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Stack Overflow's Original 99designs Logo Contest (99designs.com)
160 points by dmazin 1852 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments

Let's flip this around: Jeff paid $512 and got a logo that's definitely done its job. It's recognizable, tasteful and fits with the site design. The company has continued with this design and has been very successful.

So it's clearly worked.

What may not be immediately obvious is why it worked: Jeff had a clear aesthetic in mind and applied it throughout the contest. You can see that from the feedback process on these designs.

Professional designers offer more than mechanical skills with Photoshop and Illustrator, they bring a few other things to the table:

- A sense of taste (which many business owners lack)

- An ability to synthesize multiple inputs and determine what's important

- Strategies for selling a design to a committee of decision makers who can't agree

- etc. etc.

In many cases, these soft skills are a huge value add to a business or project. In some cases, though - a developer who's got a good idea of an overall aesthetic, no need to convince a big group, etc. - all that's really needed is the mechanical work: show me a bunch of designs and I'll pick the best one. In this sort of situation, there's little value to add.

I'd like to echo the best point of your comment, "Strategies for selling a design to a committee of decision makers who can't agree". I think that many of these design by committee or contests fail greatly in part of the solicitors, not the designers.

In most instances, a bad design is a bad design and won't be chosen. But, it's up to the client to have enough sense to choose the correct design.

I totally agree. It's amazing what a little bit of thought into the problem can do when designing a logo. There's gonna' be a lot of cookie-cutter logos in competitions like this - but one with insight and aesthetic taste is hard to come by. Most good designers move past this type of freelance work pretty quickly by virtue of their trade.

I will probably be scalded here for saying this here, but here it goes: this just dropped my appreciation of Jeff Attwood and Stack Overflow two notches.

I just cannot appreciate a developer using such a site, while a sizeable portion of developers also work on very similar premises compared with designers; hourly payment and no spec work. (i.e. we'll buy your application if we like it.) For some people, mostly executives and other business oriented disciplines, this is a fair deal as it is what the free market bears; they do not and will not care about long-term health of the industry, the other side of the stick, or the designer on the line. It just doesn’t click for them, and that’s understandable somewhat because they’ve never been in a similar situation before.

But a developer using this service knows exactly what this entails, they are aware of the concept of spec-work, and maybe even had to do it for some reason. My problem is not the amount of money per-se, but with doing work for nothing, hoping that it will pay in the future. A developer cannot claim ignorance. It’s just plain nonchalant lack of empathy.

How about the many stack overflow users who contribute questions and answers on a regular basis? Are they being ripped off by Jeff and Joel, too? NO. Because Stack Overflow provides us with a very valuable platform. By posting our questions and answers, we accrue valuable reputation on the internet. This is proven and true, and the reason careers 2.0 is working out great.

Now, if you take a look at the link to the original 99 designs contest, you'll see that the artist who won the contest is now known as "Please_Remove" -- gee, I wonder why? Perhaps because he was able to use 99designs as a conduit for his graphic design career and is now taking on much bigger and better projects? I'm sure after designing such an iconic logo like that, you'll become famous.

So, you see. We participate in these crowdsourced sites because there's something in it for all of us. I post on SO, for me. I understand others benefit from my posts, but I'm there for two reasons: demonstrate my knowledge, and sponge up everyone else's knowledge.

People working on 99designs might not even be designers yet. But they're getting valuable experience in what clients want, every time they attempt a design, whether they win it or not.

The people on 99designs are not people who have their full schedule booked up with work. And ergo, they have taken a radical and brave step to change that. By subjecting their work to the scrutiny of market forces, they will see if they truly have what it takes to swim.

You can argue no-spec all you want but the two facts remain that make 99designs 100% legit:

    * Everyone working there is doing so voluntarily
    * Everyone shopping there is doing so voluntarily
No one is forcing you to do anything, and the people working on 99 designs are clearly benefiting from it if they are worth half their salt as designers.

Not only do developers get rep for posting answers on SO, it's a good intillectual exercise to challenge ourselves. Knowing something is one thing, being able to explain it coherently is another level of understanding that is very valuable to cultivate.

Similarly, posting on 99 designs is a perfectly selfish act. It's a great no-pressure exercise to hone your skills without having to worry about client requirements. I really don't understand why professional designers feel so threatened by spec. 99% of the time, 99 designs is a perfect example of why you should hire a professional designer.

I am not making the argument that using 99designs is not legal, I'm making the argument that it is not moral. It’s a society’s job to match legality to morality, and just like everyone has different opinions on morality, you’re more than welcome to use as it is legal. If people were forced to work there, it would not be legal.

>Now, if you take a look at the link to the original 99 designs contest, you'll see that the artist who won the contest is now known as "Please_Remove" -- gee, I wonder why?

Going with your assumption that he or she became famous, why does she want to be not seen anymore at a spec-work site, one would think? It's either because he / she is embarrassed to worked at one time at a spec work site, or that he or she, after gaining experience, understood that spec-work is actually not that good of an idea. Considering the weakness of no-spec organized movement amongst designers, I would say the latter.

I also happen to be an active contributor to the Stack Overflow, and I find it very useful. I also contribute. It’s a fair deal. But it’s not spec-work. I have no expectation of compensation. While seemingly similar, it’s stands at a very different place.

That said, I agree that 99designs is a good training ground for budding designers, nonetheless it not existing would be an even better one.

> If people were forced to work there, it would not be legal.

Indeed, if people were forced to work anywhere, it would not be legal.

Touche! Prison is a special exception to most logical arguments. Indeed, it would be perfectly legal for convicts to be forced to compete in 99designs style competitions too, unless that fails the "cruel and unusual" punishment laws ;)

>Going with your assumption that he or she became famous, why does she want to be not seen anymore at a spec-work site, one would think? It's either because he / she is embarrassed to worked at one time at a spec work site, or that he or she, after gaining experience, understood that spec-work is actually not that good of an idea

I would assume he/she is embarrassed to be seen on a spec work site because of people like OP above who actively work to shun those people.

