Shared publicly  - 
10x Cheaper, 10x Faster, 1,000x Better: 99designs

In this blog I'm going to talk about one of the most successful crowdsourcing sites ever -- +99designs -- a site revolutionizing how people create logos, websites and other branding projects. It's a site I love and have used repeatedly; what's more, it teaches us basic principles worth emulating.

I've started 15 companies, and there's always a moment when it's time to come up with the corporate branding... logo, business card, stationery, website, etc. A process that was frustrating and many times painful. But crowdsourcing done right has changed all that.

Let's review the old way: It takes 90 days from the time you pick a designer until you get your finished product; $3,000 to $5,000 for their services; and, at best, a set of 10 designs to choose from, if you're lucky. And, if you don't like any of them, well, then you're out of luck.

Let's review the new way, using a site called 99designs: Post a $400 competition bounty, within one week you get 100 to 200 logos to choose from. Only pay if there's one that you love. If not, wash, rinse, repeat.

In summary: 10x cheaper, 10x faster and 10x more options. Satisfaction guaranteed.

What 99designs has done is to gather diverse graphic designers through a competition process that has brought affordable design to a wide variety of companies. It's also created a global community that offers businesses more options at a lower price than before.

+Matt Mickiewicz, a serial entrepreneur and cofounder of 99designs, told me how he got the idea: "On one of my sites, graphic designers from all over the world began creating fictional design contests for themselves. At the end of a week, one design would be named the winner. These designers had spare time and wanted to connect with other designers."

Eventually members suggested holding a contest for an actual logo, with the winner being paid for the work. That inspired the creation of 99designs in 2008. The site holds contests for design work. A client posts a request -- for a logo, for a book cover, for stationery or other project -- and designers from all over the world submit their designs within a set time.

Now, the site has 175,000 designers who've offered at least one design, and among them they create a new design every five seconds, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So far 99designs has paid over $39 million to designers and posted over 150,000 design contests ranging from T-shirts to logos to websites and even book covers. Mickiewicz estimates that the work is 10 times less costly and 10 times faster than traditional design work.

The site took off almost immediately. With no publicity (or even a designer sign-up page) designers were joining the site by the thousands daily, Mickiewicz said.

But there were a few stumbling blocks. Among them, payments to designers. At the beginning, 99designs charged $39 for posting the contest, and customers would then be responsible for paying the designer. "Despite people's best intentions," Mickiewicz said, "about 15 percent to 20 percent of the time it didn't actually happen. Customers would disappear, delay paying for weeks or months, or in some cases even steal the designer's work."

Mickiewicz and his colleagues decided to try a prepayment option, with the understanding that 99designs would handle paying designers and follow-through.

"To our surprise, about 50 percent of small-business owners opted to prepay. So designers naturally flocked to these prepaid contests because they were sure they were going to get paid quickly." Six months later, prepayment became a requirement.

The site also solved the problem of the occasional theft. Sometimes someone would simply steal the design work that was submitted, without paying. Someone would save the work to a computer, then email 99designs and request a refund. To prevent that, "we make all customers call us for a refund," Mickiewicz said. "You have to speak with an actual representative. People who are dishonest don't like human interaction," he said. "But fundamentally, people are honest."

Mickiewicz and his colleagues offer the following three suggestions to anyone who would like to work with 99designs:

1. Be involved throughout the process. "If you're not interacting with designers, then you're missing out on the core value propositions on 99designs," Mickiewicz said. "Our designers like to be engaged. The more you're engaged, the better the results. The biggest mistake is hoping that miracles will happen by themselves."

2. Mickiewicz has found that recognition is sometimes as important as money, so explaining more about your company and how the designer's work will be seen and utilized is very important.

3. Clients who provide examples of work they like get the most response. Designers find that it can be hard to communicate artistic preference using words. Visual examples work best.

In my next blog I'm going to write about what crowdsourcing lessons 99designs learned about working with its designers, and how it has been able to use that experience to create a site geared toward employment opportunities.

NOTE: As always, I would love your help in co-creating BOLD, and will happily acknowledge you as a "contributing author" for your input. Please share with me (and the community) in the comments below what you specifically found most interesting, what you disagree with and any similar stories or examples that reinforce this blog that I might use as examples in writing BOLD. Thank you!
Marissa Brassfield's profile photoWayne Edfors (GRIDdriven)'s profile photoGeorge Mikhailovsky's profile photoMar Wat's profile photo
This is very beneficial, especially regarding t-shirt designs. For a while now I've been going to several t-shirt designing websites, put up a design I want, save it, pay for it, and then send an email to the company with the link attached to verify my purchase and design. 

