Wondering whether 99designs is bad for designers and clients then read this article written from my unique experience of being from both sides of the design relationship, seller, and buyer, and as a recent 99designs customer too!
I grew up in an artistic household with my father who was a celebrated graphic designer I then married an artist and founded and ran a successful advertising agency for two decades. Also, I launched a cosmetic product manufacturing company where I hired graphic designers for packaging design, logos, website and tradeshow designs.
Thus my background and experience uniquely qualifies me to write a balanced, thoughtful and educated opinion answering this question for you if you are a business owner considering using the site for your logo design or if you are a graphic designer thinking about participating in graphic design contests or setting up your profile page to get work directly from clients 1-on-1 on 99designs.com.
To prepare for writing this article I did a ton of research; read all the blog posts related to this question, watched over 15 videos of 99designs reviews, visited forums and contacted the company directly to get answers to your questions.
I have done all the research for you and compiled it into this post, which includes discussing all the bad points about 99designs from both sides, client, and designer, and from different angles such as from an ethical and legal view.
Satisfaction vs dissatisfaction
The majority of customers are satisfied based on both testimonials on the 99 designs site, and the overall ratings on other independent online review sites averaging 4+ gold stars.
When I launched my design contest I was a bit concerned that it would not work out well. I worried that I would not get quality designs, nor ones that I liked or were suitable for my uses. In fact, I placed the order to test the 99 designs logo design process and report to you on the results from my first-hand experience.
I was pleasantly surprised by the process and the end results – which you can see as the logo on the top of this page. Thus I am a satisfied customer who recommends 99designs for small business logos and graphic design needs.
Most dissatisfied customers made mistakes themselves such as not completing their design brief stating clearly their business and aesthetics. Thus it was misunderstood by designers which resulted in logo submissions the client was not satisfied with. Another common client mistake is not giving timely feedback to designers about the initial logo submissions which prevented getting better-suited logo modifications.
Sometimes people are just not happy with the work that has been done. In those cases, they can contact the company and get a full money back guarantee up to 60 days after their purchase date. This is one of the most generous and flexible guarantees in the business. Other sites similar to 99designs say that they have a money back guarantee but it is only open for a few days after your order has been placed and is often not for the total amount.
99designs slogan says, A design you’ll love, guaranteed. I have done research, and confirmed, that these refunds were indeed paid, in a timely manner, and are not just advertising slogans.
As for designer satisfaction, it is a self-regulating process meaning that when designers do not feel that participation at 99designs is worthwhile they simply stop participating in the design contest. I could find no record online in any forums of designers who were not paid for contests that they want. In fact, many clients choose the option call guaranteed contest which means that a winner will be chosen and paid in that contest. This feature helps designers to know that these clients are serious and not just using the platform for free graphic design.
Most designers are satisfied with their experiences as a 99designs designer. Artists are pleased with their ability to connect with clients globally without no upfront fees on an easy to use website. Quotes from current 99 designers:
99designs opened the door to design for me – I’ve met a lot of people and made quite a few business relations. Now I use 1-to-1 projects to keep in touch with all of them.
I’m honored to be a part of this community – I live in a small town, but now I have the opportunity to communicate with people from all over the world. It’s really an amazing thing.
Fees vs product deliverables
The fees for graphic design services are generally lower than industry standards in most US markets. The company has specifically designed pricing to be competitive and thus attractive for prospective customers.
Some people say that the design fees are too high for clients because of the company, 99designs, take a portion of the fee as compensation for running the website and connecting clients and designers.
I disagree with this point because while some designers will work directly with clients at lower prices, this assumes that business owners have access to and knowledge of these designers. That is not been my experience at all. Even though I work in a large city many of the designers are either too expensive, not experienced and difficult to work with.
The fees that designers receive are fair and clearly stated on the designer website when you sign up to be a 99designs designer. Once you set up your profile you can state your own price for 1-on-1 client projects. Read – 99designs worth it for designers?
Sure, as a designer you can charge individual clients a higher fee, but this assumes that you can find these clients in your area and develop projects together then get the client to pay their bill.
