On the surface, 99 Designs and similar design contest platforms seems like a great idea. For those who are unfamiliar with 99 Designs, the basic concept is that if you decide you want a logo or other type of design created for your business, you can use their service to submit your idea, thereafter receiving dozens of ideas from multiple graphic designers competing for your business.

While this seems like a win-win for the business and designer, in reality it is a less than ideal solution for businesses hoping to receive design services that provide any true return on their investment.

I once worked with a client who came to me after using their service and told me that he received hundreds of logo design concepts, none of which communicated his vision for the business. Trying to turn his experience into a positive, I told him that he actually now had a good head start on the design process because he had just eliminated over a hundred designs for his logo which didn’t work and we can now better focus on developing a design that does.

The main issue businesses run into with 99 Designs and other “design content” platforms

The main problem with the format 99 Design offers for working with a graphic designer is that, when multiple designers are trying to outbid eachother, they are not focusing their efforts on the best solution for your business. The designers who participate in these bidding contests may submit their design concepts to several potential clients per day, hoping that at least one client out of the many accepts their proposal. In fact, they may submit the same design concept to multiple potential clients. On the other hand, working one on one with a graphic designer will yield much more custom results – tailored specifically to your business and its goals.

When working with the designers who participate in these contests, you are never going to find one who works through the entire design process. They take your design brief (a set of criteria written by the business to the potential designers), and as quickly as possible spin up a design that matches your brief. However, working with a graphic designer should be much more than just that. Where a business can get real value from a good graphic designer is in working with them as a consultant, not just as a provider of design as a commodity.

A better solution

A graphic designer should be given the time to get to know the business they are working with – what problems they are facing, what their goals are, and how design and communication can be a part of solving those goals. These are things a business is never going to get from 99 Designs because there just isn’t time for that sort of thing if the designers who participate in it hope to make any money.

First and foremost, I always meet with the client to discuss and learn about their business. This may be once or several times, but always enough to be able to effectively determine how my relationship with them as a designer can yield the greatest value for their business. During this meeting, I work with the client to discover what problems they may be having in their business and help them to determine a set of goals that can be achieved from improving their design and communications. Without this interaction, there can be no basis for what type of work may yield their greatest investment. 99 Designs expects the business to simply submit their own design brief, thereby expecting them to skip the entire consultation process and basically serve as design consultant themselves. Because of this major flaw in their system, I feel that any amount spent with a designer from 99 Designs, even if it seems to be a bargain, is wasted and often needs to be redone after the business later realizes that the design is not meeting its objectives because none were established in the first place.

Is 99 Designs the right solution for your business?

If you are simply looking for one-off graphic design services for your business and are capable of managing the project yourself, 99 Design may be an option for you. However, if you are looking to develop a relationship with a design consultant who can work with you to understand your business and identify ways in which design can improve how you reach your target customers, you will receive a much greater return in your investment.