How to run a 99designs CompetitionOctober 11th, 2010 | Posted by in Technology
As many people know, getting a great design is difficult, and even more difficult is the process of finding the perfect designer. Recently we decided to try out 99designs after a string of bad experiences. The problem we had been facing is a pretty common one. As a startup without a professional UI/UX/artistic designer as part of the founding team we tried a variety of ways to get the job done.
- We first tried to contract out the work but the designers we worked with constantly fell short. Either they couldn’t create good UI or their artistic ability was lacking. The biggest problem was that it was a shot in the dark working with a designer and we couldn’t afford to waste the time and money burning through one designer after the other.
- Next we tried tracking down an acclaimed designer, somebody that came highly recommended and had a history of largely successful work. After finding out that 90% are booked solid for the next 4 months we found someone that was great. The problem was that he seemed distracted and later backed out of the project due to his taking a full time job somewhere else.
So with time running out and not wanting to risk hiring someone new we decided to give 99designs a try. We ended up being pretty successful with our 99designs competition. It just ended and we received 349 submissions for a 5 page web design project.
Throughout the process we learned a ton and since we went through a lot of research prior to the contest we decided to combine our knowledge and share our experience.
- Research – The key to a great competition is understanding how 99designs works. We highly recommend reading the information provided by 99designs along with doing some online research of your own. It also doesn’t hurt to read other peoples’ briefs, how they interacted in their competition, and what people wrote as feedback. Having a good handle on what to expect will make the competition run smoother and you’ll be better prepared.
- Game Plan – Once we researched the hell out of it we realized that to do it right we needed to be dedicated, put in a good amount of time, and make our prize compelling enough to attract top notch designers. We ensured we had the time and were willing to make the commitment before ever launching the competition.
- Correct Pricing – Ensure that you price your competition competitively and pre-pay to show determination. We can’t stress enough how important it is to price your competition appropriately to the difficulty of the project. Since our site is dynamic and has an added layer of complexity, we were going to price it on the higher end of the spectrum.
- The Package – The premium package is worth it in terms of broadcasting yourself but the twitter promotion really isn’t. In fact, the premium package is only really worth it as a way of legitimizing your competition since we got only 6 designers from it and I don’t believe we got any from twitter.
- Manual Invites – The best promotion is to manually invite designers from the site to the competition whose work you like. We ended up spending 9 hours and inviting over 200 designers with personal messages. We received 87 responses from those designers and approximately 70 of them ended up competing.
- Blind and Public – Ensure the competition is blind and not private (you can call 99 designs up to see if they can make your competition blind if it’s your first one since you usually have had to have a successful competition before you can have it blind). The top designers will only compete when its blind and many designers won’t be comfortable with private. We received a lot of messages from designers about this when we first listed our competition and it wasn’t blind.
- Great Brief – Work on your brief and the documents associated with the competition. We spent nearly 5 hours creating a killer spec that was integral in explaining what every page is and something we can point to with designers when they were having difficulty. We got many responses from designers about how much they enjoyed reading our spec and therefore excited about joining the competition. You can find a link to the brief and spec here
- Guarantee the Prize – As soon as you feel comfortable that the competition is picking up and going in the direction you like you should guarantee the prize, it makes people more comfortable in working to refine the designs they’ve already submitted.
- Be Responsive – Make sure you have someone or multiple people prepared to actively interact with the designers by giving quick responses and valuable feedback. This will ensure the competition stays healthy and the designers stay engaged. Don’t be surprised if at first designers will submit rapid unpolished work; they often want to make sure you’ll be responsive before putting in the effort to clean it up.
- Eliminate – Eliminate rather quickly a few people who just don’t get it or have no chance, designers like to know that they won’t waste their time (but you have to communicate that to them when you eliminate them and on your wall). This also looks good for designers wanting to join later on since they don’t see as large of a competitive pool.
- Star Appropriately – Don’t give anyone a 5 star. We learned this pretty fast but basically as soon as you give someone a 5 star review of their design others think you’ve chosen a winner and will stop submitting. At the same time a 1 star rating will most likely cause the designer to drop out of the competition and therefore you might as well eliminate that design. 2 stars without any constructive feedback will most likely make them drop out. Also if its far enough along in the competition and enough designers have submitted designs then 2 stars has the same effect as a 1 star. We used 3 stars to mean needs work and 4 to mean its good and only had designers drop out whose work we eliminated.
- Feel Important – A lot of the competition is about making each designer feel that they’re in the race and are important to you and when you eliminate them reaching out to them to explain the reasons. We had one of the people we eliminated write on our main wall “gr8 contest and contest holder” right after we eliminated them in this manner.
- Get Inspired – Save the images submitted to your computer so you can print them out and review and if by any chance they get pulled later that you have a record for brainstorming. The most valuable thing we got out of this competition besides a UI design is a better understanding of the options we have and how various people interpreted the site.