99designs Contest – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

99designs contest

WebsiteGecko’s logo was up for a redesign and I decided to give 99designs a shot. More specifically, I ran a 99designs contest.

Long story short, I am extremely happy with the end result. In fact, I ended up with the rather fortunate problem of having a hard time picking a winner given the many great designs I could choose from.

99designs contest - entries for WebsiteGecko logo.

In this guide I’ll talk your through the process of running a 99designs contest step-by-step. I’ll share with you how to make the most out of a contest and what pitfalls to avoid. I’ll also give my 2 cents on when you should work with an individual designer straight away instead, and in which cases you should run a contest.

Let’s jump right in.

What is a 99designs contest?

A 99designs contest lets you pit designers against one another for an amount of money of your choosing. You can use it to get a logo for your business, illustrations for your website, or even an entire website. You can also set up a design contest for packaging, t-shirts and book covers.

99designs homepage.

Designers on the platform have their own specialties. Some are strictly focused on branding, whilst others excel in web design.  

Once you set up a contest, designers from all over the world will send in their work. You get to give feedback which the designers can use to improve their designs over a course of 4 days.

After the qualifying round you get to select up to 6 finalists. You can pick the finalists straight away or take up to 4 days to pick and choose. You’ll then again get 4 days throughout which you get to work with the finalists. Then you’ll pick a winner (for which you’ll get up to 14 days).

These are the prizes you can choose from (although you can also come up with your own amount as well):

99designs bronze, silver, gold, platinum.

As you’d expect, the more money you’re willing to shell out, the more designs and better designers you’ll attract. While the Bronze package gets you around 30 design concept and probably predominantly beginner- and mid-level designers, the Platinum package gets you approximately 60 designs and only top-level designers are allowed to participate.    

Getting a logo designed for WebsiteGecko

For my logo contest I picked the bronze package. I decided to guarantee the prize. So even if I’d end up with no designs I liked, I’d have to pick a winner. On the flip side, guaranteeing the prize obviously leads to more and better designs to choose from, so I’d recommend you always pick this option. At least for any serious project.   

Writing a good brief

99designs makes writing a good brief a breeze. Basically, as long as you carefully follow the steps and take your time for each question, you should be able to create a solid brief. Even if you’ve got no prior experience working with designers.

99designs contest brief.

The better your brief, the higher the odds are you’ll be receiving the kind of designs you’re after. Furthermore, a professionally prepared brief tends to attract more mid- and top-level designers.

In writing a good brief, keep the following in mind:

  • Be super specific – leave as little to the imagination as you can. For instance, I already knew that for WebsiteGecko I wanted a logo which consisted of a semi-abstract mascot on the left, and the text on the right. So I communicated this clearly in the brief
  • Give examples of logos you like. You can pick a bunch of pre-selected logos previously made by 99designs designers, but don’t hesitate to mention some external brands to help point prospective designers in the right direction
  • If you’ve already got a color scheme, make sure to provide it. This will save you a couple of iterations getting designers to use the right colors

If you’re curious to see what my brief looked like, you can check it out here.  

Qualifying round

Giving feedback

Once you’ve finished your brief and published your contest, designs will start coming in. In my case, I did underestimate how many this would be. As a result, I started out giving feedback only about one-and-a-half day in.

This is where I went wrong: once you start a contest, you should start giving feedback right away. The faster you give feedback, the higher the odds are you’ll end up with the design you’re looking for.

Sure, this is going to be time consuming. But at the end of the day it will be worth the effort. What I recommend you do is this: Schedule about 4 10- to 15-minute blocks throughout your day to check your 99designs contest. This allows you to preserve your sanity while still being 100% on point when it comes to giving feedback quickly.

Every time you give feedback (you’ll give this privately to the designer), make sure to give a star-rating (which everyone can see) to the design as well. Prospective designers like the contests they’re considering to appear active. Getting a whole slew of designs in and not giving any of them a rating, tends to repel other designers.

Do make sure though to save your 4- and 5-star rating for after the qualifying rounds, as these give the impression to other designers that the contest is already a done deal. Stick with 3-star ratings at best, to ensure you’ll get as many designs to choose from as possible.

Message all designers

One thing I found out a little too late is that 99designs has a “message all designers” feature.