The problem I almost always have is lack of communication. After several days, if not a week after sending said email, I'd then finally get written back to verify whether or not my design is doable. And if not, then I have to go back, redesign to fit the required adjustments, and then re-send via email. It turns into a monotonous loop. 

One occurrence I went through was a phone call from the company itself, which I found convenient. It enforced a direct line of communication, but the person who called was an operator for the company, and not the designers themselves, which led to more lack of communication, because the operator didn't always understand what exactly, in detail, was needed of me. 

So on went the monotonous loop. I redesigned my preferred design and re-sent via email. But then, just a few days later, I'm contacted by another operator, apparently clueless of my previous communication with the other one, asking me the same questions and demands as the other had provided previously. Obviously upset over this lack of clear communication, I contacted them again via email stating my worries. This problem was finally addressed and my design was approved for the company's designers to get to work on. 

Hearing about this +99designs company, it really opens up that direct line of communication between the designers, both yourself and those working for you, that I was desperately looking for when doing my past designs for a simple t-shirt. Open Source communication is the best line of communication, and truly destroys the annoying barriers that pre-open source communication - a hierarchical means of communication - adhered to. 

Thank you +Peter H. Diamandis for presenting this to us! I see much success in its future. Not to mention a new customer. :)
Awesome service - had out new co logo created by them; (Peter, prior to moving downtown we were neighbors in the EA building!)
This is the exact same principal as Open Source software. Who can put out a better product faster – a few sharp programmers at Apple, a few more at Microsloth, or a whole world of INTERNET connected volunteers working together for a common goal – that isn't money. Linux is already the undisputed champion of the server world and it won't be long before it takes over the desktop computer as well. Long live the Penguin! Cooperation beats out competition any day.
Do you have many (or any) friends who are designers? Have you discussed this topic with them? There's a powerful stink ... I've heard countless horror stories from designers.
Peter, a somewhat similar approach in the scientific community is Science Exchange ( where researchers look for bids on who can do the heavy work for some time consuming but vital research tasks. I haven't used it myself as so far the opportunities have been in the Biology/Medical fields but it certainly has some similarity to 99designs.
I have used 99Designs on two occasions. They worked great, providing over 100+ entries into our contests. I would highly recommend them as a service, I believe the founder is based in Vancouver.
I think this is a double-edged sword. One the one hand it is great to have a resource such as this just based on the amount of perspectives different designers will have in finding the solution to a design problem whether it be a logo, stationery, site, etc. However, we don't live in a perfect world and as you indicated what guarantee does a designer have if they submit a design and then are ripped off. They have no recourse. Having started out as a graphic designer I have been in this position. Not only that, is it fair to the designer, especially those who deliver A+ work, to undersell themselves, thereby not being paid fairly or adequately for their work?

