99designs is one of the world’s largest online design marketplace, connecting designers and businesses from all over the world. It also provides designers with an opportunity to earn income and build their portfolios. In fact, 99designs has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to designers, so you can definitely see the income potential there.
At the same time, many designers have only bad things to say about 99designs, and for good reason — it’s the very epitome of spec work, with designers competing against one another in the form of ‘contests’. Furthermore, no professional in their right mind is going to work for free and then maybe get compensated for it.
Basically, 99designs is all about quantity over quality. Even if you invest time and effort in your submission, it will likely be drowned out by the hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of entries for the same project. Even worse, most of these entries are usually copied or stock images.
Also, you will run into another problem if you submit to a contest that isn’t blind (meaning designers are only able to view their own entries) and get a high rating from the client. Now everyone else will try to copy your work and pass it off as their own. The final nail in the coffin is when the client picked one of these knockoffs, instead of yours — definitely not a good feeling.
The bottom line: most designers on 99designs create designs solely to win contests, without taking into consideration the client’s needs and goals. After spending some time on 99designs and seeing your efforts go to waste, you will likely feel the same way.
In addition, it’s hard for you to work closely with the client since they have so many other designers to deal with. You have the design brief, but the rest of the design process is pretty much nonexistent.
See also: A Typical Design Process
Although 99designs is a reputable site and pays reliably, getting paid ultimately depends on the client — they can actually refuse to pay you if the prize money isn’t guaranteed. In fact, some clients are not interested in choosing a winning entry at all since there’s actually no need for them to guarantee the prize money until the finalists are selected (which won’t happen). Instead, they use 99designs as a means to generate concepts and ideas. Since entries are not copyrighted, there’s pretty much nothing you can do to prevent such bad practices.
However, 99designs isn’t all bad — if you focus less on the money and more on doing your best work. Some clients do recognize the value of good design and forming solid relationships with designers. They will take the time to come up with a detailed design brief, provide constructive feedback to the designers, and post updates as frequently as possible.
Also, with so many bad designers on 99designs, it’s not hard for you to catch the attention of these clients. As such, if you happen to take part in their contests, you actually have a good chance of winning. Everyone likes to win, and being chosen as a winner will definitely boost your ego and reaffirm your skills as a graphic designer. Even better, the client might even send more projects your way outside of 99designs.
At the end of the day, it’s entirely possible to make money on 99designs — just don’t count on it as a reliable source of income.
Otherwise, a scenario where you would consider 99designs is if you are bored and looking to do something less stressful for a change. Because there is no client obligations, you can interpret the design brief however you like and create designs based on your own inspirations. As such, it’s a great way to learn and try out new styles. If the client doesn’t like it, you can just move on to the next contest.
At the same time, you might be starting out and looking for ideas and motivation to build your portfolio. In this case, 99designs provides a wide variety of clients and projects for you to choose from, while allowing to gain some working experience in the process.
See also: Building a Portfolio
If you do decide to give 99designs a go, here’s a guide to get you started.
GETTING STARTED ON 99DESIGNS
After you signed up for an account, it’s time to browse and participate in some contests. Here, you can search through different categories and industries. You can also apply filters to refine your search, with Contest Types being an important one.
There are 3 contest types: blind, guaranteed and platinum. You don’t have to worry about platinum contests for now, since they are only awarded to the most talented, professional and hard-working designers on 99designs. Instead, let’s focus on blind and guaranteed contests for now.
A guaranteed contest means that the client is committed to selecting a winning designer and paying out the prize money. As such, there’s the assurance that you will get paid if you do win the contest.
If you participate in a blind contest, your submission won’t be visible to other designers, which prevents plagiarism.
Ideally you should choose contests that are guaranteed and blind, with a comfortable time frame for you to conceptualize and create your submission.
Let’s use a contest as an example: to create a professional, advanced tech logo for an indoor glow light. It’s guaranteed but no blind, so you can see all the submissions from other designers, including ratings.
First, let’s take a look at the design brief, which should contain information such as background information, style preferences and additional notes.
Once your submission is ready, simply Submit Design and upload an image file that meets the requirements.
That’s it. Sometimes, the client will respond by giving a low rating or even eliminating your submission altogether. When that happens, you will have to go back to the drawing board or move on to the next contest.
However, if the client likes the design, they will likely provide you with feedback on top of a high rating. Based on their feedback, you can make the necessary changes to the design and resubmit it. From there, it’s a matter of waiting to see whether you make it past the qualifying round.
Getting selected for the next (and final) round means you are one step closer to winning the contest. One thing to note is that the contest is guaranteed once the finalists are selected. In this round, the client will work with you to further refine the design. The process usually takes between 3 to 5 days, by the end of which a winner is chosen.
Assuming you are the winner (congrats!), you will have to perform the design handover. 99designs has an article that takes you through the process step by step.
Once the client approves the final design, the contest is concluded and payment is released to you in the form of credits. To receive your money, you can request for a payout through Payoneer, PayPal or Skrill.
99designs isn’t really a reliable source of income, but it can be worth considering if you are just looking to get your creative juices flowing. Who knows, you might even win a contest or two in the process.