Oh hey could you code the backend and frontend of my site for free?

C'mon, if you do so, you demonstrate your knowledge, you'll get famous, you'll get experience, and hey your schedule isn't booked with work right? C'mon, people answer questions on our site so it's totally the same thing! Collaboration!

My company has millions of dollars but yeah we don't have a budget for it. Don't ask me why, just do the work.

Wait, you want to get paid for that work? Jeez, you are one entitled person.

I'm a designer, honestly, a logo takes a few hours. If they want 15 variations, extensive input, full service, they're going to have to pay someone local by the hour. Or they can try betting on 99 designs. It helped me hone my skills early on, and the criticism was just as loud back then. I think the complaints have more to do with designers wanting to 'pull the ladder up behind themselves'.

EDIT: Forgot to add, 99 Designs does not supply the most important ingredient: judgement. If a client with no design sense uses 99 Designs they will pick a crappy logo, while a professional designer may have been able to steer them in the right direction. Their loss.

> I'm a designer, honestly, a logo takes a few hours.

Please don't state this as fact, it's really dependent on the project, the client and your process.

Such a model wouldn't work because the backend and frontend of a site are far much more work than a logo.

That isn't to say you couldn't spend an equivalent amount of man-hours designing a logo. But it is to say that the designs on 99designs obviously don't have the same amount of work put into them, otherwise the site would be infeasible.

You can argue otherwise, but the fact that there isn't a business for this just like 99designs flourishing is enough proof for me that it won't work.

Also, if someone wants to make such a business, I welcome it. Doesn't mean I'll participate.

>> For some people, mostly executives and other business oriented disciplines, this is a fair deal as it is what the free market bears; they do not and will not care about long-term health of the industry, the other side of the stick, or the designer on the line. It just doesn’t click for them, and that’s understandable somewhat because they’ve never been in a similar situation before.

I think you have all your work ahead of you to show that using 99designs and similar sites has any real effect on the "long term health of the industry." Similarly, I don't see how it represents a lack of care for the designer on the line, seeing as to how numerous designers happily use the site themselves.

You say that your problem is not the amount of money, but with the concept of spec work -- "doing work for nothing." And to that I reply that I totally agree. Doing work for nothing is a problem. But you're blaming the wrong person. You should blame the people who choose to do that work, not the people who offer to buy it. Designers are perfectly capable of saying, "No, I don't like doing work that will possibly be for nothing, therefore I won't participate in 99designs." Nobody is holding a gun to any designers' heads and forcing them to apply this questionable business model to their work.

You could argue that it's still unethical on the part of the client, because they're taking advantage of ignorant designers who are unaware that they are entering into an (arguably) bad deal. But that line of reasoning doesn't hold water, because 99designs makes it very clear what the arrangement is. Nobody here is unaware of the risks of doing competitive spec work.

You could also argue that the problem isn't with the designers who participate in spec work, but with how their decision affects the market for desginers who don't want to do that. But if a large number of designers can be persuaded into doing spec work, then some combination of the following facts are true: (a) there are too many designers, (b) there are too few people requesting high quality design. In either case, it means simply designers may not be worth as much as you think they are, in the numbers you think they should be. I hardly think you can call someone's morals into question for not choosing to donate extra money to designers.

Considering the amount of times this turned in the replies to my comment, I probably have made a mistake that made it sound like I am questioning 99designs’ legality. I am not. They are perfectly legal. Designers knowing what they’re getting is what makes them legal—no one is forcing anyone to do anything they do not want to partake in. I should probably edit my comment, but after so many replies, it would break the train of thought so I am leaving it as it is.

What I do is also far enough from the design discussed here to allow me to take this problem as largely an academic one, for disclosure’s sake. I do not work in the market serviced here.

However, I do have a problem with the moral aspect of using spec work—it’s not about free will, that would be a problem of legality, not morality, because our western society decided that free will is an important enough thing to protect that we have laws matching our moralities on that subject. What, then, makes us have laws on minimum wage? There are jobs that can be serviced for lower-minimum wage, there are employers that would gladly offer lower-than-minimum wage, and there surely are people that would take them in a heartbeat. We do have that laws in part because it’s just plain immoral to ask people to work for free or nearly-free even when they know what they’re getting, much to the capitalist’s chagrin, and in part because it would create a race to the bottom on all parts of the society. Designers being offered spec work is just a way smaller-scale version of this. That said, the issue of minimum wage is an open ended question which I am utterly unqualified to comment further on.

>> We do have that laws in part because it’s just plain immoral to ask people to work for free or nearly-free even when they know what they’re getting, much to the capitalist’s chagrin, and in part because it would create a race to the bottom on all parts of the society.

Well, I didn't mean to question the point of minimum wage. For typical salaried jobs, I completely understand and somewhat agree with the notion that it's unethical to pay below a certain amount.

However, I think that freelancing, entrepreneurship, etc, are a different realm. These are not people who've been interviewed, hired, and retained by a company. Instead, they are people who possess (and/or are developing) a set of skills that they hope to exploit on their own via a business model of their choosing. In my opinion, these differences are significant enough to warrant an entirely different set of moral considerations.

Take myself, for example. Today I'm some combination of a web developer, designer, and sysadmin, but I got my start doing pure web design. I was terrible at first. I doubt I could have landed a serious job at a decent company. But I enjoyed doing contract work where I could, and I enjoyed entering design contests as well. If nothing else, they were a chance to work on my skills and creative processes to see how they compared with others. And, best-case scenario, I could make some money while feeling good about winning. It felt like the furthest thing away from being taken advantage of.

