99Designs — Get a New Logo for a Bargain Price

99Designs -- Get a New Logo for a Bargain Price
Need a new logo but don’t have much of a budget? Turn to 99Designs to run a design contest sourcing your logo or other design challenge from a vast array of emerging graphic designers.All you need is a clear idea of what you want designed and how much you’re prepared to pay for it.

Here are some current design contests, and here’s how 99Designs works:

  1. Craft your creative brief — The brief articulates all the tough prep work your org needs to do — brand definition, goal, target audiences, etc. My guide to creative briefs includes an easy-to-complete template.
  2. Set your budget — How much is your org to pay the winning designer to purchase their design (aka the prize)? Prize amounts generally range from $100 to $600 depending on the type of design you require.
  3. Work with the designers — Once your design brief has been posted to 99designs.com, designers from around the globe will submit design concepts to compete for your prize. It’s your job to rate the designs and provide feedback to help the designers deliver what you want.
  4. Choose your favorite design — Consider asking your base to weigh in here as well. At the completion of the design contest (which is typically 7 days) you will choose a winning design and pay the designer the prize amount. The designer will send you their completed design along with copyright to the original artwork.

Of course, as with everything communications (and most else), what you get out of it is directly proportional to what you put into it. My friend Brian Reich, co-author of Media Rules, shares this guidance for running a productive 99Designs contest:

  • Comment, comment, comment: The more you comment on submitted designs, the more designs come in, and the better they get. Makes sense, you’re honing your vision so the graphic representations of it are more on target.
  • Be brutally honest.
  • Eliminate the ones you don’t like pronto: That narrows the field and focuses the designers.
  • Guarantee payment: It doesn’t necessarily matter how much (although I’d say $300 is a healthy average for logo design) but
    designers do better work if they know a winning entry gets paid.

Remember though, the more detailed and comprehensive your creative brief, the better the submitted logos will match your org’s vision and needs.

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Nancy Schwartz on April 7, 2009 in Graphic Design, Nonprofit Communications, Unique Approaches | 13 comments
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  • Sue

    I usually love your advice, but I have to disagree with this one (sorry!). 99Designs and similar sites hurt graphic designers and clients by requiring spec work and leaving thoughtful communication out of the process. A logo is way more than a simple picture, as I’m sure you know.
    Googling 99designs brings up their site, and a whole lot of angry designers. It’s worth reading some of their posts.

  • Sue,
    I certainly understand it if some designers don’t participate. But what’s the harm if others — let’s say those short of work, wanting a challenge and/or new to the field — do?

  • Sue

    Or to put it another way (sorry, I get riled up on this subject!)
    Let’s say I start a site where nonprofits can solicit communications services from naive, inexperienced would-be marketers.
    The marketers don’t win — most have done work for no pay, and the “winner” gets far below market rate.
    The nonprofit doesn’t win — they’ve saved money, but now they have a generic marketing strategy written by someone who’s done very little research on them, and has had no actual communication with them.
    You don’t win — your professional skills have been devalued. If nonprofits can get communications services for $400, why should they pay your rates? It’s all the same anyway, right?

  • Aside from the designers, I think this is a great opportunity for companies with small budgets. It gives them the chance to see a variety of designs as well as receive a completed product on a budget. On the flip side of the coin, however, you get what you pay for – you certaintly won’t get the care and attention that you would with a hired designer.

  • Re “Item 4: Choose your favorite design — Consider asking your base to weigh in here as well.” From long experience, I suggest considering it for about a second and then discarding it. That way madness lies (think horses, committees and camels). Give the job to one well-briefed person in-house and live with their decision.

  • Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for the thoughtful post…
    I understand the emotional chord that crowdsourced design strikes, and we are listening.
    However, 99designs is not about devaluing designers…its about leveling the playing field thereby creating new opportunities for designers and small businesses/nonprofits alike.
    Approximately 50 percent of all projects on 99designs leads to follow on work for the designer outside of 99designs.
    That is a telling statistic. 99designs can be a powerful marketing/lead generation tool for designers.
    Check out this note we received from one of the designers in the community:
    Bottom line – 99designs creates opportunities.
    Is the market changing – yes
    Can change be unsettling – yes
    But at the end of the day, 99designs broadens and refines the market for custom design work.
    Large companies and organizations who want a deeply examined and highly strategic design will still go to top-tier design agencies.
    Small business and organizations, who don’t have deep pockets and just need a simple logo may try the crowdsourced route.
    And then there’s the huge space in between.
    About the working for no pay…
    Most people at some point will put time and effort into something, with no guarantee that there will be a paycheck at the end of it.
    Take acting…Hollywood/TV…an audition process, lot’s of preparation and work up front – no guarantees.
    Do student films devalue the craft of acting?
    Take Public Relations – potential clients put out RFPs…agencies put a lot of time and work into these proposals…no guarantee they are going to win the client at the end of it.
    What about internships?
    The list goes on and on and on…
    The point in all of these examples is that there is value to the process beyond the potential for a paycheck at the end. There is the value of the experience gained – the learning.
    Designers in the community at 99designs learn a great deal by competing on real projects, interacting with with real clients through feedback.
    Plus it is a community – the designers themselves support one another. Sure they are competing…but they are also helping each other and exposing each other to a ton of new ideas.
    This is value…and as 99designs continues to evolve we look for ways we can add more value to both its design community and its community of clients.
    Stay tuned…
    Jason Aiken

  • I’m afraid I have to agree with the naysayers on this one. Having owned a communication design firm in the past, I frequently faced the pressure to do work on spec, which is what 99designs is all about. As a professional writer, I would never produce copy without an agreement to be paid for my efforts (which can include a kill fee if I’m unable to meet a client’s needs).
    Good design that meets communication objectives depends on developing a strong working relationship where the designer understands my business or organization, my strategic goals, etc. As Sue said earlier, good design is more than a simple picture.
    You may think you can’t afford a professional designer, but there are many out there who offer lower rates for nonprofits, or who are willing to do pro bono work for causes in which they’re interested. Or you may attract someone to an initial project if it promises to lead to more lucrative or challenging future work.