Message all designers.

Make sure to use it. At some point, you might have decided on a final design direction. Instead of telling this all designers individually, you’ll be much better off sending a group message.

Make sure to check the designers’ profiles

You might encounter some designs that seem have nothing to do with your brief or otherwise completely miss the mark.

Resist the urge to reject them outright however: have a look at the designer who sent them in. Perhaps the designer has some previous work that you really like. You can point towards that and tell them you’re after something a little closer to that for instance.

Actually, my winning design came from a designer whose initial design had little to do with my brief. But upon checking her profile, I thought she was a fantastic designer. And after a few iterations she came up with a great logo.

Check for plagiarism

Any platform attracts bad actors and 99designs is no different. There’s always the chance somebody will send you a stolen design in order to get their hands on the prize money. So with the designs you’re interested in, make sure to run a reverse image search on Google to ensure the design is original.

Invite other designers

For any 99designs contest you can invite up to 50 designers a day personally. I recommend you do this, as again, the more designs you’ve got to choose from, the better it is. When inviting designers, make sure to not send them a generic “hey, I like your work, want to join my design?” cookie cutter template. Instead, give them concrete examples of designs of theirs you liked and what you liked about them. Then tell them about your contest.

Final round

This contest was a pretty intense process, so I was happy I could select my finalists and take a bit of a breather. The final round is a more relaxed version of the qualifying round: you’re just left with a handful of designers you really like and can now iterate your way to a winning design. Of course, you can always pick the winning design before that if you wish.

Selecting a winner

After the final round is over, you’re left with your final designs. If you want to, you can now take a couple of weeks to consult with family and friends or run a poll amongst your website visitors before making a final decision.

Running a poll in the final round.

For me, I was really torn between some great candidates but am extremely happy with the choice I made.

Just one piece of advice here. If you’ve found a winning design which is 99% of the way there (e.g. you’re just looking for a slightly different shade, or font thickness), then don’t bother with the expensive daily extensions 99designs offers. I wanted to give one of the designers a bit more time to make a tiny change. But as she told me, it wouldn’t have been a problem at all doing this during the handover stage.


The handover is a pretty straightforward process. You can work with the winning designer on some last tweaks on your design. Once satisfied, you’ll receive the logo files (.ai, .eps., PNG – all formats) and copyright on the work.

And that’s it.

Should you do a 99Designs contest?

What you might be wondering at this stage is if a 99designs contest is the way to go for your business. Let me break down the good and the bad, and how it stacks up against working with an individual designer through 99designs.

The good

  • You’ll get an incredible range of designs to choose from. This can be particularly helpful if you’re not quite sure what kind of design, or design style you’re after
  • Even if you’re doing a bronze design contest, some top-level designers will probably throw their hat in the ring
  • It’s thrilling to run a contest. There’s a lot of excitement involved going through all the designs, giving feedback and receiving new iterations. Or receive a last-minute dark horse entry which becomes a serious contender
  • 99designs offers a fantastic user experience. Their site is incredibly easy to use and they make the contest very easy to manage

The bad

  • It is an intense and time-consuming process to work with so many designers. This gets amplified by the fact you’ll be receiving a ton of really bad designs to sift through as well (at least with the cheaper contests)
  • Be prepared to go through a guilt trip. Yes, every designer knows what they’re getting into when entering a contest like this. Still, having some people truly go above and beyond and knowing that at the end of the day there can only be one winner, is painful  

Running a contest vs. choosing an individual designer

Besides a design contest, I’ve also done design work on 99designs with a designer I personally identified. He did the homepage illustrations for WebsiteGecko. This process was totally frictionless and for most of my ongoing design work I’ll probably go this route, instead of running a contest.

The primary reason here is time and stress. Working with a designer you like straight away will cost you less of both.

Having said that, if you’re not entirely sure about what kind of design (or designer) you’re after, then running a contest definitely makes a lot of sense. And in the end, I’m very happy I ran one, given the logo I got out of it.  

Final words

Hopefully this guide has helped you decide whether running a contest on 99designs makes sense for you. As you can see, it can definitely be a feasible option for your design needs.

In case you’ve got any questions, please don’t hesitate leaving a comment below.

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