I think minimum hourly wage restrictions are bad. Such restrictions hurt low-skilled workers the most, by denying them a change of getting gradual improvement in experience while doing low-paying jobs.

I don't understand this sort of complaint. Are the participating designers being deceived? Are they being forced to participate? Are they being subjected to conditions that are hazardous to their health? If not, what is wrong with participating in this sort of thing?

I am a happy 99designs customer, and I sleep well at night.

You're making the same argument that a well-rounded executive would make, as I said in my post. It's what the free market bears. You certainly have the right to use 99designs, and I'm happy you're satisfied using it.

Since you've created this developer vs. executive dichotomy, I should point out that I am most certainly a developer, and only an executive in the sense that anyone can print out business cards. I do not care about maintaining high wages for designers, just like they don't care about maintaining high developer wages. Everyone wants to pay less for goods and services, and demonizing people for that when none of the moral lines I mentioned have been crossed doesn't make sense to me.

I see. I can understand—I have many clients, and I wear equally many hats. Executive was probably a wrong choice, project manager would be a better one. When I assume the project manager role, I also face the same problem. I could use this glorious source of extremely cheap labor when there is a need for low-to-mediocre quality of design work (think mockups, non-approved explorations), and by all means, I should. The fact that I don’t is completely a result of my personal and naïve beliefs, and I have no illusion that avoiding this makes me a better project manager—on the contrary, someone that could just do that would be a better PM than I am. Because a project manager, or an executive should not be taxed with morality, only legality: it’s societies’ and nations’ job to ensure the moral matches the legal. This is arguably the reason why there is such a thing called minimum wage. We could remove it, and there are certainly jobs that would offer lower-than-minimum wage as there are people that will gladly take them. Why do we inject inefficiencies into the system, then? That’s the underlying, open-ended question below spec-work, and while I have some theories, I am utterly unqualified to answer that.

Can you define the moral line that using 99designs crosses? I think it's a perfectly moral agreement between designers, those seeking designs and 99designs itself. If it is immoral to ask someone to produce work with the understanding that they won't get paid if I don't choose it, then we have profoundly different understandings of morality.

99designs most certainly lowers designer wages. That is not an immoral act.

Lowering designer's wages is not an immoral act, of course. Still I would rather say it lowers low-end designers' wages, rather than all.

However, is it immoral to ask someone to work for below minimum wage? I believe so. Apparently the western society agrees, consequently we have laws to protect that. I'd say we do most definitely have two profoundly different concepts of what is moral and what is not.

You were just talking about the distinction between morality and legality, then you justified your position on morals with laws.

I do not believe that it is immoral to offer less than minimum wage for a job. I do not believe that any consensual arrangement between clear-thinking adults is immoral.

Isn't the issue that the designer can choose to work for less than minimal wage or not work. That's a very limited sense of consensual labour.

The exploitation of the global market is available to the commissioner (stackoverflow) in a way that is not available to the designer.

Whilst SO are enjoying a position of wealth wrought in part from the [owners] geographical location they are, here, using the lack of mobility of designers to get a relatively low cost design created. Moreover they are exploiting those who, on the whole, don't have the benefit of their wealth in order to maintain a low cost and at the same time creating a vast inefficiency in the labour performed to produce the design.

So the immorality IMO comes in via exploitation of the low paid, deflation of market price below local [labour] costs (as they are benefiting disproportionately from those high local costs), and purposefully introducing inefficiencies in to production.

You may not find those condition immoral - after all population control by virtue of below-subsistence wage levels is a natural part of a free market; some people seem to find that satisfactory.

If that's what you call immoral, do you only buy goods and services produced by workers making American/Western European-level wages? In the unlikely event that you do, isn't it morally suspect to deny workers in developing countries jobs just to maintain wages?

I'm inclined to think a lot of people who use 99Designs and other such sites do in fact consider and empathize with the designers on the other end, as do you. As you have rightly stated, there is no deception or forced participation. It's a free market.

What I don't think a lot of 99designs customers consider is their impact on the health of the design market. Allow me to illustrate this in the software development world:


Imagine you have a potential client that has put out an RFQ. You write up a proposal and submit it. You are not selected, but you learn that the potential client went instead with an offshore company that bid literally one third of your bid. There was no way you would have come close.

You may say "I build quality software. I charge what that's worth." The offshore competitor may write less efficient code that's much harder to maintain – but this client doesn't know, or care. They care that the software meets requirements and was delivered on-time and in-budget.

That's what designers who disagree with 99designs are concerned about – clients that don't understand what they're missing out on when they choose a one-off crowdsourcing instead of a collaborative, iterative process – and a market that comes to accept this as the norm.

Now maybe for a one-off side project, you simply don't need a full design process for a logo. Maybe a client that needs a quick prototype for an app doesn't need the quality codebase you can provide. I'm not against either of these scenarios. I just don't want to see the market for either industry lose track of the value its best talent can provide.

If a logo produced by a single employed designer or firm is better than a logo produced via a 99designs-style contest, then you're going to have to prove it instead of merely claiming that your way is superior. The Stack Overflow logo doesn't seem to be missing some sort of je ne sais quoi that a non-contest logo would have. I'm also happy with my 99designs logo. If I'm hurting my business with such a logo, I'd appreciate some sort of proof.

Otherwise, this seems to be an argument about maintaining designer wages, and I am rightfully not concerned. Everyone wants their wages to go up and the prices they pay to go down.

I'm not claiming your logo is objectively detrimental to your business, just as I wouldn't claim that off-shored software is objectively detrimental to an offshoring client. I've certainly used software developed by a small team in India that did exactly what it needed to.

I don't know what your logo looks like. It might be a great piece of design that connects with your customers and represents your business well. All I'm saying is that a proper design process helps ensure that happens; it's no different from software in that regard.

