How to use 99designs – or similar crowdsourced services

March 18, 2012 5:32 pm

At Collective Content we recently spruced up our logo and website. For the logo, like many small businesses, we dabbled with an online service. We thought we’d share our experience in this post.

After a short ask around and search online we went with one of the big boys in this area, 99designs.com. Or to be precise, we used 99designs.co.uk as they have a dedicated UK service. (Not sure they’re localised in many other countries but in any case they cater to people all over. And we’re sure the designers they connect you with are in all corners of the world.)

Up front we liked the idea of drawing on a number of different designers and whittling down what they produced, almost X Factor-style. We also liked that the service we were after (logo design – there are others such as web page creation) was priced the same in the US and UK. (About $300 or £200.)

We were also savvy enough – having previously worked with lots of individual designers, in-house and freelance – to nail down our spec in advance. We felt it was important not to be too prescriptive around style but point out we wanted a logo that could work as a visual motif on its own (the ‘CC:’ bit), just words, then also as colour-on-white, colour-on-black and then white on a single colour. (Should we ever sponsor a major tennis tournament, naturally.)

Having done all that and with credit card at the ready (there is no obligation to pay in the first instance but you still have to flash the plastic) we must say we were slightly taken aback by the clock starting to tick from this point.

Don’t get us wrong. Nothing felt rushed. But you wouldn’t want to embark on this over a period when you’re particularly busy, say in the run up to Christmas for a retailer, or before leaving on a two-week holiday.
But that aside, the process was in some ways enjoyable. It is plain from the outset that there’s a range of designers. Some won’t adhere to the brief. They will throw in something they have quickly customised and hope it sticks, something that gets noticed.

One thing we learnt early was to use the ‘Provide feedback for all designers’ box. We were slightly slower to learn to be brutal about designs that were very poor, either telling a designer or just rejecting immediately.
Two things then happen. When you start praising a design type that is promising, others jump on that. It can get a bit same-y. (Though one designer assured me he couldn’t see others’ designs. Hmm.)

Secondly, at the point where you guarantee the ‘prize’, I found new designers – often seemingly a bit more accomplished – start pitching.
We never intended to dip a toe in, putting lots of people to lots of effort, only not to commit. Though seemingly some users must do that.

Then towards the end of the process, after we had four or five of the best designers/designs on our shortlist, we did find that the deadlines came fast, and we had to be tuned in at all hours. Again, it was exciting but not advisable for a busy time of your week.

Last, there is a handover process. (We recommend getting the final design in lots of formats, in lots of image sizes and with the designer telling you the colour(s) and precise fonts they used.) Although it is quick, again there is some wiggle room where you can ask more from the designer. Even after we signed off – getting full copyright – our winner (by the name of Monjax, if you’re ever looking) helped us with some final tweaks.
Overall we’d now recommend 99deisgns and services of this type.

Was it better than a designer you know? It probably cost a bit more, for what we wanted, and if you have an excellent designer up your sleeve, by all means use them. But this is a great alternative and in line with the way so much work is being sourced these days.

And we get a blog post out of it.

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