How to Run a 99Designs Contest

99designs is one of the most efficient ways to get a great design. For a pre-determined flat rate, you can to browse through hundreds of designs and get a finished concept within a matter of days, instead of weeks or months. Why harass one designer for multiple concepts when you can harvest dozens of different approaches. Sometimes what we need is a fresh look. The designs range from awful to good, to shockingly good. The more you bid, the higher your chances of attracting the most talented designers.

I’ve been using 99 designs for almost 10 years and find the service to be just as fantastic today as it was before. It’s a great market to find talented designers from other countries for relatively low cost AND get great concept ideas for your domain name. It’s not only a great way to do branding design but also to get free market research and understand how others perceive your brand name. Within several projects, I was able to create A-level designs at much lower rates.

Here are the tips to make your design contest worthwhile for all parties!


1. Preparing the brief

Although you certainly can start projects for all kinds of designs, I certainly don’t recommend 99designs if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Their job is to design your vision, not do market research for your vision. You MUST have a vision already to really be effective!

And in fact: if you haven’t already done the research beforehand, you will feel like all the designs are missing the mark completely. Frustrating experience for both you and the designs. 99designs is great at really fast designs, but you can’t be fast when you don’t have any direction.

  • What are you designing for? Logo? Image? Banner? Website?
  • What medium is it for? Digital? Printed? T-shirts?
  • How is it seen? Passed out by hand? Shown from the street? Only online?
  • What demographic? Male/female. Young/old. What personality types. Most importantly, what other brands are this demographic heavily engaged with?
  • What kind of personality is your brand? Describe it if it were a person.
  • What color is your brand? Don’t go back and forth. You should know exactly what color you want. And believe it or not, it’s usually a color scheme that you need. One color is not enough. You can’t just say “YELLOW”. Is it more like a yellow & white, yellow & black, or yellow & red? They need context!
  • What other brands are similar? Feel free to list competitor brands or even brands that are not in your industry but have the same vibe you want. This is extremely helpful for designers!
  • Already have a brand and now just need some extra material designed for it? This is really easy and perfect for 99designs. Show them your existing style and tell them to match.


2. Offer a decent amount

I will say this again, NEVER EVER offer the lowest amount possible. It doesn’t attract the top-level designers to work for low pay. It’s so much more worth it to offer more.

Here’s an example:

  • Offering $200 for a logo will get you 100 cheap designers, and 5 great designers.
  • Offering $400 for a logo will get you 500 cheap designers, and 20 great designers.

It’s not just the math, the effect is actually exponentially better. Here’s why. Having more great designers means you’ll see more great ideas and able to ask the other ones to apply similar ideas to their design. Kind of like an iron-sharpens-iron sorta thing.

And not only that…you now have found at least a handful of designers who you really like and while they might not be perfect for this project, you can keep them handy for future projects. Trust me, having these vetted contacts is worth a lot of money later when you need things designed and don’t have to find “the perfect look” for them.


3. Quickly eliminate crap designers

Don’t waste your time teaching them how to design when they’re so far off the mark. Many aren’t professional and/or aren’t trying very hard. Eliminate the worst ones immediately! If their initial concepts don’t feel professional or like a professional-draft, eliminate and move on. Spend your time thinking of feedback for the good designers.

Another good way to tell their level of the design is by their messages and the type of questions they ask:

  • Low-skilled designers – “Hi, what kind of logo are you looking for? Just tell me exactly what you want. I can do everything.”
  • Medium-skilled designers – “Hi, I’ve got some questions for you.” And then they ask you like 20 questions. They seem well-intended but I can assure you that if they didn’t get a hint of what you needed from the brief, they probably won’t get it fast enough to please you.
  • Top-skilled designers – Very specific-lines of questioning. “I read your brief but can’t tell if you wanted more like a James Bond kind of manly-vibe, or a Aquaman kind of manly-vibe…so I did both for you.”


4. Respond quickly

Yes, I know you’re busy with your day job but it’s really helpful to respond as quick as possible. As soon as the design comes in: think fast, show your friends fast, answer fast! Attack your top designers while they’re in their flow state. Don’t let a whole 4 hours go by. They put the project away, they move on to other things. Maybe they had more interesting ideas but when you respond too late, they forget what they had in mind. Maybe they lose interest.

When you respond quick, it’s instant feedback gratification for the designers. They want to know if you loved it or not. They want to get a HIT. So give them that. Tell them what things looked great and what things are still off the mark. Don’t lie to designers and tell them they have a chance of winning when you know they’re not your favorite. Compliment their work without leading them on.


5. Hinting the [expected] winner

As soon as you know FOR SURE who the winner will be, let them know they’re going to win! They’ll give you extra effort and many tweaks because now they know they’re not wasting their time.

Also, graciously let the others know you now have a winner in mind. They deserve to know so they can quit and focus on other contests. Some will even stick around anyway and throw in massive last ditch efforts to try and win. This can make things very exciting.


6. Thank everyone

BE GRACIOUS AND THANK THEM ALL!!! You never know when you’ll need the 2nd and 3rd place winners for other work. All the ones that put in extra work for you, keep them in mind for future projects. Maybe their style didn’t fit you this time around but can be useful for another project, or maybe your friends project.


Ready to start your 99designs contest?

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