How to use 99designs

I’ve used 99designs a couple of times now as a client, having creative work designed for me. In those two cases I’ve picked up a few hints and tips, which I though would share with you. In this article, I’ll highlight why 99designs is now my first port of call if I need something designed, and why. I’ll also highlight how to elicit the best responses, and share some behind the scenes screengrabs to show you what you’re in for if you do decide to launch a contest.

How to write the brief

The brief is how your campaign starts. It’s what the designers will refer to and use to begin their work, so make sure you make it very simple and clear what you’re after and how the design will be used.

99designs brief

In my briefs, I tried to give a very clear scope about the direction I would like the design to go in. Having said that, I also provide lots of room for the designer to be creative. Check out the briefs for the new blog design, and the logo design which I ran last year.

Pro Tip: Share links to photos, websites and other things online that represent the feel you’re trying to capture with your design. You can see in both my contests that I shared some inspirations, even though they had nothing to do with the actual outcome I was wanting.

Make it clear what you DON’T want in your design. Designers love this, because it let’s them know what they can avoid and thus save time.

Nothing is worse for a designer than pouring their creative heart into a design, only for the client (you) to turn around after the work and reply that you didn’t want those specific traits. Great designers love restrictive scope, and these are the ones you want to attract with your brief.

Pro Tip: You want to get these talented people started with your brief. Know that you can tweak things during the feedback process later in the contest. Don’t panic if you can’t capture *every* amazing feature you want.

Finally, make sure you do check out what other contests are running when you’re launching your contest. You’re essentially in a contest with them to appeal to the best designers – designers who are probably coming to 99designs because they want to flesh out their portfolio a little bit, or earn some quick cash on a good design.

Pro Tip: Make sure you have a scan of the currently open contests before you title your brief. These are what you’re competing against for quality designers. Make sure your brief stands out against these specific contests. Matt Mickiewicz, the founder of 99designs, gives a good outline on Quora.

9designs contests

Should I pay extra for the special options?

This one is very dependent on the types of contest already listed when you launch your contest. I would advise to at least make the subject header of your brief title bold.

I would also encourage you to chose the standard rates, as 99design co-founder Mark Harbottle explains here in Quora. The more expensive contests will garner more talented designers, but the standard rates are good too. In both of my contests, I used the standard/recommended rate but bought extra promotion features – like bold text.

Pro Tip: Don’t be cheap. There are options to drop your price for the contest. Don’t fall for this trap – you won’t appeal to the serious designers, even with the most appealing brief heading. The standard rate is appropriate…if you’re not happy to pay that, then don’t use 99designs.

When should I launch my contest?

This is a tough one. With my first campaign, I launched it at 10pm (Sydney time) at night and awoke to 28 entries that were submitted whilst I slept, of which the eventual winner was one

I try to launch it in my local time when some people are still up (8-10pm, Sydney time) but where folks in the UK and US are getting in to their day.

Should I run a blind contest?

The first contest I ran was a public competition but because that was a logo design, protecting the designs of the contestants wasn’t so important. However, when I ran the blog template design contest, I um-ed and ah-ed about which was the best approach. In the end, I went for a blind contest and was happy with the results.

A blind contest just means that designers can’t see each others designs. It encourages designers to submit their work, knowing that it won’t be ripped off by other designers in the attempt to win the prize.

Provide Feedback on the designs you like

The last, and most important piece of advice I can give to running a 99designs project, is to give heaps of feedback. More importantly, give the feedback to the designers you can see have the best feel which is closest to what you want.

When you see your initial designs come through, there will always be one or two that really strike you. You’ll say “that looks really good” or “that’s close…but not quite it.” On these designs, provide the designer specific feedback about what you would like to see and then get them to post up the changes for you.

As you can see below, Anachronox and I had 14 comments back and forth, and he designed some 9 iterations of his first design. I had similar lengthy conversations with 2 other designers who were also very close in the beginning.

99designs feedback picture

For the designs which immediately don’t appeal, provide some feedback and let the designer know that you’re thankful for their contribution, but you’re happy with their submission as it is. Don’t string them along. Wasted time is brutal and if their design doesn’t appeal immediately it will take them too much work to redesign it.

When to announce the award

Finally, always wait until the deadline to announce the winner. You never know who will post something up and blow your socks off! However, once you’ve found a design you really like then really work with the designer to tailor it to what you need.

This is the real key to 99designs – don’t view it as a pure competition. View it as the chance to work with a number of designers at once towards getting what you want. Don’t be scared to ask them to improve on the work or to change things to get you closer to what you’re after.

Finally, make sure you ask for a variety of different colors and a black and white version of your design. This will just help you to ensure that your design will work in any setting, as well as when it is printed out.

What are your experiences with 99designs? Do you have any extra tips?

The Awesome Foundation Sydney

The Awesome Foundation is a collection of people around the world who look to support awesome projects each month. There are chapters in Boston, Berlin, San Francisco and, more recently, Melbourne. Today, we’re announcing that Bruno Mattarollo and I are forming the Awesome Foundation Sydney, and will be looking for 10 micro-trustees for the founding board.


What is the Awesome Foundation?

The Awesome Foundation gives $1000, no-strings-attached, grants to people and projects that are awesome; whether that be in music, arts, science, publishing…anything, so long as it’s awesome!

Every month we will get together over dinner and put $100 cash each into a brown paper bag. This grant is then awarded to an awesome project of the boards choice. You can read more here, in the FAQ.

Globally, The Awesome Foundation has awarded grants of over $30,000 to awesome projects, like:

How can I be involved in Awesome Sydney?