Ron Greenfield
Would the same approach work applied toward CAD and 3d prototyping?
It is great way to get design work done fast and cheap. But can income from this work become a sustainable source of revenue for designers? If I assume, that all of them at the same level of professionalism, then they’ve got the same probability to win. So, their income per logo design will be 2-4$.
I'm wondering what the background of these designers is. Are they mostly students? What is their motivation/objective? Are they building their portfolio? What is their geography? Is it mostly for fun and recognition?
They made my logo for me over a year ago. Great service!
+Gideon Rosenblatt directed me to the 99 site after I private posted him and a few others about the idea I had to crowdsource my wifes business logo on G+. I checked into it...and it does sound good. I saw a few really bad critiques though during a Google search that suggested that most designers aren't really getting a fair shake. Peter's blog seems to be thoroughly researched. Should be worth a try at some time.
I have no problem with this type of problem solving, it is a mass (individual) brainstorm approach to solving a given problem, truly far better than relying on a single individual or small collection of thinkers. However, as a senior designer, I do see the potential for an erosion of perceived value regarding the design community, or any other professional group who partake in this type of "event".
  I find it rather funny how often "we" will prostitute ourselves for a chance to work on out-sourced project like this, yet "we" will drag our feet, do our least, or barely show up, if the same is requested from an employer. This may be another supporting argument for this type of event. Only those who want to enter, will enter, regardless of the prize.
  So, I'm a bit torn between the wealth of applied value/resources/knowledge/ability of this style of mass process, and a concern for the long term sustainability of that source - graphic design in this case (could as well be engineering). I would expect a number of contributors to this type of solution would not even be practicing "designers" (not a bad thing), however the value of the "designer" is weighed by this event. The value becomes depreciated, but the expected result is escalated, all by the dangling of a carrot prize. Interesting situation.
  Understand, the prize is not the payment, costs are probably not covered, the victory IS the payment.
  Every participant (designer, or not) who enters this type of event, has the potential to not only improve on themselves, add something to their portfolio (even if they don't win), create new social links, become more competitive, potentially learn they have wasted their time, or are drawn deeper into the process.
  Again, I appreciate the mass "think" that this process brings to the table, the fact that not all of the participants will be from the same technical/professional background, and that great ideas can be harvested. Yet, if all industry/corporate would turn to this approach for all their problem solving needs, would company/corporations eventually turn away from employing professionals directly? Would corps, run a contest for everything they wish to produce? Hmm, maybe a bit far fetched, but something to ponder.
  The competition may be more the reward than the pay-out. No one but the sponsor of the event really wins much. The winning entry gets a small stipend for their brilliant effort, the also-ran masses get some exercise... Sounds more and more like a race than an solution.
Anyway, more minds equal greater ideas, and those at the top win, regardless.
Bring on the next race!
Whereas the other crowdsourcing endeavors you posted Peter have a large initiative in mind, something large for the common universal good, something like this brings it down to a one on one transaction, especially since money is involved. A few things come into play, money is exchanged for goods delivered or not delivered, then there is the quality of the design and the expertise or lack of expertise of the designer. Are these seasoned professionals or students looking to build a portfolio? And as I mentioned before, ethics are involved. What if a buyer sees something submitted but goes with another design? What's to prevent him from ripping off these designers, getting I would have to assume some good design and wholesale prices and I'm sure in some cases, not even paying for it at all.

Ron Greenfield
Competition just got a lot bigger in the business world for creative work
I know & like 99 Designs. I have bought multiple logos from a designer whose style I like, so repeat business is possible. You could say it's a sort of graphic design 'meat market', but it's a respectable place for a new designer to break in, get noticed globally, and literally eyeball the work of the competition. They will be gaining ideas (which also appeals to old-timers seeking to stay relevant) , as well as potential customers.

It's a market place for relatively inexpensive design solutions, not an exclusive boutique experience. But the quality can be top-notch, both from perspectives of the artwork and conceptual representation. Sure beats clipart and the blind, if cheap, option at 

I was involved in voting for one of the proposed website banners worked up by 99 Design-ers for a colleague's member site. So the owner crowdsourced designs then engaged her audience in the final choice. Talk about buy-in to her program! People like to support what they help create. 
I worked  24 years ago in an advertising agency for 5 years; I remember that what the customers liked was that you stayed with them taking the information for the designs. Today the customer’s perception has change, what the customer want is more related with the delivered of a product at low cost and according to what he needs. Friendship Where are you? I love the computer era... Excellent post!!!
I just wanted to mention that I think that the crowd model that 99 designs have chosen obviously works very well for artist type subjective, innovative and creative work results, where it is extremely difficult to objectively define the specification of the work results. Industrial type crowd sourcing approaches with very well defined work results might choose different crowd/business models...
99 designs is another great example of global crowdsourcing  success.It's very promising !!!!!!   
Using lessons from our X-Prize discussions, I used a competition approach to the creation of the logo and corporate branding for our startup.  While I was optimistic from the get-go, I was overwhelmed by the 3rd day.  For the past two years, I have had multiple opportunities to learn "design thinking" from firms such as Ideo.  So, I was immediately impressed with the depth of thinking behind the designs submitted.  My partners and I decided to take the crowd sourcing approach an extra step by creating a mailing list and an incentive system for the final selection of the "winning" design.  We had a great deal of fun with the whole process, and ended up with a logo, a design, and a community of advisors who remain involved and deeply connected today.  
Peter, this story reminds me of my frustrating experience with a website developer. Their practice is to designate a client representatives that relays communications between clients and the design department. This elongates the design process and provides only two or three logo samples to choose from. In the end, the client ends up getting a lesser than desired quality website design and features. I wish I knew of 99Design two and a half years ago. Thank you Peter for another practical illustration of crowd-sourcing. Hopefully, these series of illustrations will open up minds to come up with more crowd-sourcing applications for more business areas.
For those without the budget to engage an experienced design studio or agency, 99designs has created an option where there was none before. You will find there are a high percentage of inexperienced/unskilled designers competing in these "contests" and many of the results reflect this (so businesses financially able to comfortably invest in their brand are wise to continue to do so) but as I said, there's part of the market that couldn't afford ANY brand previously. Now they can get off the ground. 