Designers have to spend time and money on forth advertising and client pitch meetings to get new clients. This online portal removes that expense and hassle by offering designers the ability to meet buying ready customers from the artist’s location.
In my dealings with some graphic designers, I laughed because they told me that their hourly fee was a certain amount and when I asked him how many hours they were billing they told me none! So I inquired why they didn’t consider becoming a 99 designer, then they would be making some money instead of no money. They told me that their hourly fee was a set amount and they did not do spec work – so essentially they were making 100% of nothing.
One of the loudest detractors from 99designs, as you can read from the other articles online, are full-service ad agencies. This makes sense because they have lost many customers to the site which democratizes and demystifies the graphic design purchasing process.
The agency owners argue that customers are being misled by being sold logo designs only and not a full branding package. Their point is that these small businesses lose sales and market share because they have not built a powerful brand.
While I understand the rationale of these agencies, my experience in the agency field has taught me that the majority of small businesses do not need an expensive full branding package for their graphics needs.
Some agencies, have used the misunderstanding of graphic designs by clients for overcharging for branding services. This is possible because e design was an elusive type of service, unlike physical commodities such as printing. Now the transparency and fairness of sites like 99designs have reduced this practice.
Quality vs experience
Another aspect that has been cited by other negative reviewers is the lack of quality in deliverables with inexperienced designers participating in the design contests.
The inherent nature of a crowd is that you will have varying degrees of experience and talent of artists.
Knowing this fact, and responding to client requests for access to the best designers only, 99designs offers different package levels which include both more design submissions and exposure to the top talent on their site. The platinum package is only open for Top Level designers to participate in ensuring customers work only with the best designers.
There are two aspects of quality when discussing logo design one is the actual visual appearance of the logo and the other is the technical preparation of the files which will be used for printing stationery, making signs and developing online websites.
Visual quality can be judged by your own eyes. If the design appeals to your customers and communicates the brand message and your firm’s point a difference then it is of good quality. A wine expert friend of mine always says when asked what is a good wine says the one that tastes most delicious to you. It is the same with design.
Due to the nature of crowdsourcing, you will receive design submissions of varying levels of quality.
While some designers will be formally trained in graphic design with fine art degrees others will be self-taught and naturally talented. You, as the buyer, are the final judge of quality based on your own specific needs and design preferences.
As for the technical specification of the file formats that you will receive of your final graphic design, there are specific requirements for their file preparation of all orders. The company guarantees that you will receive all the file formats you need to reproduce your logo both online and offline.
If for any reason this is not the case they have a full customer support department that you can contact online or by telephone 1-800-513-1678 located in the US to resolve any of these technical questions.
Having extensive ad agency experience I have dealt with plenty of improperly prepared graphics files in the past. Know that the files from my 99designs contest were done properly, sized correctly and sent quickly.
Graphic designers also experience low quality in clients who are quick to take your work but slow to pay. As such, 99 designers appreciate both the type of no-nonsense clients who pay their bills and the support of the reputable company to resolve any issues.
Most 99 logo clients are serious business owners of growing companies that need your talents. If you are concerned getting paid, only participate in guaranteed contests by looking for peach colored words – GUARANTEED
Designers remember that when you win a contest or are assigned a job through 1-on-1 payment is guaranteed because 99designs will collect client payments and forward to you electronically. Sadly this is not always the case in graphic design. My father was a talented graphic designer who got burned more than once by unscrupulous clients who did not pay their bills due to outright theft or a downturn business sales. This is something you do not have to worry about when you become a 99designs designer.
Process vs time
Perhaps you considered using 99designs for your new logo but have held back because you think it is confusing to use because an online relationship and there is no face-to-face meetings with your artist, or maybe you think it will take a long time to get your logo finished or end up to be a total waste of time if you do not receive logo designs that you like.
First, the interface of the site and ordering process is the amongst the most user-friendly websites I have ever used. The company has streamlined the logo design brief process to only a handful of powerfully indicative questions that coupled with graphics samples of logo designs that you can click to show which styles you prefer.
