Outsourcing artwork through 99designs.com

99designsMost software developers have horrible graphics design skills. I am no exception. So I decided to run a contest on 99designs.com for some artwork I wanted to use to promote Perfect Table Plan. I have used DesignOutput.com once before, but I decided to give their competitor a try after seeing the  stackoverflow.com and homedocumentmanager.com logos created through 99designs.

I put up $300 prize money for a humorous cartoon of a seating arrangement gone wrong. Fees cost me an additional $69. The detailed brief is here and I also supplied this rough sketch:


Here is the winner I chose:


I ran it as a ‘guaranteed’ competition to try and attract more designers I also made an effort to give plenty of feedback on the designs submitted and I let it run the full 7 days. I found the 99designs website easy and intuitive to use. Setting up the competition only took ten minutes or so. My only gripe is that the ‘eliminate’ and ‘choose winner’ buttons are so close together that it would be easy to click the wrong one. You do have to confirm the winning choice however.

Most of the other competitions are for logos and websites, so mine was a little unusual. But I still got over 40 different designs (some variations on a theme) from 20 different designers. You can see the designs here (those that haven’t been withdrawn). The quality of the entries varied, but much of it was really excellent. I am very happy with the winning entry.

99designs seems rather brutal for the designers. 40+ entries is common and some contests get over 1,000 designs entered. This means stiff competition and the designers don’t get anything unless they win. I am guessing that they are mostly students, who are happy for the practice, or living in cheaper parts of the world, where $300 is a significant amount of money. But it certainly offers excellent value for money for those running contests.

35 thoughts on “Outsourcing artwork through 99designs.com

  1. reno

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been looking for a way to get some creative work done since I too am a failure at artwork.

  2. timhaughton

    Their logo work can be really good, and I’ll certainly use them again. I think you need to up the ante a little if you want something like a website PSD, but for logo work I’d definitely recommend 99Designs.

    There does seem to be a knack, because if you’re too critical of a designer’s work, they can often pull their designs from your competition, which robs other designers from seeing examples of what you don’t like.

  3. Avi Dai

    Hi. I need a web site built. I’m putting up a $300 prize for the winning design. All submissions must be fully functional, working sites, completely documented, with a full suite of tests included.

    What I want:

    * Ecommerce system something like Amazon.com (credit card processing must be functioning in your submission)
    * custom content management system so ordinary office staff with no web skills can add, delete, and modify all pages
    * full blog (I really like how WordPress works — do something like this)
    * user forum (all features of all the top forums needed, but must be custom work)
    * photo sharing (Flickr is a good model, but we need a system that’s unique for us)
    * built in customer resource management system (must match best of breed and be easy for inexperienced users to manage)
    * complete inventory management system
    * financial accounting (AR, AP, general ledger, etc. – should also be able to handle all IRS requirements and update itself for each tax year)
    * other features as need – if we think of anything by the end of the contest, you’ll need to add them to collect your prize money

    Please submit your working entries by next Friday.


  4. Nik Black

    I love Avi’s requirements. He basically wants to build:

    * wordpress
    * Amazon.com
    * flickr
    * salesforce
    * phpbb
    * an ERP

    all for $300. I will tell you now Avi that anybody who is willing to take that project for $300 is not going to do a good job, if you get anybody at all. You will be hard pressed to find somebody to install open source components on a server for that little, let alone build a complete custom platform..

  5. Pingback: [root@EGA]# » Blog Archive » links - 20090216

  6. timhaughton

    I just read the logo factory article above. I’ve seen this on BoS too. Anyone who derives income from (over)charging for logo design services seems to believe these sites are bad for business, bad ideas, and probably use blind aputee children as slaves.

    Just a pinch of protectionism perchance?

  7. Mike Morris

    I’d highly recommend 99Designs also. I used them for logo and icon design for a product I’m just about to release. As I’ve gained more experience in this field I’ve come to value my own time a lot more than I used to. I can do decent graphics work but why flail and waste time doing stuff I’m not really expert when there is a reasonable alternative.

    I really liked the “back and forth” nature of working with the designers. It was fun to watch the final design coalesce into what I had originally envisioned.

  8. Lachlan Donald

    Thanks for the kind words Andy, your contest had some great entries. I’m always particularly impressed with illustrations, as I can’t draw to save my life :)

    In terms of actual earnings, we have lots of designers earning very decent salaries from contest work and then follow on work. It works out being quite a bit more than just the contest work, especially for logos, which are often followed by business cards, fliers, etc.

    Obviously it’s especially lucrative for designers in countries like Romania or Bosnia where winning a contest is about the same as the annual average wage. I’m not going to pretend it’s in any way comparable to what they could be earning in a design firm in the US, but it’s giving people opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have in many cases.

    There is an interview that CBS conducted with some of our designers over on cbs5.com:


    Best of luck with Perfect Table Plan!

    – Lachlan from 99designs.com

  9. russell s

    What AVI succeeded in is a reduction to absurdia.

    Average cost of logo by paying a “pro” in my area – $1500 to $3000.

    So I’m seeing an 80 or 90% savings. Pretty crazy, however…

    Average cost of what AVI describes – hundreds of thousands

    99%+ savings. That extra 9% makes the reduction to absurdia.

    If you want to make such a point as AVI is trying to make, you need to pick a development example that would cost $3000, not one that might cost $3 million.

  10. Pingback: tekBlues » Blog Archive » Great resources for uISVs

  11. Steve

    Check out Designers Contest.
    Only $29.95 to launch a contest.


