Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bad experience with 99Designs -- my takeaways

I'm coming off an unhappy website redesign with -- only 2 or 3 of the 13 designers submitted designs that seemed worthy of iterating on. This contrasted sharply with my previous experience having a logo designed at 99Designs when I had nearly 350 designs submitted (compared to 37), and 4 of them were very good. This time around I have 1 design that I'm pretty happy with (and the overall hit to my wallet is twice as high).

Part of the explanation appears to be that many more designers submit designs for logos -- they're probably much less work -- and payouts tend to be about half the payout for a website design, so designers opt for the logo projects.

One approach to designing a successful project:
If you sort the webpage designs by the number of designs that were submitted, you can find projects that received more designs than projects that offered to pay more. Sometimes these high-marketing / low-cost projects beat out projects offering to pay nearly 3x as much! These disproportionately successful projects suggest a few takeaways:

  • Tell designers that there's a possibility of ongoing work in the 2nd line of the project description

  • Projects that get lots of designs often offer a high payout but don't guarantee the project. Some of the projects that do guarantee a payout didn't get many designs. There doesn't seem to be a clear association between guaranteeing a project payout and the number of designs submitted.

  • Making the project "blind" -- ie designers can't see what other designers have submitted -- doesn't appear to be correlated with the number of design submissions.

Here's what I'm going to do in the future:

  1. Make an effort to "sell" the project, both by describing how tricky a project it is, and by approaching designers directly and asking them to take a crack at it (see the tips in the links at the bottom of this post).

  2. Don't buy separate logo and webpage design projects for the same website.

  3. Give feedback to everyone, even if you only give personalized feedback to the folks whose designs you like. My guess is that designers look at whether or not a contest-buyer gives feedback to everyone before they decide which sites to design

  4. Avoid the "blind contest" option like the plague. I understand that designers love it, because it prevents less talented designers from stealing their best ideas. However, as the buyer, I kind of like designers riffing on other peoples designs. You probably get more designs overall, and more of them are going to be appealing. Plus, (granted with only two data points) I had about 1/10th the number of designs submitted in my "blind" contest.

Other tips for 99Designs Contests:

  1. 10 Tips for Obtaining a Stellar Graphic Design via

  2. tips: crowdsourcing a design project

  3. 4 tips to hosting a fun design competition


Jason Aiken said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for sharing your experiences with

And I am sorry to hear that the web project did not live up to expectations.

Web projects are indeed more complex than logo projects and do need to managed a bit differently.

I'd like to take a look at your brief and talk a bit more about your experiences.

Please email me so we can discuss.


Chris Brooks said...

Hi Jason,

Thanks for taking the time to reply -- that's great customer service.


Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm designer on 99designs, have won sevaral web design contests and was quite happy until blind contests came out. I stopped participating.

"I understand that designers love it, because it prevents less talented designers from stealing their best ideas."

I believe this is bullshit. I don't like blind contests and I don't like the fact that 99designs decided they will promote their blind contests by saying "best designers will love them". From what I see, It's often the opposite, that is probably the reason you didn't have much of good entries. Maybe there's another reason like bad brief or something else, but the point of my comment is: as much as I was happy with this service, I became unhappy, and I don't think anybody listens to designers like me. But if designers won't enter your contests, customer service aimed at contest holders only won't matter.

Jason Aiken said...

Thanks for the comments - the blind projects have been very well received by most of the designers in the community.

It is interesting to note however, the designers who don't like the "blind" option tend to be web designers - it is something we are looking at.

Oh...and we definitely listen to designers like should check out our user forums and our blog...those are the two best places to leave us feedback.


Anonymous said...

"It is interesting to note however, the designers who don't like the "blind" option tend to be web designers"

Exactly, and being web designer I don't like that you notice it so slowly, it was communicated very clearly in your blog. Now it's your turn to do something with it.

I think you should look more at the place where feedback is coming from (logo or web design, how good is this designer and so on). Voice counts at uservoice don't say much, you don't have to even be user of 99designs to register there and vote.

By the way, the reason why I'm writing anonymously is that I don't trust 99designs, based on my experience I could be as well banned for opinion like this without any notice. It's ironic, but I'm using 99designs as designer and quite succesfully in the past before blind contests and yet I don't feel that I can express my thoughts freely. I think this is something to think about.

Anonymous said...

I mean banned with a message that sounds like this:

"Hello, dear web designer. You have been suspended forever for making one of our clients opinion about our service worse. Have a really nice day. Your 99designs team"

Jason Aiken said...

You do not need to worry about being banned for providing feedback like this...that has never happened...nor will it.

People are banned for plagiarism, spam, or otherwise acting unprofessionally etc...We always respect courteous and constructive feedback regardless of whether its positive or negative.

I apologize for moving slowly in your view...I wish we could move faster on some things...we are listening, gathering data, and making changes...we are just a small team ourselves trying our best to prioritize what we work in order to create the most opportunity for all.

Hope you understand.

And please do feel free to contact me directly.


Anonymous said...

I need to agree--I'm not a fan of the blind contests. I want to invest my time, energy, and creativity, in projects where I think I stand a chance, and seeing the other entries allows me to do that. I won't enter blind contests.

I also like to see what kinds of designs are getting which kinds of ratings.