Business-wise, 99designs is a brilliant idea.

How long until computers will be able to replace humans in the design and development of brands?
You can apply this business model to all kind of standardized services. You need the standardization for measuring and comparing offers and results.
I think for example about services like Application Development and Maintenance (ADM) in the ICT industry. Provided you know the nature of your IT issues you can post your RFBs on such a web page.
I can think of many services where this business model can work in fact it will work for all kind of services where creative thinking but not face to face meetings are required.
Although 99designs is a great business model, I can think of  a tweak that would address some of the issues raised such as designer work getting plagiarized, etc.

Take this scenario - If as a contest holder, you have access to the basic existing service where you post a contest and as Peter pointed out you get 10x or 1000x results on multiple fronts. Now, imagine, if you have a premium service in the same portal that allows the contest holder to pick the best submission and then allow designers to build upon that to make an even better final deliverable.

This tweak/approach would help in a couple of ways:
1) From the contest holder perspective, this premium service would help them further refine the best submission from the basic service into a 'homerun'.

2) From a designer perspective, if he/she were working on a premium contest, they know that the contest holder is engaged and is not likely to disappear and pay up when contest is complete. This would also help further the design profession since we are now applying the Ideo like 'product design thinking' to deliverables - i.e. building upon good ideas and creating the best product.

3) From an end product perspective, you are creating a final submission that truly surpasses the contest creator's expectations.

Rather than have a thousand individuals work on the same problem, we as a society need to utilize such platforms to build upon each other’s submissions and deliverables. That is where Linux and other open source tools have excelled.
Spec work is very controversial among designers and artists. 199 of the 200 people who submit designs would not get compensated at all for their efforts. As such, most professionals would not go anywhere near such work and there is a strong movement growing to discourage any level of artist from engaging in these type of activities, as they see them as unethical.

Artists, underpriced their efforts has been going on for a long time (in some way due to a love of what they do and a lack of business interest).

See these links:                         What is Spec Work?

And this link, (the most talked about video post on cartoon brew for the past couple of weeks):
+Srini Utpala Fascinating idea. Awarding the initial team's product, and then allowing it to be modified will truly lead to a better result. Will there be incentives offered to teams which build upon the initial design?
As a consumer, I've successfully used 99designs several times for logo designs and other branding assets, and just loved it.

I concede +Nicholas Allott's excellent points that creatives have always underpriced their efforts, and that spec work is rightfully a controversial topic. But for someone getting a startup off the ground, paying a "fair" rate for creative work is out of the question. And a site like 99designs would be a great chance for a budding designer to build his or her portfolio...
99designs is a great idea, of course, for quick and cost-effective creating optimal products like logos. Probably, it could be also spread to looking optimal solutions for formulated problems or tasks.

However, these problems or tasks themselves should be formulated by somebody first. We suppose by default that they are already formulated by this or that bright mind. But it would be interesting to discuss how to use crowdsourcing for formulating the problems themselves. Without this, a collective solving already formulated problems looks like a school test rather than collective creating a new concepts.
Mar Wat
"Let's review the old way: It takes 90 days from the time you pick a designer until you get your finished product; $3,000 to $5,000 for their services; and, at best, a set of 10 designs to choose from, if you're lucky. And, if you don't like any of them, well, then you're out of luck."

There are other options in between the "old way" and the "new way" mentioned in the article. There are ample designers both new and experienced that will design a logo for you in far less than 90-days and for a fraction of the cost mentioned. In addition you will get personal attention, an individual that values your business, that will listen to you and understand your company design needs.

"Let's review the new way, using a site called 99designs: Post a $400 competition bounty, within one week you get 100 to 200 logos to choose from. Only pay if there's one that you love. If not, wash, rinse, repeat."

As far as the "new way" the article initially states that the "prize" would be $400 then later in the article it says $39. Is this "fair-trade" value for the time, experience and skill these designers offer. I guess they are ultimately the ones to decide... I'll pass.

I will admit this model does open up a service for new business owners that wouldn't otherwise have the resources to obtain design for their new business or product. It can also be a means for new designers to build their portfolio. Beyond that, I don't think it is beneficial for a growing business or for an established designer.

I'll liken the service 99designs offers to anything else that is "mass-produced" sure you can get a $45 suit at your local department store, but is the quality, fit, and customer service the same as you would receive from an experienced tailor that would custom-make a suit to your measurements?
Add a comment...