  • Rose

    I have to agree with Sue. There are negatives in general for graphic designers with sites like 99Designs, but it’s not good from the client’s perspective either. While the amount you pay for a professional graphic designer might seem like a lot, keep in mind that you are paying for more than them just making a logo. Most graphic designers will spend time getting to know your organization and your overall goals. A professional graphic designer should design not just your logo, but an entire identity package–such as business cards, letterhead, and an identity guide that outlines what colors and fonts to use, etc if you want to create anything in-house.
    I guess I have an unusual perspective because I work for a nonprofit and I am also taking graphic design classes in the hopes of gaining more experience so that I can do freelance work. I would like to remind people that there are not just two options–extremely expensive professional graphic designers, or affordable places like 99Designs. Don’t forget students and new designers. We don’t have the experience that long-time designers have, and yes, our work may not be quite the same quality. But our prices are affordable and unlike a place like 99Designs, we will spend time getting to know your organization before creating a design. Also, more experienced designers are often willing to offer discounted prices for a nonprofit, or even donate their time, just like other companies donate in-kind gifts or services.
    Also, don’t forget that you have more options than just “spec work” (like on 99Designs) or else picking a designer sight unseen. Of course you should never pick a designer without looking at their portfolio. They should be able to show you examples of similar work so that you get a clear idea of whether or not they have the design sensibility that you are looking for. They should also be able to give you references or testimonials so that you can see what they might be like to work with.
    In sum, I guess that when you use 99Designs you are getting what you pay for. If that’s one-off logo without an identity package or a deep understanding of your company–well, that is your decision, but I’d suggest that you consider other options first.

  • Alan Bucknam

    Logo Contests are one of the worst ways to get a thoughtful, creative brand identity for your organization. They lack the process for the designer to gain a deep understanding of your organization via research and a good feedback loop, and also (because the designer isn’t getting paid much) doesn’t motivate the designer to put a lot of time and attention into your project. I’m not saying you have to spend tens of thousands of dollars, but you need a designer or studio who is at least as interested in making sure you are effectively reaching your audience as they are in turning a quick buck.
    I posted a note about Doug Bartow’s excellent analysis of this very issue on my blog just the other month here:
    I’d love to have your feedback.

  • Christie

    I sat on this for a week before I posted – but it still bothered me so much I had to say something. I’m with the naysayers here. Contests like these cheapen the profession of graphic design. As a designer and a writer, I’m amazed at how undervalued these professions can be. I’ve been in the field for a long time, but freelancing for only about 1-1/2 years. I constantly see ads for writers and designers to work “for exposure” for publications and websites that will make a lot of money off these efforts. Design contests are horrible for taking advantage of naive designers. There are plenty in the design and writing community who are more than happy to offer discounted rates or pro bono work to non-profits – but encouraging non-profits to take advantage of ‘spec’ work sites like 99 designs is just wrong. Would you encourage them to hire an accountant on spec? Probably not. So why a graphic designer?

  • Toby

    No doubt about it – 99designs and sites like it are disruptive, and that will anger some in the establishment who fail to realize and adapt to the new realities in the Marketplace.
    The smart ones will seize this opportunity, to either re-position themselves or embrace change – just like Getty Images did when it acquired iStockPhoto, when that site came along disrupted the pricing models in the stock photography industry.
    At the end of the day, each market will have tiers of services for different groups of people. You can buy a Kia, a Toyota, or a Lexus, just like you’ll be able to use 99designs, a freelance designer, or a big agency to do your design work.
    More choice is ultimately better, and as long as all parties are going into it with their eyes wide open, the market will flourish.

  • ArcherTC

    Jason, sorry, but your analogies do not add up.
    Actors do not perform the entire work for free each night to then only be paid when the audience liked just one of the performers.
    Smart interns have contracts that exchange their work for college credit that is applied against their degree. They also seek first and foremost paid internship programs with reputable established companies that will bring value — because of their brand — to the intern’s resume.
    And no legitimate agency RFP says first do the work and then we will notify you if we want the very same.
    It is also shocking that you claim only 50 percent of those WINNING designers see future work relationships from their effort. I’m no math major, but that adds up to about nothing for MOST of the participating designers.
    Quote: “Most people at some point will put time and effort into something, with no guarantee that there will be a paycheck at the end of it.”
    Yes, and those people learn from their mistake.
    One suspects that 99designs will see a certain type of work and that the smarter designers will directly pursue companies that know the value of their work can’t be found on such a site. Perhaps, for that, the graphic community can be grateful for your thinning out the weakest of the craft.

  • Well yes…
    Here the counter argument is that you need to consider the graphic design crowdsourcing model with normal designing job model. We have to list down the things we have to do to win a conventional design process.
    1. To bid for a graphic design project for a conventional company you shall have to find a client. To find a client you have to look around or subscribe to some website where graphic design projects are posted. OR you shall have to find a local company needing some graphic design work.
    2. Then you shall have to prove your credential by showing them some of the graphic design jobs that you have worked for in the past. They will like some and not like some. If they find most of your graphic designs impressive to their eyes then you might be selected for their graphic project.
    3. Then you shall have to make a proposal for the graphic design job. Here you shall have to keep in mind that many graphic designers will be bidding for the same work and hence you shall have to be competitive in your pricing. Its a big issue for buyer.

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