Email Bruno ( or Steve ( and let us know if you’re interested in becoming a micro-trustee. We will be selecting the founding board of 10 people sometime in late February.

You can see what’s going on with the Awesome Foundation by following @awesomefoundsyd or the global @awesomefound on twitter, or by checking out the Awesome Foundation website.

What do you want to create?

This is a guest post by Melina Chan, from Kinyei.

Backers, cheerleaders and enthusiasts! Thank you for your unceasing support! Thanks to all of you we made it past our goal of $8500 with a week to go.

To recognise this momentous feat and show our gratitude, the Street One and a Half Cafe staff spent some time hitting the streets, asking Battambangians what they wanted to create in their lives. On his first day back in Cambodia, Justin has put in a mammoth sprint with some unavoidable technical challenges pulling it all together and it’s here in time with a mere 50 hours left on the Kickstarter!

Please watch this video and get a glimpse of what people here in Battambang hope to create.

Pass it along and donate to help us smash $10k!

How to climb rocks

I’ve been getting more and more into rock climbing lately and I thought I would try jotting down all of the key aspects of that to share with you all. A huge shout out to the crew that help me learn this constantly, @toolmantim@atnan and the rest of the crew; and @bmatt for introducing me to it.


The People

When you’re rock climbing, one of the first things you notice are the types of people who also take part in the exercise. They tend to be equally both male and female. Physically they are very fit looking and slim (there are not too many fat people hauling themselves up walls!). The biggest thing you notice is the types of people. They all have this desire to test themselves but not at the expense of others. There is a kind of camaraderie that takes hold – everyone is trying to beat the wall. Some are doing easier climbs than others, but everyone is battling their own demons and doubts when they get going. There are things your body can do, and things you would like your body to do. Rock climbing tends to highlight the gap between these two points very well.

The other thing, is the cool confidence of the people that work at places like this. They roam around, knowing every nook and cranny of the place, which is saying something when an establishment like that is essentially just made up of nooks and crannies!

Also, the music is weird. Imagine just a drum and a bass guitar going consistently. That’s the kind of music they play at these places; it surrounds your body, immediately consuming you, yet it’s not overpowering. It goes towards the zen and calmness you can feel rock climbing.

Here are some tips I’ve picked up so far.

1. Leverage

When you’re climbing, the key skill is learning to leverage your body in the space you are in. This, for me, is tougher than it sounds. I am not (and never have been) a great mover – I’m not particularly agile nor am I particularly subtle in my movements. So learning to understand the position of my body, the situation it is in and the location it wants to move to next is quite challenging for me.

Leverage, to me, also means assessing the feel and touch of the wall as you go about climbing it. Is there much of a gradient? What do the rocks feel like under your hands? Do they feel big and have plenty of space for my hands or are they smaller, smoother and something I might be able to stand on further up the wall? Leverage, in a rock climbing sense, is also about leveraging your mind when you’re on the ground to better prepare and think through how you will climb the wall. You often hear people talk about “thinking your way up the wall.” The most elegant climbers, seem to do this.

2. Use your skeleton

Once you’re on the wall, the next key is to use your skeleton to climb it. I didn’t fully understand this at first, but it goes towards the first point about leverage. You don’t want to be muscling your way up the wall, if you can help it.

The better idea is to base yourself and your movements on your skeleton. Swing from your arms and your legs to drive your momentum towards the rock or next handhold you want to grab. Move and pivot on the three pieces of your body that you have currently got on the wall, and then swing to the next point. Move in small increments and make sure you’re always moving – try not to stop too much, as this ruins your flow and exhausts your muscles when you need them most. It’s just like the old monkey bars at school – if you stop moving, it’s very hard to get going again and reach the next bar!

3. Use your legs

The final thing that I’ve learnt whilst climbing is to use your legs to do all the hard work, rather than your arms and hands. Right now, my forearms are quite tender from the climbing I did yesterday – which is it a great sign because it means I was probably mostly using my arms to drive my movements. Ideally, you would want to be using your legs to drive your movement and momentum up the wall, swinging and using your skeleton to move all the while staying focused on your route up the wall and the leverage you will use to get there.

What new sporting activities have you recently taken up? What would you share with people about the basics of that activity?

The Mental Health 2.0 Unconference

It’s with great pleasure that I announce that, in February, we’ll be running the Mental Health 2.0 Unconference, which will be held at Gasworks in Melbourne on Friday the 25th of February.

You can register here


This is my invitation to you to feel free to come along, and share in the discussions about the intersection of technology and our mental health. The event will be attended by a mix of people – from those working on the web and, to those working for Mental Health organisations throughout Australia. We’re really excited about the conversations that will ensue, and the outcomes that will surely stem from them.

From the site:

It is estimated that within 18 months, half of all website views will come from mobile devices.1 in 6 minutes spent online are currently spent on social media sites. Rapid developments are occurring in the broad field of electronic health, including e-mental health. Governments, consumers, health care providers and others are working on a range of projects and activities to harness the new technologies to improve the range and quality of health services and information available to the public. What is happening already and what are the future possibilities? What are the concerns? What about privacy? What is the impact of 24/7 connectedness?

I’m really excited about the day, and am really excited to be working with @edwardharran and @janethopkins and Lantern to make this all happen. As with all unconferences, the focus will be on participation and mixing between the diverse ideas and skills there on the day. With so much changing in our world, I look forward to the great conversations about how we can leverage technology to change the way we assist those of us with Mental Illness all over the planet.

I look forward to seeing you there!