What I learned using 99designs for my logo

Earlier this year, I decided that starting a blog would be an awesome way to share what I’m learning in my stealthy and wealthy quest to save, make and grow money and a great way to hold me accountable to what I’m doing. It’s also helped me to learn a ton in the process. The first step was creating this beautiful virtual classroom that you have just digitally stepped foot in. Building a blog was no problem for me. I have worked in the online world for a long time and have a fairly decent understanding of how to build and maintain a website. Unfortunately for me, the next step was to make the thing look nice. I feel like I am a fairly creative person in some aspects, but when it comes to making anything look visually appealing (not like crap), I seem to have been born with a blind spot. While creating a logo for a personal finance blog shouldn’t seem like an insurmountable obstacle, it felt that way for me. Enter 99designs.

What is 99designs?

99designs is an online design marketplace (aff) that is based on a crowdsourcing model. For those of us who haven’t been studying up on silicon valley jargon, it means that when you need something designed, you can post a project on 99designs and designers will submit options to compete for your business. You give feedback, select a designer, then pay the winner after you have chosen a design that you love. It sounds easy, but as I learned when paying a designer for the shiny new logo that you see at the top of this page, there are a few things that can make you successful or unsuccessful.

When to use 99designs

There are a ton of applications for using this service. Knowing that you are most likely currently spending your time on a money making side gig or on your way to creating one, there is a good chance that you will need some type of graphic design as part of your business presence. 99designs has designers that will create anything from a simple logo to business cards, signage, website designs, to book covers. If you are in need of a design in fairly short order, don’t want to pay insanely high prices for it and don’t have a friend or family member that you trust to do this work, 99designs is probably a good choice for you.

How much does 99designs cost?

Pricing for 99designs will vary based on what you are purchasing, how many designers you want to compete (how many options you want to have), the quality of the designers, and the overall experience that they offer. For instance, at the highest pricing tier, you will get their best handpicked designers and a dedicated manager for your contest whereas at the lowest level, you will not receive these perks. Prices range from $299-$1,299 for logo design and will range anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars for other services such as packaging design or a full website. This is a pretty affordable price compared to going out and finding a freelancer, plus the process is largely handled by their platform and you will have more options to choose from.

99designs logo pricing

99designs logo pricing

How to get started with 99designs

To sign up with 99designs, you just need your name, email, payment method and a few other details. You will need to set up your design contest by providing some basic information, which I detail below in the tips section. If you follow this link (aff) to sign up, you will receive a free $99 upgrade, which gets you more designs as part of your project.

Review of my experience

I started this process in a bit of a lazy fashion as I had never used the 99designs platform before and did it late at night after finishing up a blog post. I signed up with the promise of a full money back guarantee and I was on my way. To be fully honest, I selected the cheapest package without fully researching my options or understanding the pros and cons, but figured that I would always be able to get a refund. I wrote a quick design brief based on what immediately came to my mind, selected a few colors that I like and clicked through a series of designs that they showed me to give them a sense for my taste and the general look and feel that I was going for. After a very simple, roughly 10 minute process, my contest was launched.

I’ll stop here and point out the first mistake that I now recognize that I made. If I were to do this over again, I would have put far more thought and detail into the brief. This is really all of the information that you are giving to designers to help them understand what exactly they should be creating. I could have enjoyed a much better result had I thought of more ways to describe what I was going for, offered websites for comparison, explained how to use the colors that I had recommended and told them what type of design elements I like and do not like.

After my contest launched, I went to bed for the night and didn’t give it much more thought. I woke up the next morning with a notification that I had three designs that needed my attention. 99designs provides a platform where you can go in, view your designs, rate them on a 1-5 scale and provide feedback to the designer to help them create another iteration of their concept. I provided some quick feedback about what I liked and did not like, then went on my way. Throughout the week, I received about 30 designs and provided feedback on each of them, hoping that they would get closer to what I was looking for.

The communication process was a bit difficult, as most of the designers in this contest were from outside the United States and it seems we had a different vocabulary when it came to discussing aspects of the designs. I found that most of the designers created something very simple and very close to the designs that I had chosen as examples that I liked. It looked like many of them had a template that they had used for previous designs and just replaced the letters and the words that made up the mark. There were about 3-4 that stood out in the first round that showed potential, but I was not really in love with any of them.

I moved forward to the final round, assuming that one of the five designers that showed promise in the earlier rounds would be able to create new version that I liked. I went ahead and selected my finalists and moved to the final round, which waived my money back guarantee and committed me to paying 99designs for a design created by one of the finalists. My thought process was that it was still a cheap enough logo, so I was saving money, even if I was not completely blown away by what I was seeing. 99designs can also get you a bit with the element of excitement and curiosity to see what comes in the next round. I was a pretty disappointed by the final round of the design contest. I received a few revisions from four of the five designers, while my favorite designer from the first round did not end up submitting a revised design. I finally selected a logo (the one that you see above) that I can definitely live with, but it is not necessarily something that I love. But hey, for $299, I can’t complain too much. I finalized the selection process through 99designs and was delivered all of the final files in a number of different formats within about three hours. This was definitely a highlight when comparing this against working with a freelancer and trying to track these files down.

