10 Tips For Running a Successful 99designs Contest

10 Tips For Running a Successful 99designs Contest

I’m a huge fan of 99designs contests. Why? Because I love art but can’t draw a stick figure to save my life! In fact, I think art is a brilliant way to differentiate yourself and your product from the rest of the pack.

99designs Contest Tips | PrivateLabelPreneur.com

99designs is a platform that gives people like me a place to get great designs for a reasonable price. You can work with artists (they call them designers) from all over the world.

I’ve worked with talented people in Germany, Serbia, Indonesia and the United States. Besides the PrivateLabelPreneur logo, these are examples of work I’ve had done.

Here are two of the four boater cozy designs we had made for our My Beer Cozy brand. The artwork is unique and is different on the front, back and the bottom!

99designs Contest Tips | PrivateLabelPreneur.com

Below are a set of pirate-themed cozies we had designed by another talented 99designs artist. Fun and unique!
99designs Contest Tips | PrivateLabelPreneur.com

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I view art as my competitive advantage. With 99designs, you get an executed Design Transfer Agreement documenting that the artist is signing over all rights to the work to you. This could come in handy if you have to dispute a copycat or someone hijacks your Amazon listing.

One of the best features on the 99designs platform is the ability to run a contest. For a very reasonable fee, you get the advantage of having multiple designers submitting art; you can then choose from the best of the designs.

If you want to get the most from your 99designs contest, be sure to read these tips. After running several contests and 1-to-1 projects, I know they work!

Let’s get started with tip #1…

Tip #1: Know Your Preferred Color Palette

Color choices can be critical. For example, if you’re having a logo designed then you’ll want to figure out exactly what colors you want used BEFORE you start your contest.

You might like the colors in a particular design; however, once you have that logo turned over, you may find out that you don’t want a whole website built on that color scheme.

Color Palette

Begin with the end in mind…

If you think you will ever use the design as a springboard for something else (products, a website, video production, etc.), be thoughtful of your colors and convey that to the designers in the contest brief.

There are a lot of wonderful free tools out there that can help you find a palette you like. Here are some links that you might find useful:

Browse the color palettes on the first two sites to get an idea of what appeals to you. Then, use Coolor’s color scheme generator to create a pallet that sings to your heart! It’s easy to use…

  1. Go to www.coolors.co and click the Start the Generator button.
  2. Press the space bar. Each time you do a new pallet will appear.
  3. When you find a color(s) you like, click on the color to “lock” it in.
  4. Press the space bar again and the colors you didn’t lock will change each time you press the space bar.
  5. Keep locking in colors and repeating the process until you have a color scheme of five compatible colors.
  6. Click the Export button at the top of the screen and download a PDF (or other file format) to your computer.

This amazing tool gives you the color codes in the download. You’ll easily be able to share that information in the 99designs brief and ensure you’ll get art that fits beautifully with your overall plan.

After determining your color pallet, you need to think about how you want your contest to be hosted on 99design’s site.

Tip #2: Choose the Visibility of Your 99designs Contest

Private Keep OutYou have the option of setting your brief up to be public or private. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I’ve done it both ways and here are my thoughts.

Public: If you aren’t worried about someone “out there” stealing your idea, you can make your contest public. There could be advantages to that because your contest will be available for others to view on 99design’s website and the designers who participate in your contest can post their entries on their portfolio. That may encourage more of them to participate.

Private: If the designs are for a product, service or web property that you are waiting to “launch” or you need to keep your identity hidden, then you might want to use the private option.

Once you know your color palette selected and you’ve decided to go public or private, you are ready to start your contest. The first hurdle is to write a great Brief.

Tip #3: Spend Time on the Brief

Stop WatchThe first thing you do when you start a 99designs contest is to complete a “Brief.” This is the contest page the designers review when deciding whether they want to participate in your contest and it’s where they get the information about what you are looking for.

For these two reasons, it’s important that you give a lot of thought to what you want and try to document that clearly.

In my first contests, I thought that being more vague would give the designers a “creative license” and allow them to bring me ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. But, what I discovered is that when you are vague, you end up getting designs in the early stage of the contest that you absolutely hate.

Then you are left with the unpleasant task of politely communicating to these designers that they are way off base. That could have been avoided in large part by being more clear in the Brief to begin with.

Lesson learned…

When writing your Brief, be sure to include the following information if it is relevant to your project:

  • Color palette: (you knew that was coming, right!)
  • How the art will be used: Can it be used for more than one product, like T-shirts, ball caps, etc? Be sure to say how you might use the design and ask for variations of the final design that will work for all of your needs.
  • Dimensions: As an example, logos can be used for many purposes so if you need yours for a website the best dimensions may be different than if you only want it for product packaging. If you need both, give the dimensions for both.
  • Example Images: Provide images and/or links to art on the web (think Pinterest) that reflect the feeling, colors, style, etc., you’re after. This will greatly help the designers get you what you want faster.
  • Printing: Think about how your product will be printed. If the cost goes up with more colors, let the designers know that you need to limit the use of colors and to what number. For example, full sublimation printing or art that you will use exclusively on the web won’t be an issue, but if you need embroidered fabric labels, the more colors you use the greater the cost to manufacture.
  • Multiple Designs: If you need multiple designs (like I did for my Boater Cozy 4 Pack), you are better off creating a contest for one design. In the Brief you can state that the winning designer will have the opportunity for 1-to-1 Projects for the subsequent designs. This will tend to keep your contest less complicated and encourage better designers to participate.
  • File Requirements: Be sure to let the designers know if you have specific file requirements. For example, I ask for a transparent background version for logos.

