Design & Dev Tools

The PeC Review: Use 99 Designs for Crowd-sourced Graphics

The appearance of your online store matters. Customers use a store’s logo and website design to judge its trustworthiness and professionalism.

But ecommerce storeowners and managers are businesspeople, not necessarily graphic or web designers. So their expertise is in merchandising, business management, or purchasing, not creating attractive logos or even attractive websites.

Four stars
Online storeowners have had one real option to achieve an attractive site, and that’s to hire a professional designer. While I believe this is still the best option, there is also a potentially less expensive way to get great looking design work done thanks to crowd-sourced design site, 99 Designs.

This week, I spent some time on the 99 Designs site, kicking the virtual tires, if you will, as part of my weekly quest to introduce you to some of the products or services I believe could help you improve your business. Ultimately, I gave 99 Designs four out of a possible five stars in this “The PeC Review.”

Video: 99 Designs

What is Crowd Sourcing

Before I can talk about how 99 Designs specifically, I need to explain the concept behind this sort of outsourcing, namely crowd sourcing.

Crowd sourcing (often written crowdsourcing) “is when a company takes a job that was once performed by employees and outsources it in the form of an open call to a large undefined group of people generally using the Internet,” explained Jeff Howe, the man who coined the term and first articulated its meaning in a 2006 Wired magazine article.

The folks at 99 Designs rely on this concept to bring together a crowd of designers (both professional and amateur) with businesses that need design work.

How 99 Designs Works

For the sake of example, let’s say that you need a new logo for your ecommerce site. You know that what you have now isn’t really working and you want something more unique and more professional. You could hire a designer, check his or her references, carefully consider his or her sample work, and then pay about $1,200.00 for a good logo.

Or you could try to reduce your costs to, say, $750.00 by creating a contest for a crowd-sourced design at 99 Designs. To start a design contest at 99 Designs, you’ll need to create a design brief that provides the community of designers basic information about what you’re looking for in your new logo or website graphic design, including your color palette, mood, or even specifics about lettering.

Next, you set a budget. Listing your contest on 99 Designs costs $39.99 plus 10 percent of your contest prize value. The contest prize is what you will pay for the design you select at the end of the contest and there are minimums (right now a logo design requires a minimum prize of $150.00). Know that the larger the prize the better the designs, so for our logo example, we might want to offer $650.00 which with our listing fees brings our total budget close to the $750.00 I mentioned earlier.

Throughout the contest you should provide feedback to the designs whose work you like the best, helping them refine the look you want. And finally, you pick the winner. In exchange for the prize money, the designer will provide the both the original artwork and the copyright, or ownership, of that artwork.

Guaranteed Prizes Get Better Designs

The service offers two kinds of contests. There are the “regular” contests and “guaranteed” contests. In the latter, the contest holder—that would be you—promises to pick one of the designs submitted and award a prize. In the “regular” category, you might decide you don’t like any of the designs, and just keep your money.

While having the option not to pay if you don’t like a design may seem like a good choice, it could mean that you won’t get as many or as good designs. Specially, I observed a few contests, and I found that guaranteeing that a prize will be awarded generally improved the quality and quantity of the submissions. After all, the majority of the designers in the crowd are working for free, and at least knowing that someone will get paid is a lot of incentive.

Lots of Participation

The key to the 99 Design business model is having a lot of designers willing to work in the hope of earning a prize. Put another way, crowd sourcing doesn’t work unless you have a crowd.

In this area, 99 Designs shines. One of the contests I followed as research for this article had 488 good quality logo submissions. In fact, I thought more than a dozen of the designs were exceptional.

Summing Up

99 Designs is a great choice that will certainly get you a number of great designs, whether you’re looking for a new logo, new website layout, or even a Twitter background. It is important to remember that this crowd is full of graphic designers not web designers, so if you commission a website design contest, you get a graphic file that will still need to be converted to XHTML and CSS.


Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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