Other online graphic sites stupidly have very long design brief questionnaires that are entirely done in a text format with no graphic elements. This is a recipe for disaster because graphic artists are visually based people and need to see images and colors to be inspired to create your best logo.
Built into the logo design brief is a place to upload images, such as that scribble you drew on a napkin as your new logo idea – brilliant!
It is quick to order graphic design work – watch me place my 99designs logo contest order at this video here in which in under 15 minutes.
The additional time you spend on giving feedback about initial designs will be worthwhile. Here you will be refining your request to specific designers who styles you like. Do not neglect this point because it will make the difference between a logo you love and something that is not quite right.
99designers welcome your feedback and will submit revised logos for your consideration. The process is much better for both your logo and your mood as compared to the painful and sometimes unpleasant feedback meetings with individual artists who don’t want to hear your input, want to push their ideas and take criticism too personally.
Launching a contest is certainly not a waste of time because it both helps you to think through your brand messaging and to receive valuable input from design professionals. Some entrepreneurs I know have used 99 designs to help flesh out their business concepts, then use the designs as part of their business plan and pitch deck successfully for investors and lenders.
As a designer, you need to consider your time spent in your overall profit plan. Based on the average percentage of logo submissions to winning designs you can expect to get paid approximately $300 per logo, based on winning the average amount of contests at 6% and entering 146 competitions is 9 logo design jobs totaling $2,700.
Remember this is pure profit since you have no advertising expenses nor salesman commissions as expenses. To improve your chances of winning more logo contest check out my designer tips here
Communication online vs personal
For working relationships, I like working online because it is convenient and efficient. For those people who prefer a one-on-one contact with artists, you can contact your designers and have working sessions via Skype video call with screen sharing to discuss your design needs in-depth.
Copyright vs legal
Another point detractors from the crowdsource graphic design industry point us to scare away prospective customers is that you will be buying somebody else’s logo and putting yourself at risk for getting sued by that company for intellectual property copyright infringement.
While some of that may occur online, it is not the great risk that it has been reported.
Most business logos are generally not copyrightable due to requirements of uniqueness and creativity.
More often company logos are trademarked to protect things that identify the business. However, trademarks are more limited in protection than copyrights specifically protection is only to avoid confusion between two different companies in the marketplace.
This that if a logo design was used for restaurant and then a similar logo design was used for a beauty salon those two would NOT be considered a trademark violation because there are not being confusingly similar, required by the US patent and trademark office. They are two different industries selling two different types of products and services.
You as a smart business owner needs to be aware of your competitors brand designs both locally and the large nationals as good business practice to avoid creating a confusingly similar logo.
Funny story, the logo that I purchased from 99designs, which you see at the top of this website looks a little bit like the new logo for the SBA small business administration.
My logo was launched introduced 90 days before the SBA updated their logo. Since I have documentation from my online order that precedes their use of the logo maybe they are copyright infringement to me!
When I saw their logo I smiled and thought that it was a confirmation of the good choice I made in launching a design. They probably paid over $10,000 for their logo while I only paid $299 for mine.
Ethics and society
Do you think it is unethical to support a company such as 99designs who is exploiting designers by making them work without pay?
Let’s be clear, everybody in this business model is well aware of the guidelines before they participate. Having said that I don’t think that it’s unethical in fact I think it’s an extremely fair process that opens up opportunities for creatives around the world to work at their craft, be guaranteed payment and support their families.
Many of these designers work from home, some caring for children and elderly parents and would not have this money making opportunity without a site like 99designs. Other designers are new to the field and want to build a portfolio, meet new clients and develop their skills both graphically, technically and in client communication.
I know of a celebrated graphic designer who has decided to move out of New York City to a country home for his early retirement and generates a good income by being a 99designer happily in his home art studio.
As a society, technology has disrupted just about every business and industry on the planet. This site is an example of shaking up the old-fashioned agency based graphic design market to benefit more people – both clients and designers – with greater transparency, flexibility, and fairness.
Check out my guide on how to start your business right with tons of useful tips I learned by successfully starting, building, and selling multiple companies.