Designing a logo: how about trying 99 Designs?

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Designing a logo: how about trying 99 Designs?

A problem that my clients often face when it comes to logos and websites is the thorny one of how to come up with the right design, especially if they are after a bit of pizazz or a strong visual concept to sell their brand.

Since I am the copywriter who prides herself on coming up with something different, and that is usually why my clients retain me over my competitors, they also want something out of the ordinary in the design department. Often, logos prove to be particularly tricky.

However, finding the graphic designer who will come up with a special logo for their brand and ensure that they stand out from the crowd can be difficult. Although I know quite a few terrific graphic designers, none of them is necessarily the right one for the client who is standing in front of me, desperately looking for someone to design their logo or website.

How does the design process usually work for logos?

Usually, when you retain the services of a graphic designer to design a logo, the process works like this:

Step 1: You brief the designer.

Step 2: They come up with some initial designs (the number of designs can vary but is usually around six).

Step 3: You provide feedback on the designs.

Step 4: The designer comes up with a final design.

It sounds fairly straightforward but often doesn’t work out as you had imagined, especially if you have a difficult concept, are picky about your design or want something unique.

Where do things go wrong with design?

First, as I have mentioned, if you hire a graphic designer for a set fee, they generally cap the number of designs they are obliged to provide you with. Obviously, this is to protect themselves from nightmare clients who are never happy and would force them to produce an endless number of designs. However, it does mean that the chances of getting the right design are reduced.

Second, if you wish to get the best out of your designer, you need to take the time to give them high-quality feedback. A lot of clients seem to think that a designer should be telepathic. In short, you need to understand that no designer can conjure the perfect design out of thin air. You need to give them as much information as possible about your business, and the message you want to communicate to your clients or customers via your logo.

Third, most designers cap the number of revisions you can request, which means that if they aren’t close to the mark with the first draft, you are probably in trouble.

All in all, working with one designer can mean ending up accepting a design you aren’t very happy with, because you can’t afford to pay for more revisions or to start from scratch with a new designer.

What is 99 designs?

99 designs is an online agency for freelance graphic designers throughout the world. The 99 Designs website  enables you to run a contest for your design project. Through this process, you can select a winning design from submissions from designers located all over the globe.

It works like this.

Step 1: You create a design brief.

Step 2: You chose a design package (for logos, at the time of writing this post, the packages range from Bronze A$379, to Silver A$639, Gold A$990 and Platinum A$1,499). Presumably, the more you pay, the better the designers you attract to your contest.

Step 3: You launch your contest (which runs for four days).

Step 4: You receive dozens of designs and provide feedback.

Step 5: You select up to six finalists and work with the designers on their final designs (this process takes three days).

Step 6: You pick the winner.

The process takes seven days in all. The great thing is that you don’t have to pay anything unless you find a design you like.

My experience with 99 Designs

When I first heard about 99 Designs, I was curious. At the time, I had a few clients with design issues and I needed a logo for a blog I was going to start, called ‘The Fiery Goat’. I knew the fiery goat was going to be a difficult concept to execute. As a result, I decided to try 99 Designs, so I could see whether it might be an option for some of my clients and even lead to a logo for ‘The Fiery Goat’.

Preparing the brief

The process began with me preparing the design brief. I put quite a lot of work into this, because I believe that, if you want a great design, you need to give the designer as much information as possible, in order to help them come up with the design of your dreams.

Selecting the design package

I selected the Silver design package, because I thought it was a reasonable middle-of-the-road option that would attract a decent number of designers.

Launching the contest

At the moment I launched my contest, I was full of trepidation. I was concerned that there wouldn’t be many designers willing to take on a concept as nutty as ‘The Fiery Goat’ and wondered whether anyone would bother to submit a design.

As a result, I looked through the portfolios of some of the designers who specialised in animal logos. In each case, I sent them a personal message, telling them I liked their work and asking them to submit something for my contest.

I needn’t have worried because, within a few hours, the first designs came in. They weren’t quite what I was after but some had potential. I started to provide feedback, using the five-star system and the comments.

I soon found myself overwhelmed by submissions, including some from the designers I’d asked to submit designs. These arrived at all hours of the day and night, mainly because a number of the designers were in Europe and the United States.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of work involved in running the contest. As the designs rolled in, I felt obliged to explain to the designers exactly what I liked and disliked about their designs. This proved to be incredibly time consuming. However, as a result of my feedback, I found that designers were going away and coming back with designs that were much closer to what I was after. Quite a few thanked me for the quality of my comments, which indicated that they craved feedback, and I got the impression that usually they don’t get much assistance from the people running the contests. Some of the designers became very excited when we had a major breakthrough or saw their designs evolve into something that captured the spirit of ‘The Fiery Goat’. Their passion for design was infectious.

