Author Archives: ryansparrow

Welcome to Best of Digital Design

UPDATE: Because we have so many entries that come during the last day or two, we have decided to extend the deadline for this contest/entries. 

The new deadline is Friday, January 27, 2017 11:59 EST.

Wow. 2016. You pushed us hard. 

Welcome to the Society for News Design’s 16th annual Best of Digital Design Competition, highlighting some of the best digital stories and products of the busy, busy year of 2016.

Digital design is more than a publication’s use of typography, illustrations and graphics. This competition has pushed our judges to think about design in a different way – from a site’s speed to its usability to its use of multimedia in stories.

It’s also a moving target. When I took over the role of director of this competition, Flash graphics were all the rage and multimedia simply meant video. But today? Today a Flash graphic in an entry would almost certainly get it tossed and the term ‘multimedia’ is so generic that it has lost its meaning! The incredible work we saw last year is now almost just the baseline standard expectation of an entry for this year’s competition, which is the way that innovation and progress is supposed to work.

But don’t take our word on it, go look through the last few year’s work yourself. You can find that archive here. Bookmark it. Share it. Study it and learn from it.

We’ve taken a long, hard look at our categories and revised them. What made sense when we last changed the categories were starting to look a bit out-of-date.

New categories:
  • Motion graphics and social media graphics – We’ve had people asking about these two in past years but didn’t feel the time was right to make them their own categories. 2016 changed that. Publications from across the news spectrum have really been doing some incredible visual storytelling with their motion graphics this year. 2016 was also the year that designers seemingly got a seat at the social media desk.
  • Social media strategy – And speaking of social media, we’ve added a new category in the portfolio group – Social media strategy. We’re looking at how your publication has created a visual style or specific way you are using the various social media platforms.
  • Products and experimental design – There have been a variety of entries from year’s past that didn’t feel like there was really a category for it – whether that was spotlighting a publication’s internal tools, a particularly innovative user interface design or something embracing new technologies like wearables or bots. These two new categories hopefully fixes that.

And because there will surely be many entries for them, we’ve got specific categories for the Refugee Crisis, the Summer Olympic Games and the U.S. Elections. You can check out all of the new, revised and still-standing categories for this year’s competition here.

As always, keeping up with all of the variables that come along with the different entries is sometimes hard. Even knowing what should be in your entry can be difficult. How do you show judges in February what your entry that embraced using live data looked like to readers in November? We understand these problems. Please do your best to give us as much as you can so that we can experience each entry as a reader might have.

If you have any questions about this or any other aspect of the competition, please feel free to email us at

Some dates to keep in mind.

Entries are due by Wednesday, January 25 at 11:59 EST. The new deadline is Friday, January 27, 11:59 PM EST. Judging will take place during the weekend of February 24-26. We’ll be using the hashtag SNDDigital so follow along as we tweet the results throughout the weekend.

And as always, good luck!

Ryan Sparrow and Jeremy Gilbert
Co-coordinators, Best of Digital Design Competition
Society for News Design

2010 Best of Digital News Design Winners

March 10th, 2011

By SND Headquarters

From Ryan Sparrow, Director of the Best of Digital News Design Competition:

This year the Society for News Design reinvented its annual digital competition in a big way. With new categories and divisions, we sought to showcase the very best our industry has to offer, from photography to iPhone apps and way beyond.

The Best of Digital Design competition launched this spring when 20 industry leadersspent a month poring over more than 500 entries from around the world. They met in person at Ball State University in February to discuss the top 150 entries.

In total, 60 awards were given: One Gold and Best of Show. 15 Silver Awards, four Judges’ Special Recognition and 40 Awards of Excellence.Categories were judged by divisions based on average monthly page views.

The World’s Best portion of the contest is still under way. The decision was made to award a World’s Best to both a news Web site as well as a mobile or tablet application to fully recognize the different form of each. Finalists will be announced in the coming weeks. The winners will be announced during the Annual Workshop and Exhibition in St. Louis.

Some observations:

  • Information graphics was the largest category judged, with 140 entries, followed by video, then photo projects.
  • Judges agreed that some of the most innovative work being done on mobile and tablet apps were coming outside of the news industry. Applications such as Flipboard, Pulse and Instapaper were held up as models that news organizations should strive toward.
  • The best entries in all categories achieved a tough balance among aesthetic design, user interface, news value and storytelling.
  • Video and photography presentation showed a leap in integrating story forms and improving overall reader experience, a trend that’s sure to continue.
  • Another trend: the move away from Flash as more organizations embrace mobile and tablet platforms.

As the director of this new competition, it was exciting for me to be a part of this SND revamp. In the coming year the team and I will be working out the bugs — narrowing or expanding categories, clarifying rules, and doing whatever it takes to keep pace with the explosion of innovation, creativity and important journalistic work being done in our exciting field.

– Ryan Sparrow, Director of Best of Digital Design

Judges’ General Comments

This is a pivotal moment in the evolution of news design. Traditional news organizations continue to grapple with disruptive innovation. New storytellers are emerging and user expectations across a variety of platforms are higher than ever. Dealing with these forces is a major challenge for all journalists.

