers everywhere. To illustrators (some of the illustrations this year were breath-takingly beautiful and powerful). To those who still put forth their best effort day in and day out, with fewer resources and less time. You’re all amazing. And I will bury this here. I was contemplating quitting this blog. I didn’t think there were enough people who cared about print media. I was having a hard time finding magical pages. But after seeing the emotion and passion at SND42, and the sheer volume of awe-inspiring entries, I’ve decided to keep plugging away. Sharing great designs when I see them. I can’t wait for SND43.

Looking back

These were three of the pages I submitted over two years to get recognition. Not on par with the stunning pages I saw this year, but I am proud of the work we did at the Guelph Mercury, with a circulation around 10,000 and a very small newsroom.

Coming soon: posts on my best in show and one on CanCon at SND42.

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A look inside an edition of a Society for News Design Best of Newspaper Design books.

By Brad Needham

For years people have been saying it. Print is dead. Newspapers are dying. Perhaps the end is nearing, but newspapers are not dead yet. And as long as they’re around, I want to celebrate those making an extra effort. Print design, newspaper design, has shaped my career. It’s a passion. There is not much like it, so I, for one, want it to survive as long as possible. They’ve long been sending out a please resuscitate message, and I’m happy to do newspaper CPR as long as necessary.

Where it all began (for me)
In 2003, fresh out of out university, I had just lied my way into a job in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Am I a good designer? I taught design at Mount Royal as a TA, I said. It wasn’t completely untrue. I landed the job, and thus I packed up and moved to northern Alberta in February to start my first daily newspaper job at the Fort McMurray Today.

It was there I stumbled on some books called The Best of Newspaper Design by the Society for News Design. It changed my life. The designs inside were spectacular. Awe inspiring for a young aspiring designer. No longer did I want to be a photographer and certainly not a sports reporter (sorry, dad). I wanted to do that. As I learned more about the Society for News Design (SND) I discovered they were the preeminent design society. The best designers in the world were competing to get into this book. New York Times, El Mudo, Virginian-Pilot, Boston Globe, Toronto Star. I was hooked.

I took these books everywhere (including to Red Deer when I left the paper in Fort McMurray … ssshhh). On vacations, to the cottage, on the bus. When other people were reading novels on the dock, I had my big cumbersome SND books, new sticky notes flagging inspirational designs being added frequently. Every time I did a big design, I was pretty proud. I look back on many of them now with less pride. But I was learning. At the Red Deer Advocate, the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, the Barrie Examiner (RIP). And then I got to the Guelph Mercury, the little paper that could — and did. I was offered a role overseeing the Here section, a feature section focusing on interesting local people and places. I was given time to conceptualize, assign, design. My managing editor was incredibly supportive of my ideas, even if they seemed bizarre on … paper.

That’s how it happened. Years after discovering the Best of Newspaper Design books, collecting dust on a book shelf in a northern Alberta newsroom, after dozens, maybe hundreds of pages drawn, I decided to enter. As a lark. Weeks passed. Nothing. Until one day a note popped into my inbox from SND. I had been recognized for my features portfolio. My heart was pounding. I jumped out of my desk and stormed into my boss’s office as if my house was on fire. I didn’t knock. “I … won an SND. I won!” I could barely breathe.

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I submitted five pages. One of those in a few weeks’ time would be in Best of Newspaper Design 28. It was beyond my wildest dreams. To be in these books I used for inspiration. After that I was handed the keys to a full redesign of the Mercury. I was told I could redesign an entire fairly major Canadian newspaper. One of the country’s oldest. I was humbled. With that behind me, I kept chugging along. I submitted a portfolio the next year. I thought it was stronger. But nothing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, I thought. Winning an SND award. Except it wasn’t. I won again a year later for a news page, based on the redesign. My managing editor allowed me to use all the front page real estate for a design idea. Best of Newspaper Design 30. And I won again two years later, Best of Newspaper Design 32, working with a great designer, Diane Shantz, at the Waterloo Region Record (but for a Guelph Mercury page — the industry was starting its contraction as the Mercury’s page production was brought into the Record. A sign of things to come, and why great newspaper design should be celebrated now more than ever).

A changing landscape
That was in the early 2010s. Print advertising started on a steady decline. Stories were available online for free. Newspapers, once a licence to print money, weren’t as profitable (but still doing well relatively speaking). But as revenues dwindled, newspapers started cutting staff. Some adopted a “good enough” policy (it’s true, but I won’t say who said it). It was the idea that readers don’t care about design. They don’t care if a photo is beautifully shot by a professional photographer. A handout picture would do.

Perhaps the end is nearing, but newspapers are not dead yet. And as long as they’re around, we should celebrate those making an extra effort.

Even by 2010, newspapers were in decline. A Pew Research Center report said half a dozen U.S. newspapers had closed down the previous year. Alarm bells were ringing. But we hadn’t seen anything yet. A report out of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina published in 2020 said about a quarter of all papers in the U.S. had closed in the past 15 years. And things aren’t any better in Canada. A story in the Toronto Star last year said 50 community newspapers closed over a period of six weeks. Six weeks. Compared to just over 200 in the previous 12 years. Three newspapers I worked at have closed, the Guelph Mercury, Barrie Examiner and Prince George Free Press. I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned in these roles, and what those papers meant to their communities.

To make a short story long, there are very few people left who get days or even several hours to put a section together, to conceptualize design. To sketch out designs on little yellow sticky notes, as I did at the Waterloo Region Record, and hand them to a designer to implement. I have been fortunate in my career. Awards like the Ontario Newspaper Awards no longer even have a print design category (I won once, received two other nominations and had the privilege of being a judge one year). But because I have been fortunate, I now want to celebrate those who are still doing it. Still producing kick ass designs, like the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Spokesman-Review and so on. And I will look at these papers and more to find out why they’re still investing. Hopefully they can inspire future aspiring designers to aim a little higher.