I see the problem that a site like 99 Designs creates for designers at large, but I don't see how that is everyone else's problem. It's your job (if you are one such designer) to communicate the superiority of your design process to potential customers and no one owes you a well-educated marketplace.

>> The offshore competitor may write less efficient code that's much harder to maintain – but this client doesn't know, or care. They care that the software meets requirements and was delivered on-time and in-budget.

Everything hinges on that "may", doesn't it? Either the code is worse, or it isn't. If so, the client will suffer for it, and smart companies will learn not to go with the lowest bidder. If not, congrats to the offshore company for outcompeting me.

I think I'm producing high-quality software, but ultimately, I have to prove that in the market. The market is healthy when everyone has maximum freedom about what to produce or provide.

I wouldn't engage in a bidding war to make software because I'm convinced that I don't have to do so in this market. If things change, maybe I'll become desperate enough to do that, or maybe I'll find another line of work. The invisible hand will keep allocating workers as needed.

> Allow me to illustrate this in the software development world

You don't need to image it, it already exists: www.freelancer.com, www.guru.com, www.project4hire.com, etc.

> I'm not against either of these scenarios.

Then that's really it, isn't it. 99designs and sites like it have perfectly reasonable use cases.

I agree. It's by choice that people participate in this type of website, with the knowledge that they may not be paid. No one is forcing designers to partake.

Here's the difference: as a developer I don't feel the least bit threatened by the existence of spec work. I know that it's not a substitute for what I do.

Designers claim to know this too, but then they get really defensive.

So which is it? Do pro designers really provide value that can't be had through a spec-work site? If yes, then they have nothing to worry about.

The anti-spec-work argument is based on a false dichotomy: the alternative for most of those designers on 99designs is not a pro designer job. It's not getting paid to do any kind of design at all. Work gets done on spec because it's a very low friction way to operate, and if you increase the friction enough these little transactions never happen at all.

> Here's the difference: as a developer I don't feel the least bit threatened by the existence of spec work. I know that it's not a substitute for what I do.

I am unqualified to answer this because I am not the kind of designer 99designs would threaten. What I do is very different and unreplicable in a spec-work environment, so one could almost say I have an unfair advantage.

I agree that if spec work didn't exist, most of those jobs would be produced for free. But the remaining portion would be produced by professional or professional-to-become designers, and that would produce a surplus for the economy, and I'd hazard a guess that the surplus would be larger than what it currently is—but obviously it's just my reasoning, not hard data.

This is sort of like saying Hollywood spec script writing is unethical, when there's a lot of history in such an endeavour, and a well known understanding of the risks associated.

Also, the whole concept of working for a startup is, in a sense, doing work for nothing, hoping that it will pay in the future. Admittedly, equity is a more likely avenue to get paid when you do hit success than pure reputation from spec work, but on the flip side, such successes are much more of a team effort than that of an individual. Having been a leader at more than one failed startup, I don't ever recall anyone in the market having "empathy" for us as we ran out of cash and were laying people off.

I guess I'm saying that arguing this is somehow unethical seems absurdly entitled, whether for designers or developers.

edit: grammar

It's unethical to expect monetary compensation for work?

You're twisting the OP's words. It's not unethical to participate in a work arrangement where the supplier puts in spec work and knows they might not win the contract.

So all the amazing contributions the StackOverflow team and users have contributed to the engineering world are now less-useful because you found out they got their logo from a crowd-sourced platform?

Are you kidding me? If you don't like spec-work crowd-sourced sites, then don't participate, but to try and suggest they are less of a company for using one is over-dramatic bullshit.

> Are you kidding me? If you don't like no-spec crowd-sourced sites, then don't participate, but to try and suggest they are less of a company for using one is utter fucking bullshit.

Please be civil. I am not saying that they are less valuable. I am saying I appreciate them less.

Are you kidding? You use stack overflow to receive free programming support.

Can you explain what the difference is between 99designs crowdsourcing design work and SO crowdsourcing development troubleshooting?

There's a huge difference. 99 Designs works on the premise that only the best should/will survive, a brutal winner takes all system. None of the participants in 99 designs are contributing their efforts as charity... they hope to get paid. While SO is the exact opposite. Contributions made as pure charity with no money changing hands.

Not sure how you could miss the distinction.

Just to clarify - I'm not passing judgement on 99D one way or the other. The people that participate there are free to do so if they think it is the best use of their time.

Have a read of this article:


There's good reasons to believe that the portfolio that designers develop through 99designs is likely to be worth far more to them than the win itself.

I was simply pointing out the obvious difference between SO and 99D. I'm neither for nor against the 99D way of doing things. I'm sure there are many secondary benefits to be had from participating in these kinds of competitions, not least of which would be improving ones skills and (potential) work prospects.

For starters, 99designs is spec-work, and stack overflow isn't. Nobody is making any money from Stack Overflow by contributing.

I wouldn't go as far as saying no one. The quality of ones Stack Overflow answers may result in a better job, similar to how a good portfolio and record on 99designs might result in better opportunities down the track.

Agreed. The glorious irony here is that the age old argument for spec work is that it builds your portfolio- I know that my SO portfolio contributed to landing my current job.

That was so long ago, I'm pretty sure the (then 3, counting Jeff) developers weren't even getting paid yet. Might still have been running the site on a (single!) box under somebody's desk. Was still a few months til the private beta started.

I'd imagine (since I wasn't around at the time) it was more of a choice between "pay nothing" and this, Stack Overflow had no income until after launching (ads I think were the first thing) and no funding for years after that.

I don't think it's a bad deal for the designers as long as they aren't spending huge amounts of time on each idea. It's probably less effort than I spend on a proposal and I'm not guaranteed to get any work from that.

in my experience the majority of the submissions on 99designs first round are very quick drafts with clip art that probably took the designer 5 minutes. There are some very original ideas mixed in as well too but I'd say at least 75% you can tell are just rough ideas and you can look at artist profiles to see they submit basically a similar logo frequently.