This judging team recognizes the power of visual storytelling, the role of user experience design and the importance of clean, simple presentation. The best visual stories build on existing forms and standards but apply them in new ways. They push the limit of digital platforms, blending creative techniques and creating immersive experiences that were not possible in the old, analog world. These works are risky and experimental but effective. Great design is transparent, and it amplifies great stories.

The winning entries showed an originality critical to the future of the industry. Rather than conforming to nascent trends, news designers should constantly challenge convention while meeting the needs of their users.

In this moment of transition users demand more. We must answer their call and we see an exciting future for news design.

(view judge bios)

Gold Award & Best of Show:Haiti Earthquake Coverage by The New York Times

The judges award the only gold medal of the competition to The New York Times for their extended multimedia coverage of the Haiti earthquake. The judges believe that the technical sophistication, range of disciplines and timeliness evident in the pieces makes this body of work the best of the competition.

The New York Times created a steady stream of excellent interactive presentations of amazing photos, data and reporting. Even though these pieces were created on breaking news deadlines, quality was not sacrificed and creativity abounded. These pieces would not be nearly as wonderful if it were not for the excellent reporting and wide range of disciplines working together. The presentation of photography was creative, innovative and perfectly executed. The design fell away and simply facilitated the experience.

The sum total of this work was deeply touching and deeply immersive. It is the height of the use of technology in presenting journalism.

Judges’ Special Recognition

  • The New York Times: The judges recognize the New York Times for its explanatory motion graphics, a consistent seamless blending of media to set a standard for explanatory visual journalism. The works demonstrate imperceptible transitions between and marriages of video, graphics, data visualization and expert analysis. This is across all subjects. In sports it ranged from a breakdown ofMariano Rivera’s cut fastball to an analysis of Lindsey Vonn’s Olympic gold-winning downhill run. In news, it was explanations of failure and escape from theDeepwater Horizon disaster. These pieces provide a rich, beautiful experience.
  • NPR: The judges recognize NPR for their experimentation and eager embrace of new platforms. They have been smart in their mobile strategy while maintaining standards and identity. Their family of iPhone and iPad apps were designed with the user in mind, providing a rich relationship with every atom of NPR content. With an apparent self-awareness and an embrace of what they are good at — incredible audio story-telling — they established a way to serve their stories and shows on demand, wherever, whenever and however a user decides. There is beautiful simplicity in the user interface which allows someone to read or listen to the day’s top stories and the playlist feature gives the user control over the order in which they listen to stories.
  • Pictory: The judges recognize Pictory for its artful embrace of community-driven photo stories. Every note is pitch-perfect, starting from the request for submissions to the finished showcases. The editing is smart and the design is particularly thoughtful. Pictory has elevated the often-derided idea of “user-generated content” into an art form of collaboration. It is a dynamic more media organizations should embrace.
  • ProPublica: The judges recognize ProPublica for defining the design language ofdata-driven news apps. From tracking states’ unemployment insurance and Wall Street’s credit default swaps to investigating pharmaceutical payoutsand dialysis facilities, ProPublica has established a consistent set of expectations for a new breed of storytelling. Granular, permalinkable data, clear hierarchies, simple but effective visualization and transparent engagement with its readers and partner organizations underlie all these projects and set the standard.