It was in these early stages that I received a request from one of the designers to make the contest ‘blind’.

What did this mean?

A blind contest means that the designers can’t see each other’s designs, preventing them from copying from each other.

After thinking about it, I agreed. I didn’t want 99 versions of the same design coming in, simply because I had indicated that I liked one of the early designs. Rather, I wanted each designer to follow their own path, because I thought this meant there was a better chance of someone coming up with something exceptional.

In retrospect, I think that it is quite risky running a blind competition, unless you are good with feedback. If you enable the designers to see each other’s designs, it gives them quick visual clues as to what you like and dislike. In short, it makes their lives easier.

Not long after that, 99 Designs suggested that I guarantee the prize money. Apparently, they only suggest this when the contest is well run. I am still not sure what that means. I agreed because I could already see that I was going to get a design that I would use. In addition, it seemed terribly unfair to make the designers do all that work and not pick a winner. I wanted to show them I was fully committed to the process. I also hoped that guaranteeing the prize money would persuade other great designers to submit designs.

In all, I received over 112 designs from 25 designers. During the process, I worked with designers from all over the world, including the United States, the UK, Germany, Serbia, Ukraine, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Ukraine. Those are just the countries I know about, because many designers working with 99 Designs don’t disclose their country of origin.

I worked closely with about eight designers whose work I felt had potential. However, I made sure I gave everyone feedback (even if I personally thought the design was horrible or wasn’t at all what I was after). This turned out to be a smart move because, after receiving my feedback, a couple of the designers who initially submitted designs that were unsuitable went away and then submitted new designs that were very promising.

I was astounded by how hard these designers were willing to work in order to come up with my dream design. There was none of the talk you usually get from Australian designers about only being allowed six designs and three revisions.

About halfway through the competition, there was one particular design that I was pretty sure was going to win the contest. Although initially it wasn’t right (especially in the use of colour), I could see that the designer was on the right track. We worked very hard on that design and I was very happy with the final version.

Then, the unimaginable happened.

Towards the end of the competition, I received something from a designer in Serbia who nailed it in the very first submission. Her name turned out to be Nikolina Ladjevic (99 Designs designer name: zliki@). Niki’s design wasn’t at all what I had had in mind or expected. However, the moment I saw it, I loved it. It was perfect. Niki had read my brief, thought about it and then came up with something that I felt captured the essence of ‘The Fiery Goat’. We made some minor changes. This involved finding a more suitable font, although the designer also insisted on tweaking the design slightly. Like many of the other designers, she was incredibly hard working. We were working on the design one morning when I realised it was 2 a.m. in Serbia. We ended up having an amusing conversation via instant messages, where I begged Niki to go to bed and get some sleep. I assumed she was working the next day, and didn’t want her to fall asleep at her desk.

To be honest, at this point in the competition, I didn’t know what to do. I started to feel terrible for all the other designers who had worked so hard for me. However, I decided that it was only fair to allow to keep working on their designs and give them a chance to pull the rabbit out of the hat. In addition, I wanted time to consider all the designs once they came in.

By the time I had to select a winner, there were three that I would have been happy with as my logo. There were three others with a great deal of potential.

However, I had to pick a winner. Here it is:


In the brief, I had said that I wanted my blog to look like a magazine. The designer tried to make it look a bit like Time, with the use of the border. However, I could see the logo felt a bit like something out of The New Yorker and I knew that fitted exactly with the kind of pieces I wanted to write. I also liked how Nikolina captured the humorous side of the fiery goat without allowing her to descend into a character out of a bad slapstick comedy.

All in all, it was a very rewarding process and I was really happy with the result. I don’t believe I would have got such a terrific logo if I had found a graphic designer locally and asked them to design it.

My tips for working with 99 Designs

• Make sure you take the time to provide your designers with a proper brief, including a detailed description of your brand and the type of logo you are after.
• Invite designers whose work you like to enter your contest (include a personal note mentioning how much you like their work).
• Try to give the designers detailed feedback on the draft designs.
• Be prepared for the fact that running the contest will take time. The more you give to the process, the better the result will be.
• Be open to unexpected ideas.

In summary

There is no doubt that 99 Designs is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants a special design that really captures their brand. However, you need to be aware that the result will depend on how much work you put into explaining what you want and giving the designers feedback throughout the contest.

Remember: no designer can work blind.

Do you need assistance with copywriting? Do you need advice on how to get the best design for your logo or website? The Pink Rottweiler can help. If you would like to have a chat about copywriting or design, call me on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at

Who is the Pink Rottweiler? The Pink Rottweiler is Genevieve Burnett – a copywriter who will take the time to research your business and come up with the smart words to sell your product or service.

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