In my last post, I explained how 99Designs works. Now I'll tell you a little more about how it worked for me, some advice on getting good results, and some of the controversy about using such a service.
I had heard about 99Designs a while back, and wanted to try it out. When I first researched 99designs, I found a competitor called CrowdSpring. With a little more digging, I found the logo contest for CrowdSpring that was done on 99Designs. CrowdSpring still uses the logo from that contest. Looking around at the current contests, there was even a contest for a new logo for TweetPhoto.
So when the time came to come up with branding and site design for Startup Next Door, I decided to try it. It was a big decision, because the logo was going to drive the look/attitude for the rest of the site. Since I am not a very creative designer, I figured I would leave it to the professionals.
I went through the process of getting signed up and putting my proposal up, and here's the cost breakdown:
|Logo design project listing fee||$39|
|Prize money for winning designer||$200|
|Prize handling fee||$20|
|Upgrade: Project listed in bold||$8|
|Upgrade: Listing highlighted||$6|
|Upgrade: Promote contest to designers external to 99Designs||$10|
I had originally set up a prize of $250 to attract more designers, but had to drop it to $200 to absorb all the fees.
Writing the proposal was the hardest part, because it involved trying to convey the basic concept of the site and who I am trying to attract (programmers/techies and business people). If you're a designer and reading this, I have no designer tutorials here because I'm not a designer. That's why I used the service. I pretty much left the proposal open, since I wanted to see what people would come up with, and not bias their design. I also added the file types I was looking for (vector graphics or layered PSDs). I'll go into what further specs to include in my next post.
For the first day of the contest I didn't receive any designs, then on the second day I received one or two, then after that they started rolling in pretty quickly. I had seen the results of other contests, so I knew that sometimes you'll get text with a nice swirly image next to it, or some bland clipart style graphic that along with text could be put together without too much effort, but I wanted something special, not generic, that when people saw it, it would be instantly recognizable. Over time I was getting worried when nothing seemed to really pop out at me, though some were looking promising. So I took a leap and made the contest Guaranteed (which would force me to choose a winner even if sub-par). I also extended the contest by one day (a free option). Somewhere around day 6 or 7 the logo you see now was submitted and it popped.
Once the contest was over, I chose the winning entry and did the exchange. The designer's native language was not English, but we were able to communicate enough to sign off and "close" the transaction.
Since 99Designs deals with design in a pure market sense, there are some web/logo designers who hate the idea. To them, it cheapens design and the analysis that goes into the branding of a site or product.
When you make a proposal to a design firm, there are many hours of effort put into defining your brand, who it speaks to, and what it says. Those efforts in creating a brand, a logo, website design, and everything ancillary to it is commendable and many times creates beautiful results, and for many businesses seeking professional branding services it's worth thousands of dollars.
For bootstrapped startups that are trying to spend their money in a way that maximizes each dollar, a professional branding service is too costly. I'm sure a designer will tell me that "you can't afford not to do this - it's the most important thing because it defines your business for your customer". A bootstrapped startup can do just fine with a 99Designs or CrowdSpring logo for a while and once they are rolling in money, you (the branding firm) will be called upon to do it up for real. Companies rebrand all the time.
Next post: going big with your logo