I think the service is interesting because nowhere else can you just get a total brainstorm of so many ideas. Then when you pick one, they get the $350 prize, but they may also pick you up as a client to refine the logo or do more work with the site.

Instead of voicing yet more disapproval for 99designs, I'd like to make a positive suggestion for anyone looking to save money on a branding project:

Go to a portfolio network like Behance.net and browse the portfolios under branding. You'll find plenty of interesting, talented, and available designers, many of whom are just starting out or live in far-flung places with low overheads.

It won't be quite as fast or cheap as going with the crowdsourced alternative, but it will definitely be faster and cheaper than going with a firm that touts big-name clients. Most importantly, you'll get to experience a real design process, and maybe even forge a relationship with someone who gets to know your business and what you're looking for when you need more design work.

To the professional designers here, how much guaranteed prize money would it take for you to participate in crowdsourcing contests for app design?

Sites like Folyo are a good idea, and I'm happy to see so many designers on HN, but as someone who's worked with crowdsourcing sites and pro designers one-on-one, it's much better as a client to have multiple designers working on your idea simultaneously based on a single crowdsourcing design brief than finding good designers on Dribbble/Folyo, building relationships with individuals who may or may not be a good fit, and then managing relationships with the candidates who happen to be available and oh they want to get paid $150/hr up front for work that isn't guaranteed to work for you, be on time, on budget, etc.

I would much rather pay $10,000 guaranteed if it meant having Folyo level designers compete to deliver something based on a design brief. Overall, I think crowdsourcing is a much better arrangement than pay 'N pray. It leads to a wider range of options, more creativity, and ultimately gives clients better results.

It might be helpful to turn this around, and compare it to working in some other field. For example most programmers would not want to work like this, constantly under time pressure, competing with others without time to gather requirements properly or interact with the client, and accepted or rejected for unknown reasons at the end. For a small hackathon or other little competition, it'd be fun, but who would want to work this way all the time, with no dialogue, and the possibility of your work not being paid for but being harvested for the best ideas which are then farmed out to the cheapest bidder? I'd fire the client for even suggesting it.

This sort of process implies a lack of respect for the design process, a belief that it's just a veneer, and a lack of trust in your designer. Most design isn't just about firing off a brief and receiving some stuff back, and then judging which is best based on the client's instincts, it affects flow, functionality, and most importantly of all is based on a dialogue with the client and moulded by ideas extracted from the client; it's not piece work.

Most good designers would respectfully decline an invitation to a race to the bottom, except if the work is really well defined, like a logo, and could be viewed as a small fun sideline or a way of boosting profile. I'd never work professionally this way, would you? Why should they participate in this sort of bargaining for any amount of money if other clients take what they do seriously? Design is a collaborative process, and getting to the real requirements is actually not dissimilar to say website or app development - it requires time, patience and commitment from both sides. If you can call this process "pay and pray" you are (both) doing it wrong.

I actually think the SO competition was a good idea, and they ended up with a nice logo which suits them, but for work larger in scope than say logos (like app design, or almost any other design job) it doesn't make sense, and even logos are better done as part of a larger process about the whole brand.

Big agencies often 'pitch' for million [dollar|pound|euro|...] jobs. These are competitions too.

There is always a cost to following up on some job. Not just money, costs... but time, pain, opportunity costs etc.

Reduce the cost for the worker, and reduce the cost for the consumer to lower than what they could do together, and you have a good sustainable business. If you can just reduce the cost for one of the parties, then you'll probably still do well. Reduce just one type of cost, and there is even probably some good business for you :)

Those big agencies also get a retainer just for trying. If you're talking about a million dollar campaign, you pitch, but you get a retainer that pays for your time. It's not even remotely the same thing. Moreover, you compete against one -- maybe two -- other agencies.

for $10k-$15k and good brief, you could get let's say 5–8 freelancer designers to do a PAID creative pitch (there's your difference between spec work and 'normal' creative pitch), get multiple high quality (and relevant) options, and give the job (and the rest of the money) to the designer you like most.

Basically, you pick few designers, who you think will fit the job most (looking through their portfolio) and will pay them for the time pitching to you. That's it.

Better yet, head over to http://logopond.com which is the oldest and most active hangout place for logo designers. Behance is a bit more pompous and serious, not everyone ends up creating and maintaining a page there.

May I suggest also trying out http://folyo.me ? It's basically like Dribbble or Behance, except I've personally selected every designer on there, and you can also reach them all at once by email if you post a job.

Why go that route when you yourself admit it is not as cheap?

and he gave it one star, no sense of humor

If you know how 99 Designs works then you would know that awarding multiple stars to this logo would change the submissions after to be all pancake related.

When a designer shows an interest in a logo, then all other designs follow suit and basically 'spin-off' that logo.

I would just like to point out that Stack Exchange doesn't use 99designs anymore. Here's just an example:


99 designs is a disgusting waste of resources and talent. If you're a designer like me, you'll get much more value investing your time in building long lasting relationships.

If you're looking for a design, please put in the effort and get to know a designer. Most are incredibly hard working and won't be happy until your happy.

I see from this comment and others on the page that you're very angry about 99designs, and people who use it. I can see why - it commoditizes your profession.

But can you see it from the other side? There are clearly designers (starting out, living in low cost economies, etc) who are happy enough to use it, and it's not always possible to pay a designer until we're both happy.

>happy enough to use it

'Desperate' is a more appropriate term.

>"...not always possible to pay a designer until we're both happy."

In my opinion a fair amount of work should receive a fair amount of pay. There would be untold wasted hours invested in 99design jobs that were never won because of a trivial differences between two or three leading designs.

Graphic designers aren't pitching to invest time and labour for the opportunity to work. They're actually investing the time first and just crossing theire fingers.

