Peter Nguyen has some advice for newspapers submitting entries for next year’s World’s Best-Designed Newspapers competition: Consider bagging the special issues. “There were a lot of Mandela issues, and you know all the big special events,” the U-T San Diego design director said by phone. Those don’t “really fool the judges,” he said. “I actually kind of put those aside and just looked at everyday ones first, because that’s a better gauge of the quality.”
Nguyen, who is the design director for U-T San Diego, was one of five judges for the annual Society for News Design contest, which today named The Guardian, Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter, Germany’s Die Zeit and Welt am Sonntag and Toronto’s The Grid as the best-designed newspapers in the world.
“We wanted to reward things that were modern in their approach, but that doesn’t necessarily mean overtly modern,” Nguyen said. “It could be a more classic look” that “still feels modern because the design is timeless.” Nguyen said for him, “it comes down to simplicity and not having a lot of extraneous bells and whistles so it looks like it could work in anytime in the past or the future.”
A lot of the best papers, he said, nodded to digital presentations “in subtle ways. One example? A paper that used two section covers, with the second building on the presentation on the first. “That sort of feels like the idea in tablet design where you can have many options you can tap on something and be taken to another image,” he said.
As with tablets, too, all the top papers sported “very clear and distinct navigation,” Nguyen said.
I asked him if he encountered any visual stuff he hoped to never see again. “I guess I was surprised that even in some of the really well-designed papers, there were still kind of strange and dated touches,” he said. Things like color gradients or drop shadows: Those are not Nguyen’s bag! I asked him whether he’d noticed any influence of the “flat” design of Apple’s iOS 7.
“I feel like that kind of flat or unembellished design has always been around newspapers, and that’s one of the things that I find to be kind of classic in nature,” he said.
OK, Mr. Judge, any surprises?
“We were a little surprised that there was a lot of similarity between what we picked and what was picked the previous year,” Nguyen said. (Here’s last year’s slate of winners.) “It is surprising in terms of how consistently some of these papers always rise to the top, and I think that just really points to the fact that they’re doing things that are good and relevant and successful.”
Here are the front pages from Friday’s Guardian and Dagens Nyheter, courtesy the Newseum.