Matthew Bellantoni

Seven Days with 99designs

Someone recently said to me regarding creating an identity (a.k.a. logo) for a startup "[if] you need a logo real bad, that's just how you'll get it."  So, it was with interest I followed a friend's recent experience using 99designs to source a logo.

99designs is a web site based in Australia where a community of designers compete to create a designs (e.g. logo, Wordpress template) for you.  You submit a design brief and offer a prize.  They submit entries.  After a number of days, you pick a winner and award a prize.

Anyway, this person's experience is recounted here for your enjoyment and edification.

Day 1

Taking the leap and giving 99designs a try to see if I can source a logo.  I've carefully crafted the design brief and tried to keep it implementation-free so designers will be able to exercise their creativity and delight with the unexpected.  I've added $100US to the base prize in hopes this will attract higher quality designs.

The first design is submitted within hours.  This is exciting!  I provide a message of thanks to the designer, consider it and provide some thoughtful feedback.

Day 2

Overnight, lots of pointy people have appeared.  I didn't ask for pointy people, so I don't know why so many of them are being submitted.  Single pointy people, pointy people couples and teams of pointy people.

The rate of submissions is increasing.

For the first time, I eliminate all of a designer's submissions.  I'm informed that they've in turn "withdrawn all of their designs."  A brief moment of remorse.

Day 3

Up to 40 designs this morning.  It is getting difficult to keep up in any meaningful way.  It simply takes too much time to provide thoughtful feedback when people keep throwing three or four (bad) designs against the wall at a time.  So much for this being a background task!

I've been asked by 99designs to guarantee that I will choose a winner and award the prize.  Wanting to maintain the health of my contest, I wait a few hours and then do as advised.

All hell breaks loose!

Pointy people galore.

Day 4

It's getting really ugly in here.  In the comments there are now allegations that people are using clip art!

More seriously, there are allegations of plagiarism!  The guy in Indonesia is claiming the guy in the Philippines has stolen his design.  He offers as proof links to other contests where he's submitted the same design!  (Hey, thanks for reading my design brief.)  There are demands that designs are withdrawn and threats of escalation.

I update the design brief to forbid any more pointy people and kumbaya groups.  I begin eliminating these with malice.

I remove the word "Web 2.0" from the title of my design contest.  At one point, I thought this would attract energetic design, but apparently in the other hemisphere this roughly translates to "pointy people."

Designs are coming in faster than I can review them. I tell people to stop spamming me with designs. Ask them to spend a few minutes reviewing the brief instead of creating that 10th extra design.  Nobody listens.

I can't take three more days of this.

Day 5

Another deluge overnight.  Ugh.

People have been addressing me as "CH" for days.  I only now realize this means "contest holder."  People keep asking in broken English "Hey, CH, you like my design?" in a way that reminds me of kids in post-war Europe saying "Hey Joe, baseball!"  Charming.

I've eliminated 50 designs today without any feedback or even a thank you. I've become a numbed brute.

All signs of decorum are long gone.  The center cannot hold.

Day 6

My preferred design has disappeared.  What!?

I reach out to the designer and it turns out that he's been banned because of the allegations by the Indonesian guy a few days ago.  Super.  He contacts me via his girlfriend's account and gives me his email address.

That's great, but I've got to award the prize to someone who is still in the contest.  And this communication is probably in violation of the terms of use.

I'm at a loss.  After the money and the substantial amount of time I've invested, I can't believe I'm not even going to get my preferred derivative design!  I should have just bought Illustrator and made my own logo.  It would have been cheaper, faster and less hassle.  (Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration.)

I write 99designs telling them I want my design back.  It's early Sunday in Sydney.  I do not know if I will hear from them before my contest ends.

Day 7

The last day.

I've stayed away most of the previous day after the plaigerism debacle.  Just the occasional visit to summarily dispatch a handful of designers.

I awake to another 40 designs, more allegations of plagiarism and no word from 99designs.  It's late Sunday night in Sydney  and I'm on the East Coast of the United States.  I'll either have to pay to extend the contest, or just choose another design.

I prepare to abandon the kid in the Philippines in favor of the kid in Serbia who has recently appeared on the scene.  I ignore everyone else and work through a few iterations with him.  He points out some interesting things he's done with fonts in the logotype.   I decide it's good enough and declare him the winner.

We quickly work through the handoff process.  A couple of questions back and forth.  I get my design files and he gets his money.

Four-hundred and ten designs and 7 days later, it is over.