I'm not angry at companies using 99 designs, I'm annoyed at the system and those who enable it, including the designers themselves.

If you have $300 to spend on a logo, there are hundreds of good designers out there who will take the time to get to know your needs and develop a solution that you're happy with.

Choosing a designer is hard. Using 99designs freed me from that task. The final comparison comes down to $300 for a logo vs. $300 plus the time and effort required to find the right designer plus the risk they'll produce something you don't like. I took the former deal, and I continue to think it was the right one.

Check out http://dribbble.com/

Lots of great designers for hire.

Dribbble does not change the value proposition I outlined. What rational business owner will choose picking a designer from Dribbble and hoping they'll produce a desirable logo instead of picking a logo from 99designs? To me, 99designs seems like a vastly superior option.

So if I want to get a logo designed, what would be a quick way to get a designer on dribbble to work with me?

> I'm annoyed at the system

The system is the free market. I'm no Randian, but its pretty clear there is both supply and demand for 99designs.

> If you have $300 to spend on a logo, there are hundreds of good designers out there

Note that this is a different service than 99designs provides, and to be honest, I much prefer the 99designs version. Better to get 12 good ideas without putting much effort in, rather than tracking down a designer who'll do it, having a few skype calls or coffees, and then taking what they give me.

I understand your argument, and I realise markets(unregulated) will dictate whether a service is viable or not. I just think it's an unfortunate stance to have.

For the good of the design community I would encourage people to put the effort and source a good designer.

I take the same stance when consuming anything. I try to source products/services based on value and ethics, not just price and convenience.

BTW Dribbble(dribbble.com) is a great hub of good designers for hire.

> For the good of the design community I would encourage people to put the effort and source a good designer.

This is insane. Nobody in their right mind would do this over what 99designs offers. It's an order of magnitude better in terms of both price and convenience, and I'd wager that on average you're more likely to get what you want out of it.

> BTW Dribbble(dribbble.com) is a great hub of good designers for hire.

I beg to differ, having tried multiple times over a year to find designers there. Anyone whose work I liked wasn't interested in being hired, or had a price tag way way outside my range.

">This is insane. Nobody in their right mind would do this over what 99designs offers"

I think your hyperbole knob needs adjusting. There are thousands of right minded and happy clients doing exactly what I suggested.

I was speaking about "I need a logo and have $300" - I didn't intend it to be hyperbole. With that adjustment, do you think it's hyperbole?

> If you have $300 to spend on a logo, there are hundreds of good designers out there who will take the time to get to know your needs and develop a solution that you're happy with.

The problem here is that customers aren't certain that a specific designer will be able to pull off what they have in mind. Looking at the designer's portfolio helps to a degree, but committing to a service of a single designer is still a bit of a gamble. This uncertainty is what 99 designs capitalizes on. They appear to help hedging the risk.

To each his own. 99designs is not going anywhere, but they serve people who would've not contracted freelancers anyway.

> In my opinion a fair amount of work should receive a fair amount of pay

"Fairness" is immaterial in a free market. Who gets to decide what's fair? You? Why is your concept of fair pricing more legitimate than that agreed upon by others? Your industry is being disrupted, get over it.

I see a lot of this going around, particularly on this topic. Usually as part of an angry rant.

It's a common theme for most industries to want to control who is in it, how they buy and how much they pay. The whole retrospectively-name mercantilist period of economics lasted for centuries, and collectively reduced the living standards of millions, just because those in charge thought setting prices and reducing access to industries was a good thing. It wasn't until markets were opened up and anyone could enter or leave at will that things improved for many, many people.

The point is - you either agree with free markets for anything or you don't. It's hard to accept that it's OK for you to buy cheaper goods caused by some industry disruption somewhere else, but it shouldn't apply to your own industry. It's hard to accept, but you still have to.

Commoditization of products and services happens, and if it happens to you, you've just to got to suck it up and get on with it. Hectoring or whinging to your clients is a no-win strategy. Doubtless many restaurants have been killed by McDonalds and low-cost, low-quality meals, but the public vote with their feet and dollars.

In the case of 99 designs, most of the designs are below the floor level of the cost of engaging a designer. If I were a designer, I would hope that 99 designs provides a gateway to people using more design services, rather than doing without or (worse) doing it themselves, which is the far-more frequent outcome.

In the case of new companies (like stackoverflow once was) it makes a lot of sense to just get a little bit done in order to get launched. If it's successful, there will be plenty of money later on to form proper relationships with real designers.

>"...reduced the living standards of millions"

Regulating markets and working conditions post WWII in western nations did exactly the opposite.

For unbridled capitalism and truly free markets check out some of the living standards in South East Asia.

Having worked with both crowdsourcing websites and professional designers on a one-on-one basis, I am by far more satisfied with crowdsourcing sites on the whole, for simply delivering what I ask for at an appreciable rate. I don't just like the guaranteed levels of service or the straightforward payment terms many crowdsourcing sites offer, I like the idea of crowdsourcing, for the same reason I like open source.

Just as open source developers want to maximize the number of eyeballs on their codebase, I want to maximize the number of eyeballs on my creative project. So do you, you professional designer, or would you actually prefer to start a creative project without the benefit of having 1,000 different artistic directions to draw inspiration from?

I strongly believe a good idea can come from anyone, anywhere. In light of this, it makes no sense to trust that you, Mr. Designer Extraordinare, of 10s of 1,000s of other Designer Extraordinares on Earth, have the ability to supremely encapsulate my project in PSD format from the great subconscious better than everyone else. In all likelihood, you don't - because that is the nature of human creativity. This is why I want 1,000 different designs to look at early on.

Honestly some of you designers make it seem like crowdsourcing contests are compelling designers everywhere to become robot slaves. First of all, who's to say you can't run a crowdsourcing contest and then hire out the rest of job; or hire first and then run a crowdsourcing contest? These are merely tools at your disposal in a free market.