    For you designers there are more chances to get paid. These guys have a designers pool that grows each month. The pool amount is awarded to a designer that made submitted artwork but didn’t win the contest.

  12. cj

    The 99design in my oppinion is the biggest scam there is over on the internet… or per say… work and dont get paid!!! and be invited by an insider to enter in a contest… and get ridiculized by them… what a junk of sh..

  13. Simon Strandgaard

    cj. the world is an unfair place. People with lots of $$$ can use 99designs to get cheap labor and get richer and the designers can waste lots of time. However in some cases it may benefit the designers, otherwise the 99designs site wouldn’t be able to exist I guess.

  14. logoexpert

    You could even try shopfordesigns . com for your next logo design project.

    They do not have high contest listing fee like 99designs. They only charge a prize handling money which is far less than any site of its kind.

  15. Innovator

    When small business owners are making purchasing decisions, it’s difficult for them to use full service designers when their competition is getting great looking graphics from crowdsourcing sites at low prices.

  16. Stan Lee

    The only people who benifit on 99 designs are contest holders and poor designer who know nothing about designing but get chosen for a peticular reason though their designs might not having anything to do with the contest and it may be poorly made while you the real designer might get eliminated repeatly each time you enter into that contest or each time they chosen to enter into different contests because you arent a liability to them, they those contest holders who have low expectations and know nothing about designing. Its bad enought the price award is low but if you’re a professional or you might say a real designer you won’t win contests on there.

    Don’t try entering you’ve find its a waste of time.

    No 99 designs doesn’t work for real designers. A designer can’t build a career off it or not even get quick money from doing a contest even if they are professionals. The contest holders don’t know anything about design, have poor taste, bad eyesights and low expectations. Contest holders will write a brief report on what they expect but its unreliable as they always backstave it. A designer can design over and over for the same project but won’t get chosen and you can even try designing for different contest/projects but its unlikey you get chosen rather a person who barely knows anthing about designing will get chosen because the contest holder like the color scheme or some lame scheme to that design.In their brief reports or design descriptions they never stick to their word or say what they mean. They give standards but usually pick designs that go against their standards. Designers will design hundreds of designs for one project and get eliminated though they put alot of effort but in the end a red text thats shining will get picked though they claimed they wanted something great, spectcular. They, contest holders, are picky until the end of the deadline and will keep changing their minds until its over. Some thing will be eliminate because it had a wrong color scheme but they don’t care. These contest holders are usually the ones with bad designed websites. Some of these people, contest holders, are lazy people who are to lazy/dumb to use microsoft fronts to get same results for the designs they pick at the end though they claimed they wanted something great but don’t stick to their word. Their is a reason design companies don’t use 99 designs cause they would go broke and likey wouldn’t get chosen. The only loser are the real designers and a person who barely knows how to design will get chosen because of the bad taste of these contest holders.

    Designers on 99 designs are not a liablity to them, contest holders,like a firm/design company would have with a client company so they can eliminate you without any worries and backstave their own requirments in their brief reports they had when the contest began without any legal stipulation against them.

    Yes they are those poor, lousy fonie designers who have been on 99 designs and already know how to win and keep on submitting until the dim-witt finds what he likes.

  17. Joker

    maybe you don’t even hear that in other country logo design can be paid in just 2 dollar… even they don’t like to paid you as the designer for 35 dollar! i think 99designs do better for us…

  18. dil

    I am from a 3rd world country…. here clients want logos designed in a couple of days, 25$ max, no advance payments, so if they dont like em… no pay.

    crowd sourcing sites are still a gamble, but they offer more time and money.

  19. Happy

    Thank you for the article.

    I am 2 days in to holding a 99designs contest and, while it is hard work, I am delighted with the outcomes so far.

    I too have wondered about the deal for designers, but the fact that there are so many designing there means there must be something compelling about the offer.

    Obviously some who have a bad experience or difficulty being chosen will become embittered. But I have had conversations with others who have been working with the site for a long time, profitably (and based in well-off Western countries so not just playing the exchange rates).

    Contrary to Stan Lee’s rather sweeping assertions, there are many who are highly talented. Of course there are also those who make you want to cry. The bottom line is that, over the course of a decently-paid comp, you will get a range of great designs to choose from (and possible strike up a relationship with one or more favourites for future comps/work).

    I would emphasise to anyone thinking of going this way – it is a VERY involved process, and to get a good outcome you will need to put in some hours. The people at 99designs say you get out what you put in and it is very true – I’m spending hours each day on feedback. Your reward is a breadth of designs far greater than could be achieved with a single person/agency on a conventional contract (IMO).

    All up I think it is an excellent way to go for those commissioning design work, as long as they have a firm idea of what they want (and can write a strong and clear brief) and the time to invest in collaborating.

  20. Jamie

    One of the biggest issues with many design contest sites is their refund policy. A new website called Klick360.com deals with this issue by offering a unique Satisfaction Guarantee where if the client is not happy with their contest they may extend it for an additional 7 days and up to 4 times. We believe this eliminates the need for a refund.

    This makes designers happy and happy designers equate to happy clients!

  21. Pogi

    It’s as simple as this. Many designers and contest holders appreciate and admire 99designs. Meaning, we found it fair with us. In any legal ways that I don’t know, may i ask the 99design team to settle this issues so we can continue this wonderful community relatmion.

    Attention 99designteam, just keep your community secured and your success is GUARANTEED!

Comments are closed.