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?

16 thoughts on “How to use 99designs

    1. Hey Adam!

      I got the final version for both comps in .PSD, but the designers are very flexible. I think I also got the logo in .JPEG as well.

      For the wordpress redesign, I could have opted to get the designers to code the site for me – but the amazing peeps at @inspire9 coded by template up for me from the .PSD file.

  1. I’m not sure how I feel about this kind of thing as a designer. Fantastic for expanding creativity but as a means of providing work – it’s basically unpaid design (if your design isn’t picked) and consequently undervalues it… Although this could be a gread thing for challenging skills if you wanted work in a particular thing with a real brief.

    1. Hi Bec,

      Thanks for the comment. I’ve heard it from a few others as well. I think it’s just like any other market place really – only the money is provided after the choice is made. You yourself is in a market right now, but you have to prove you’re the designer someone wants before you do the design! I think 99designs is just a different market.

      Given that, I understand that you can do more with a normal designer – but for the price, the level of interaction (surprisingly high) and outcomes I’ve experienced so far, 99designs provides me a service I wouldn’t be going to a normal designer for anyways.



  2. Nice post. Something I’ve been thinking of recently (using 99designs that is). 

    Wondering whether you think it the appropriate place for work other than logos and templates?

    For instance, would it be appropriate to get some visual illustrations done of processes & procedures. Would probably cost more than your standard, but I’m betting still a lot cheaper than paying commercial price. And having a few creative types represent your documents in their own way might yield amazing results.

    1. Hey Amir,

      I’m sure it would be great for that purpose – especially if you write a great brief explaining that it’s a good chance for people to show their stuff.

  3. A design is a very important element to build a useful and professional website.  There are many pattern of designs available in market but important thing is to how to get ideas from different different design patterns. Class of design is must important way for any developers.

  4. Interesting article,

    Though crowdsourcing design is not something we necessarily support as we often find the results underwhelming even considering the cost. We have written our own article that you and your readers might also find interesting, some tips about design and how to successfully manage a design contest.

    One of the main issues with crowdsourcing design is that as much as people believe design is subjective, effective design is highly objective. Design is a business solution not simply an aesthetic one, as designers we are problem solvers. Crowdsourcing removes the value added by having a professional designer approach your business problem.

    We don’t use an accountant because they know how to use a calculator, we use them because they understand the problem and will provide the correct solution…

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