Okay, your Brief is done. Next!

Tip #4: Invite Designers to Your 99designs Contest

You'reInvited! (1)You can just sit back and see what happens, but I like to take the proactive approach and make sure that designers find my contest. I do this by inviting the ones who have portfolios that appeal to me.

Here’s how you do it.

  1. Click Discover on the menu bar.
  2. Click Show Filters on the upper right of the screen.
  3. Choose the filters that apply to your contest.
  4. Scan the images to find ones that appeal to you.
  5. Click the images you find to go to that designer’s profile.
  6. Click Invite to Work.

You might also want to click the heart icon, which adds that designer to your Favorites list.

Now the fun begins!

Tip #5: Be a Good Communicator

CommentsWhen the designs start coming in you’ll see some that are, well, terrible. Some are good, but you’re probably not going to see the winning design right out of the gate. Don’t get discouraged. You must be willing to be respectful yet honest with the designers.

Many of them are just putting something up quickly to get feedback and direction. If you can’t provide that, you should rethink whether or not running a contest is the right path for you.

Be courteous and reply to the designers within a few hours. Give them feedback on what you like and what doesn’t feel/look right to you. Offer suggestions on what they might try to get closer to your vision. See…didn’t that sound nice?!?

One thing you’ll discover is that you will end up refining  your vision once you begin to see designs. That’s part of the beauty of running contests…you end up with something better than you would get having worked with just one designer from the start.

When you have new information that will help all the designers, update your Brief and send an Announcement (you’ll find that option under the Messages tab).

Tip #6: Don’t Choose Too Soon

SlowDown!If you’re like me, a design will be submitted that you think is AWESOME! You’ll be tempted to stop the madness and choose that design. Done.

But don’t, slow down and be patient!

Why? Because many of the better designers will wait until close to the end of the contest to submit their entry. That is more likely to happen in any phase of your contest where the visibility is set to public.

Be patient and watch the magic happen.

 Tip #7: Run a Poll

Running a poll is a great tool that allows you to get feedback from your family, friends, people on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

I ran a poll for the Captain artwork in the Boater Cozy 4 Pack. This gave me invaluable input about what my potential customers thought about the various entries.

Tip #8: Choose More Than One Finalist

FinalistsIf you have a couple designs that you are leaning toward in the first round, don’t choose immediately. Select multiple designers to move forward to the final round.

It’s tempting to speed the process up but in doing so you might miss out on a better design. It’s really surprising how your design will evolve and I believe the designers do better when they know there is competition.

Tip #9: Consider Making the Final Round “Blind”

20920439540_618254970a_zEven if you started your contest as public, you might want to ask to have your final round be blind. I did this in my second contest and it worked well. The finalists could freely submit revisions without concern.

You’ll need to call in to the 99designs support team to help you change that setting.

Tip #10: Make Good Use of Customer Support

99designs has a fantastic support team. I’ve called them many times and they will gladly coach you through your contest. Many of my tips here have come from those discussions.

A Call to Action

I hope this post helps you with your design projects whether or not you use 99designs. If you’ve run a 99designs contest, please share your experience and tips with the rest of us in the comments below!

Now back to work for me!

Ree Short Sig


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  1. Brian Cummings July 22, 2016 at 7:56 AM

    Nice blog and great writing style, Ree. How does the Design Transfer Agreement protect my custom product designs from hijackers on Amazon?

    • Ree Klein July 22, 2016 at 8:11 AM

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for chiming in…and a great question, too! Being able to prove your rights to a design, art or words is very helpful in battling those who contrive to steal from you. While I have not yet had to produce a Design Transfer Agreement as part of making a case to Amazon that a hijacker is infringing on my rights, having it could be instrumental to getting them removed. Conversely, not having proof is a “he said, she said” battle and you will be more likely to lose.

      Currently I include this statement in my take-down notice to hijackers:
      “We own the copyright to the artwork, images and listing copy for this product. I’m emailing because you may be in violation of our intellectual property rights.”

      If they asked me to prove my claim, I can produce a copy of the Design Transfer Agreement.

      Thanks for reading and for adding to the conversation!

  2. Diana Poisson May 13, 2016 at 9:46 AM

    I want a logo so bad and this article helps a lot! My first attempt at hiring someone for a logo turned out to be a disaster because I was very vague on what I wanted. Now I know that I need to be more specific. Your logos look wonderful so once I have a better idea on how I want my logo to look, I’ll do a contest too!

    • Ree Klein May 14, 2016 at 9:36 AM

      Hi Diana ~

      I’m so excited to see how your contest goes. If you run a poll, be sure to invite me to vote!