Pros and Cons of 99designs

Pros

  • You get access to a large number of designers that you most likely would not have found otherwise
  • You can get a logo, website, banners, signage or packaging designed at a relatively low cost
  • You have a full money back guarantee if you don’t like what you see from designers during the first round
  • The entire process is managed through the 99designs platform, saving you a ton of emails and back and forth
  • The pricing is already set and you don’t have to negotiate with individual designers
  • You have full ownership and access to the files when a contest is completed
  • Designers are competing for your business by designing, so you don’t have to pick a designer up front based on what they tell you or how good of a designer they say that they are

Cons

  • You do not get to meet designers in person or on the phone to give them your direction or vision
  • The money back guarantee only applies through the first round. If you get to the end of the contest and are not happy with any of the designs, you are still committed to paying for a design.
  • You are reliant on your brief, colors and examples that you select as your main form of direction to designers as opposed to having an ongoing relationship where you can tell them exactly what you are looking for.
  • You may be able to negotiate a lower rate with a designer if you are not working with 99designs. This is unlikely in most cases that you will get quality, but it is still possible.
  • You have a set time period to get designers to respond to your contest, so if you don’t get a lot of interest, you are at the mercy of 99designs to a certain degree.
  • You have to pay more through 99designs if you want their top designers, management of your contest and more responses.

Tips for using 99designs

After going through this experience, I learned that there were a lot of things that I could have done better to get a kick-ass logo. By paying attention to some of the easy to overlook details, you can ensure that you get the most of your experience with 99designs so you are happy with your design at the end of the process. Here are a few tips that I wish I had known before my experience with 99designs:

  • Take your brief seriously. This is your one chance to tell everyone exactly what you are looking for, so make sure that you are appropriately expressing what you expect of designers and how they can deliver what you want.
  • Use clear, unambiguous language. I found myself using terms like “fun, engaging, intelligent and organic” to describe the design that I was looking for, but these terms can mean different things to different people. Be sure that you are using clear and concise language as well as examples of what you are looking for so there is little room for interpretation.
  • Choose good colors and examples. This is another step that I probably didn’t take as seriously as I should have when going through the 99designs process. Knowing that you are providing very little information to designers, they will take what you select here very literally and you will see a lot of designs coming back that look similar to the examples you chose with the exact colors that you chose. You can always deal with this through feedback later, but your best bet is going to be to get it right the first time.
  • Respond quickly with feedback. When a designer submits an option for you, make sure that you log in and provide a rating, detailed feedback and instructions for the next round. By doing this quickly and giving detailed feedback, you will receive more designs within your allotted contest time period. If you are delayed in providing feedback, you will give the designers less time to get it right before you have to pick a design.
  • Consider the premium options. In the case of 99designs, I believe that it is true that you get what you pay for. By choosing the least expensive option, I ended up with what I believe were less talented designers and fewer options. If you are going to be paying for a logo anyway, you might as well pony up a few extra bucks to take advantage of the best that 99designs has to offer.
  • Make sure you are committed before you move to the final round. When you move past the initial design round and select designers for the final round, you are essentially waiving your money back guarantee and committing to paying a designer. If you don’t see a design in this round that you could live with as the face of your brand, then you may want to consider backing out of the contest. I moved forward even though I was not in love with any of the designs, hoping that one of the designers in the final round would get it right and blow me away with their next iteration. Unfortunately, the final round just yielded slight variations on what the designers had done before and I wasn’t thrilled with my final options.
  • Promote your own contest. While 99designs will put a pool of designers in front of you, you should still plan to do a little bit of legwork on your own to get as many designers as possible competing in your contest. By promoting to your Facebook friends, on Craigslist, Twitter, or even on the 99designs website (they offer a paid option for this), you will get as many designers as possible competing, which will naturally give you more options and ultimately, a better final product.

The Takeaway

As someone trying to create side gigs for yourself and hustle your way to financial freedom, it is highly likely that you will create a business at some point where you need some level of design. While the logo that now sits at the top of my blog and welcomes my new readers is not my absolute favorite, I am pretty happy with the 99designs experience overall. 99designs is not just “cheap” when you think about it in terms of a $299 logo, but it also offers a great value in terms of saving my time and stress. If you calculate the time and money that you would take to find, contact, negotiate with, and work with an individual designer for a logo, I’m pretty confident that you are going to end up investing far more time and possibly more money than you would with 99designs. Using the tips above and avoiding some of the mistakes that I made, you can be days or weeks away from the perfect design to kickstart your business. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, stories to share about using 99designs, or links to your contest when you start designing your logo or project.

Affiliate Disclaimer: My goal with this blog is to share what I have learned and let people know about the tools that have helped me. When I believe in a product, I will recommend it on this site, sometimes using affiliate links that reward me financially when someone signs up. In this case, if you sign up using my link, you and I will both receive a bonus. Following all affiliate links on this site, you will see “(aff)”. 

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