Awards by Category

Breaking News


Extended Coverage


Information Graphics




Photo Projects


Section/Topic Presentation


Use of Multimedia


Video Projects


Mobile / Applications


Web site redesign


The Judges

  • Chris Clonts is the editor for online and multimedia at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He likes slaying sacred cows (or modifying them), such as in 2010 when the paper for the first time charged users to enter its famous Peeps diorama contest. He has worked primarily as an editor and designer at six papers, including 10 years at the Detroit Free Press, and is on a personal campaign to convince restaurants that their sites shouldn’t be entirely in Flash.
  • Tyson Evans works on the interactive news desk at The New York Times, building data-driven Web apps on deadline. He was previously the new media design editor at the Las Vegas Sun. He is a frequent volunteer with the Society for News Design, Bridget O’Brien Scholarship Foundation and the Online News Association.
  • Danny Gawlowski is the video editor at The Seattle Times. He studied photojournalism at Ball State University and documentary filmmaking at the Seattle Film Institute. He was a part of the team that was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting for coverage of a police slaying and the ensuing manhunt. It was the first time that online coverage was specifically mentioned in a Pulitzer citation. He is also a faculty member of the Kalish Picture Editing Workshop and a board member of the Associated Press Photo Managers Association.
  • Jeremy Gilbert is an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, teaching media product design and digital innovation. He has directed award-winning, student-based digital projects, helped revamp the interactive curriculum and is researching the future of mobile journalism. Before coming to Medill, he led The Poynter Institute’s website redesign and worked as a design director, redesigning a pair of award-winning Florida newspapers.
  • Jennifer Imes is the graphics editor of The Indianapolis Star. She has been with The Star for nine years and oversees a small but mighty graphics department. Currently the staff devotes more than 50 percent of their time to digital graphics. Before joining the star nine years ago, Jennifer was a graphic artist at The Miami Herald and The Baltimore Sun. She graduated Ball State in 1998 with a journalism graphics degree.
  • Jason Luebke graduated from Ball State University in 2006 with a BS in Journalism Graphics. Jason worked for the Florida Time-Union and the Rockford Register Star as a graphics artist and designer. After leaving the Register Star, Jason worked as a flash developer for Indianapolis-based Mediasauce. Jason now works for Brandwidth, a digital marketing and development firm, as a User Experience Developer. Jason will graduate in May 2011 with a MA in Human Computer Interaction from the School of Informatics at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis.
  • Ryan Mark is a news applications developer at the Chicago Tribune. He spends most of his time hacking web design and presentation for the news apps team at the Tribune. His work has received awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, Investigative Reporters and Editors and Society of Professional Journalists, among others.
  • Miranda Mulligan is the design director for and, the websites for The Boston Globe. She is a designer and educator with over ten years of professional experience in print and web design, photography and information graphics reporting. She has also worked for The Virginian-Pilot, interned with The Sun-Sentinel and The Philadelphia Inquirer and volunteered for Online News Association, Virginia Press Association, the National Press Photographers Association and the Society for News Design.
  • Jennifer George-Palilonis is the George & Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of Multimedia Journalism at Ball State University where she is also the head of the nationally recognized Journalism Graphics Sequence. There she teaches upper level courses in information graphics reporting for print and online media, interactive media design and content development, and multimedia storytelling. She is the vice chair of the visual communication division for the Association for Journalism and Mass Communication and the national education director for the Society for News Design.
  • Yuri Victor is the digital design and content manager for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He is a former internet entrepreneur with more than 12 years experience programming and designing digital products. He has worked in almost every capacity at newspapers from reporting, editing and photographing stories to rolling 600 pounds of paper around the press. He often volunteers with the Society for News Design and the Online News Association.
  • (Conflict judge, voted when a judge recused themselves)Jonathon Berlin is the graphics editor at the Chicago Tribune and SND’s vice president. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two boys. The most embarrassing thing on his iPod is probably the soundtrack to the Phantom of the Opera (original London cast).

Preliminary Judges:

These judges assisted in the initial review and narrowing of the entries prior to the final judging at Ball State University.

  • Meredith Birkett –
  • Billy Calzada – San Antonio Express-News
  • Sergio Goldenberg – Georgia Tech
  • Karsten Ivey – Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
  • Joey Marburger – Washington Post
  • Alfredo Marin-Carle – Ball State University
  • Wes Meltzer – Orlando Sentinel
  • Tom Price – Ball State University
  • Laura Ruel – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • John Sale – Memphis Commercial-Appeal
  • Suzy Smith – Ball State University
  • Todd Stewart – Orlando Sentinel

Competition Director

  • Ryan Sparrow is an instructor of Journalism at Ball State University where he teaches in the nationally recognized Journalism Graphics Sequence. Before teaching, he was a photographer, editor and designer at newspapers in Indiana, Kentucky and Florida where he won numerous awards for his photographic work. In addition to teaching, he consults and freelances for various publications and non-profit organizations. He is a member of the Kalish Picture Editing Workshop.


Welcome back!

Welcome to the reconfigured home of the Society for News Design’s Best of Digital Design competition.

Last year we undertook the task of overhauling SND’s multimedia competition from years past.  The result was a broad change that focused on many of the new areas many of our members find themselves designing in.

New Categories

This year we’ve even further refined our categories to fix some of the overlap from last year’s competition.  The categories for this year are: Breaking News Presentation, Single-Subject Project, Data-Driven Project, Series or Event, Section or Topic, Redesign, Portofolio – Individual, Portfolio – Organization.

These categories will still be broken up in three divisions: over 50 million hits, under 50 million hits and student-driven sites.

We’ve also split the app entries into two separate categories – mobile and tablet – divided into three divisions; News Organizations, Non-News Organizations and student apps.

And finally, we’ve added a category for the best student-driven website or app.  This category will look at the overall digital efforts of our student members.

User contributed

We’ve also opened the contest up to members and other visitors to the site in a few different ways.

First, members and entrees will be given a login to the site to be able to view and offer their own rating for each entry.  During the judging weekend, the ratings will be collected and the top-rated entries will be given awards for favorite news site, mobile or tablet app and story.

We’re also asking for your help in finding the World’s Best Designed News Sites and Apps.  Visitors to the site will be asked to enter their favorite news site and apps.  Which sites inspire you?  Dig deep on this question, because we truly want to make this the world’s best.  Sites like TheVerge and Wired Magazine and apps such as Flipboard, Zite and Flud should be considered alongside those offered by publications like the Boston Globe or the Los Angeles Times.

All of the submissions will then be looked over by a team of judges that will then discuss what makes for the a site and app that deserves the name World’s Best.

We hope to piggyback off of our successes from last year’s contest and to make you a part of it.  Your contributions and feedback are what will help make this year even more successful.

– Ryan Sparrow

Director, Best of Digital Design