99designs is a pioneer in the field of crowdsourcing. Through 99designs, companies can run design contests for new logos, packaging designs, or any project that requires graphics. The process of running a contest involves an open round where all the graphic artists in the 99designs community have an opportunity to submit, which is followed by a “closed” contest where the client narrows down the designers which can participate to a handful. When the company picks a winning design, the graphic artist gets a financial prize of several hundred dollars.
When Fit Small Business re-designed our logo, we used 99designs. Overall, we were pleased with the results. Fifty designers participated in the process, submitting 178 designs. You can see the winning design in the upper left hand corner of this page. When I was presented the opportunity to interview the CEO of 99designs, I jumped on it.
The suggested theme of the interview was 99designs’ new product in which they offer “a logo and a hosted website”. Basically, there is a design contest in which a logo is created. Then, the designer creates a website incorporating the logo, using Jimdo’s website builder. The business just needs to insert in the content (using the website builder) to have a professional looking website that is ready to use. Neat idea!
However, I was much more interested in the design contests which was the focus of the interview. The following Q & A is based on my interview with Patrick Llewellyn, the CEO of 99designs. However, the answers are not his exact words, but based on my notes.
99designs enables companies to offer different prizes. How does the prize level impact the number of people participating in the contest and the quality of the designers?
A higher prize amount will increase the number of designers that submit designs. However, there are a number of factors outside of the prize amount that will greatly impact both the number and quality of designers that get involved. Specifically, the topic of the design, the quality of the brief, and the level of feedback which the company provides on designs are all very important.
After a design is submitted, the business running the contest has an opportunity to give stars for the individual designs, as well as more qualitative feedback. When designers see that the company is actively involved in the contest, they are more inclined to participate.
What do you mean about topic and quality of the brief?
While all contests will get a good number of responses, designers gravitate towards what they are interested in. In general, contests for things like coffee, food, bicycles, animals etc… get a lot of attention. These are fairly easy to support, not controversial, no moral objections and there are lots of creative avenues to explore. On the other hand, projects in more conservative industries, where there is less range for creativity, tend to get less designers involved.
The brief, which the business creates to outline its design needs, is very important because it also shows the seriousness of the company launching the contest. We don’t require that company’s guarantee the prize for a contest, so designers designers often have to make a decision before they know if there is a potential financial benefit. They use the creative brief to help make that decision. First of all, is the company taking the contest seriously? Did they put time and thought into the brief? Secondarily, designers use the brief to figure out if the contest is a good fit for their aesthetics and skillset.
What can a company launching a contest do to get the right designers involved?
I am glad you used the term “right” instead of best. For example, a designer might be great at logos for professional service firms like accountants, but not good at designing for restaurants. We recently launched our discover tool which enables business to browse the logos of our 850,000 plus strong community of designers. Based on what designers the business is exploring, the discover tool will show works from designers they have a higher probability of being interested in. When a company sees a designer which they like, they can invite them to participate in the contest that they are holding.
What percentage of designers act on the invitation?
In the neighborhood of 10% to 20%. However, if a business likes a particular designer, they can increase their chances by expressing why they want the designer to be involved. For example, writing something like, “We like the following logos that you created and would like a logo with a similar visual theme”.
I would like to say that a business is highly likely to get a design they love without having to reach out to individual designers. We don’t require businesses to commit to paying for a contest. However, businesses chose to select a winner and award a prize in around 90% of all contests held.
How can you get the best work from the designers that participate in a contest?
Providing feedback on the designs being submitted is key. The more detailed the better.
It’s important to be direct, both when a design is to your liking and not to your liking. By politely saying that a design is not to your taste, you are both saving the designer from investing more time, and shaping the direction of the contest, as all the designers can read the feedback.
99designs enables businesses to give star ratings on designs. Giving 4 and 5 star ratings during the open phase of a design contest sometimes works to discourage participation for existing participants that did not get the high rating from submitting new work. If they see a few people with high ratings, they can say to themselves, “The business already has a number of designers they think highly of. My chances of winning are remote. I shouldn’t spend any more effort on this.” For this reason, I suggest that businesses generally don’t give more than 3 stars in the first phase.
99designs offers ready made logos and the ability to work directly with a particular designer one on one. When do you recommend these products instead of a contest?
A design contest requires time and effort from the business running it. If a company doesn’t want to spend the time to create a detailed brief on what they want, or give feedback on the design contest submissions, the ready made logo can be a great solution. These are templated logos which can be customized for the company’s name, slogan and color scheme.
The one on one service is a natural extension of 99designs contests. A company runs a contest and finds a designer that they want to work with in the future. Through 99designs, they can work with that specific designer without having to run a contest. The designer gets a guaranteed amount of money and, as a result, can fully dedicate themselves to the project.
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Patrick Llewellyn, CEO of 99Designs
Patrick Llewellyn joined 99designs, the world’s largest graphic design marketplace, in 2009. He previously spent a decade at Nextec Strategic Capital advising Australian technology and media companies with an expertise in growth and capital raising.
In 2010 Patrick moved to San Francisco to open the 99Designs U.S. office and oversee U.S. and international expansion. He was officially appointed CEO in January 2011, and quickly guided 99designs to a $35 million first-round capital investment led by Accel Partners (Facebook, Dropbox, Etsy).
Llewellyn has since launched 99designs’ European headquarters in Berlin as well as localized-language sites across Europe and Latin America. He has grown the company from a handful of staff to 115 in San Francisco, Melbourne, Berlin, and Rio de Janeiro. As of January 2015, 99designs has hosted more than 350,000 graphic design contests and paid out more than $100 million to its community of 950,000 designers around the world.