What makes great newspaper design?

We speak to Emmet Smith, lead senior designer at The Washington Post, about the winners of the Society for Newspaper Design awards, and why design is an integral accomplice to words on a page.

© The Guardian
© The Guardian

In an age where news is constantly being condensed to 140 digital characters, what is it that still makes people pick up a printed newspaper? Design can be just as important as the words on the page. Here, we look at some examples of great newspaper design, as presented by the Society for News Design’s annual awards.

SND is an international organisation that looks to celebrate “visual journalism” and the judges whittled the 215 submissions for the World’s Best-Designed Newspapers award down to four winners.

Emmet Smith, lead senior designer at The Washington Post and a member of the judging panel, talks to us about why these publications stood out, and explains that the papers that prospered were the ones where “every design choice was firmly rooted in the story the paper was trying to tell”.

The submissions

Emmet Smith: “The very best entries were newspapers of serious intent that have all of the tools at their disposal – world-class photojournalism, illuminating graphic storytelling and strong navigation and typography. Their designers use those tools to tell stories in ways that engage, entertain and inform. Each of the 17 finalists had passionate advocates among the group of judges but the final four were unanimous selections, impressing our diverse group with their mastery of craft. The ones which worked best were those where every design choice was firmly rooted in the story the paper was trying to tell.”

© Dagens Nyheter
© Dagens Nyheter

Dagens Nyheter – Sweden

ES: “My favorite moment from Dagens Nyheter is a portrait of a Syrian refugee holding a photograph of her grandfather. How many times have we seen that picture of someone holding a photograph of a dead relative? It’s one of photojournalism’s great crutches. But the newspaper took it and made an incredibly moving portrait that feels entirely new and unique. It’s that ability to reinterpret and breathe life into traditional forms that sets Dagens Nyheter apart.”

© De Morgen
© De Morgen

De Morgen – Belgium

ES: “De Morgen impressed us with its energy and the ways in which it maintains control of a huge amount of visual information. Most papers would crumble trying to hold so many threads together, but De Morgen comes to life.”

© Politiken
© Politiken

Politiken – Denmark

ES: “Politiken was possibly the most sure-footed publication we saw. No matter what it does, it is clear, confident and pitch-perfect. From front pages calling out the government on going to war to full pages featuring whimsical World Cup illustrations, it is bold, fearless and just about perfect.”

© The Guardian
© The Guardian

The Guardian – UK

ES: “The Guardian is a delight. Resolutely authoritative, and at times witty, its tone is manifested in its presentation. We loved the newspaper cover on the day of the Scotland referendum, and the paper’s understanding of the moment. The run up to the vote had been covered ad nauseum – very data-driven, in the weeds and focused on numbers to try and divine what might or might not happen. The Guardian’s cover had no stories – just a satellite image. That’s about as wide a shot as you’re going to get.”


Alongside Smith, the judging panel consisted of Fez Yazici, design director at Turkish newspaper Zaman, Anne Marie Owens, editor-in-chief at Toronto newspaper National Post, Tracy Collins, director of Phoenix-based design consultancy Gannett’s and Steve Cavendish, news editor at arts and entertainment online magazine Nashville Scene. Smith leaves his role as lead senior designer at the Washington Post on Friday and will go on to become creative director at National Geographic magazine next week.

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