And in regards to the supposed waste of resources, my assumption is most designers who participate in an early stage crowdsourcing contest sit down for a few hours tops and submit a thoughtful initial concept to get noticed. You see this pattern repeating itself over and over when you run enough contests with ample promised payment. 80% of the entries are a joke, submitted by people who couldn't be bothered to read your design brief, or who couldn't understand English well enough to do so; 15% have potential and maybe 5% really hit it out of the park.

I offer premium rates when I run a crowdsourcing contest, and I wait for competent designers who understand my creative brief well enough to at least pretend to meet it to submit something half decent, and then I work with those designers for the next few days to hone the design. What is so wrong about that?

By the way, here's the poll for the name: http://www.addpoll.com/results?14407

Private Void isn't so bad!

I voted in that. I know I didn’t like Stack Overflow because it is a negative thing, and I thought it’d be better to choose a name with a positive association; but obviously it’s not been a problem.

I don’t remember what I did vote for. I don’t love any of those candidates.

Don't understand why publicfunction.com isn't in that list. :)

dereferenced.com would have been pretty good too.

Wow — they paid $1.70 per design. Were sites like 99designs as taboo then as they seem to be now?

Some designers feel that sites like 99designs and design contests in general are not fair to designers, and erode the value of design work in general. In fact, some have gone so far as to create the "no-spec" movement: http://www.no-spec.com/faq/

I don't agree with this. There is a market for $300 logos that many designers won't fulfill.

I've ran several logo contests and one icon contest on 99designs for $250-$300 per contest. I'd definitely use them again for a logo.

While I received 150-200 submissions in each contest, there were around a dozen that I would consider acceptable. Many "designs" were either clip art, or very poorly made. I also got the feeling that submissions are shopped around. That is, submitted to other contests if they aren't accepted for one. I don't blame them.

My first contest winner was a guy from Pakistan, the second was an 18-year-old from Germany, and the third winner was from Indonesia. Another was from North Carolina. So most likely, you are off-shoring your work where $300 is a larger payday.

If you plan on running your own contest, you need to plan some time to work it. It is imperative to give feedback on each submission, and constantly rate them. This is the difference between getting 12 submissions and getting 120 submissions. Many of the people submitting designs are learning and really appreciate thoughtful feedback.

In most of these cases, I would not have hired a designer otherwise. It takes too much time, and it is hard to find a designer I'd trust to produce something I'd be happy with for a logo. If I was working on an entire site design with a budget of $5-10K then I would find a trusted professional.

"around a dozen that I would consider acceptable"

How much did the 'acceptable' designers get compensated?

That's the problem with the 99designs. There isn't a scale of compensation for quality. Either the designer wins or fails with the rest of the junk.

By acceptable, I don't mean outstanding. Just something I wouldn't be ashamed to put on a business card or website. You typically award one winner, but you do have the option to select multiple winners and pay them each the full amount.

These aren't necessarily top-notch designs, and the designers know how 99designs work. I've entered coding contests myself knowing I might not win. I don't know every designer's motivation, but it can be just for fun or experience. Obviously, there are designers that are willing to participate.

I don't feel they are taboo at all. It's an affordable way for someone to get a lot of opinions and attempts at a logo. I don't think it's a good use of my time to spend the effort finding a talented designer, waiting for them to produce things, go through the revision process and end up paying 10x versus what I do on 99designs. I absolutely understand the level of quality is arguably lower but when I just "need a logo" to have something to work with, I'm more than happy to utilize crowd-sourced efforts like this.

Taboo doesn't mean bad. I have had several great experiences with 99designs, but I don't bring it up in casual conversations with designers I know, much like people that have had good experiences with prostitutes don't mention it on dates. I do think 99designs has become more taboo over time. That being said, stackoverflow is a community site, so a community designed logo fits the business.

>"I do think 99designs has become more taboo over time."

Only on a site like HackerNews. Everyone I've shown 99D to thinks the idea is great (as do I).

I don't understand why designers care one lick what other designers are doing for work. I don't begrudge people for using AirBnB instead of a hotel, or using Uber instead of a normal taxi.

The difference is if someone doesn't choose to stay at your AirBnB, you take no loss. If someone continuously works on design competitions, they could walk away with nothing for hours of work.

I guess some people feel it is taking advantage of the less fortunate, but everyone knows how it works going in; for this reason I can't quite share the same disgust.

That's why I only use sites like Guru and vWorker. Development companies charge way too much for their work and take way too long. Seeing the attitude of devs on HN only solidifies my view: no, i'm not going to let you charge me to waste the day away with "daily billing," and no, I'm not going to pay for your day off and wait longer for my project just so you can have 4-day work weeks.

There is a big difference between outsourcing a logo v outsourcing software. For one, you can see everything you're paying for on one screen and there's no timeline issues etc. You get a finished product and it has a fixed scope.

Now, the logos may not be as good as done by a true design company, BUT, unless you are a big B2C brand, nobody cares what your logo is like.

However, if you're having a critical piece of software written for your business, then clearly you need to care about that - outsourcing may or may not be the best option, just as using 99designs for a logo may or may not be the best option.

The distinction here is that few of us will think you're a jerk for taking that approach. It's a completely valid one, in my opinion. I think it rarely leads to success, but if it works for you, go nuts.

I'm assuming a significant portion[1][2][3] were not "real" logos, it seems half the first page are the sort of standard someone might pay for and the rest of generally cutesy "logos" that people submitted for fun.

I guess it doesn't change your core point (designers get stiffed in competitions) but it's not as if this case is average -- at least I hope it isn't.

[1] http://99designs.co.uk/logo-design/contests/logo-stackoverfl... [2] http://99designs.co.uk/logo-design/contests/logo-stackoverfl... [3] http://99designs.co.uk/logo-design/contests/logo-stackoverfl...

The only experience I've had with 99designs was through a friend but he had really good responses. Do you mind sharing what's so taboo about using it?

I think the "taboo" in this case is the same way some people feel about sites like rentacoder or guru where the programmer (in this case designer) has to work their tail off trying to land a paying job where as the client pays next to nothing comparative to how much spec work they are getting done for free.

Although in my opinion, no one is forcing either to work with those sites and in fact a lot of top designers stay away for just that reason. It devalues what they think their time is worth...

So, some people who work in a similar contracting style field feel it's taboo to hire someone in another field using a process you think is exploitative in your own field.

The designers only get paid if their design gets chosen. On top of that, you have clients that name their price, so you end up having races to the bottom for people trying to support themselves in their profession. Furthermore, the client has the last say in the design (they pick the winner), so instead of trusting a designer to create a solution that's the best for your business, you're going with your own (untrained) eye without any regard to what makes a design successful (a lot of people are incorrect in assuming that good design is anything that just "looks good", that's only part of it).

> you're going with your own (untrained) eye

Well sorry, but if I'm the client then I will damn well choose whatever design I like. It's not like a logo is only going to be seen by 'trained designers' who can 'appreciate' it.

"The Emperor's New Clothes" springs to mind...

You call it a "race to the bottom." I call it a functioning market. Lowering prices for a product isn't a bad thing. It's effectively what we're all in the business of doing.

I used to try making money as a designer on 99Designs. Basically, it's taboo because designers get paid like $2 an hour there. It's a business model skewed completely towards the clients.

Can't blame 99 for it, they're not forcing any designers to keep working at trying to win these contests, but the way they advertise all the money being made in large sums makes it feel like there's more of a chance of making solid money than there actually is.

Of course I never was the best anyway, many others had more success than me. But it's still a very bad average pay-off for the designers.

>"Basically, it's taboo because designers get paid like $2 an hour there"

There are places in the world where it may be nigh impossible to get work as designer, and where the "low" wages of sites like 99designs are considered good wages.

U$2 an hour is really bad, even by my country's standard (I live in Uruguay, South America).

A salaried wage for a designer would be about U$5/hour. At my company they're paying a good designer U$ 25 an hour for freelance work, but of course they don't hire as many hours as a fulltime salaried employee would do.

I think the OP was being facetious with the $2 per hour comment. In my experience with 99designs, the winner gets a few hundred dollars. Taking into account the fact that a designer may have to enter quite a few contests before he/she wins, that prize pool gets diluted for sure, but I'm sure the wage works out to a value greater than $2.

It depends a lot on the designer/buyer relationship. For example a friend of mine had for example his logo done through 99Designs but ended up getting the whole CI for his business done plus keeps coming back for follow-up orders. Therefore I would reframe 99designs as a way for designers to get clients without having to find cold-leads while at the same time being able to practicing their skillset/portfolio on real-world designs.

> practicing their skillset/portfolio on real-world designs.

Just FYI, that kind of justification is offensive to designers. Practice and portfolio pieces don't put food on the table.

Not at all. I think with every creativity centric professions reaching true mastery is a long process. If a designer is not able to attract clients by previous work this can have many reasons, but improving the ability to produce work suited for professional use might be a great step.

Sounds like you'd have a hard time changing your price in the event a 99designs client becomes loyal to your work.

> Therefore I would reframe 99designs as a way for designers to get clients without having to find cold-leads while at the same time being able to practicing their skillset/portfolio on real-world designs.

That sounds great for a college student, but not for anyone actually trying to make a living.

I have no idea if it would work, but what if a site was made where you could hire designers that you knew were quality so you wouldn't waste the time of people that weren't likely to get their design chosen?

This one looks a lot like the current server fault logo


My pet peeve..

Redirects me to http://99designs.de/....

Top bar with '99designs.de now speaks German! Switch to English or continue with German.' and most content (the 'ui') is in German, mixed with original English parts (English contest title, English comments). The amount is listed as 512$ and seems awkward (for Euro that's fine, for $ it looks out of place).

My browser sends 'Accept-Language en-US,en;q=0.5'.

Clearly the site ignores my preferences and web standards. I won't return.

Followed up via email, this sounds like a bug which we'll look at. We use geoIP for the ccTLD redirect, but then Accept headers should dictate the language subdomain.

Can anyone explain how something like this works for the graphic designer? The service says 'more for less' -- which for me is 'more [design] for less [money]'.

My understanding:

You give some information about what you want. You offer a prize for the best logo ($512 in this case.) Anyone can submit a logo. You pick your favorite, pay the prize money, and the logo is yours to use or not use as you see fit.

Even if you get no logos you like you're only out the prize money, which is a lot cheaper than a talented designer would cost. It's great for a business that needs a cheap logo, not so great for designers making a living from logo design.

I don't know who owns rights for non-winning logos.

All participating designers should read the terms for the site they're using (obviously) but in general they retain all rights to their own work if not chosen. The most common exception is for promotional purposes, i.e. if the site wants to run a campaign they can use your image without requiring any notification.

It's sad to see the amazing work that gets submitted in hopes of obtaining a percentage of what they could make with a proper client.

I'm curious as to how many other graphic designers are outsourcing their work there...

Interesting that the Stack Overflow team also had a contest for superuser.com on crowdspring.com


Wondering if the $512 reward had anything to do with being geek.

Most definitely.

There are some truly awful designs on there. They defiantly made the right choice.

I cant wait to see 99developments created ! would be great to get 302 developments by 102 developpers for 500$ ! would save a lot of money...

I wouldn't do that if I were you. The quality is likely to be about the same as what you can get on outsourcing sites and if that is good enough (and it might be) then there is no reason to wait, potentially for years.

my comment was purely sarcastic. I despise services like 99designs, but these are the laws of the "free market".

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