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Design for dignity (a 99designs review)

10 November 2010

Articles, Freelancing, Reviews

Design for dignity (a 99designs review)
Choose your language / Elige tu idioma:englishespañol

UPDATE 16 March 2011: 99designs tried to censor this post due to an inexistent copyright infringement. This post is a product review and fit within the Fair Use doctrine. The contest object of review is now private, I bet my review went further than I predicted.

Please, share this post in your social profiles.

Something´s changing in the design industry. My clients demand +900 revisions for each logotype, I work blindly because I don´t obtain the information I need from them, the client changes his mind every second, my competitors are available to work for half of my prices, competition is unfair, and sometimes I don´t even get paid…

Hopefully this is not my case but it´s not a fiction either. It´s the situation of everyone who works through intermediaries, such as 99designs.com and the likes. Web pages where the client posts the requirements of his project and a pack of unemployed designers compete, sometimes loyally, against his colleagues until degrading limits.

Sorry for revealing my position at the very beginning of the post, let´s better make this way: let´s choose a random case and let´s analize the numbers. This one for example: The first proyect you can currently find in 99designs.com. I think it´s a quite representative case.

The facts (at the moment of writing this post)

  1. Budget: 1,189US$ (1,000US$ + 99designs.com commission 39US$ + 15% of the prize)
  2. Number of entries: 837
  3. Number of designers: 164
  4. The contest started 9 days ago and lasted for a week. There are 2 days left for the contest to finish. 2 weeks total.
  5. Status: caution, payment not guaranteed.
  6. Briefing:
    • Logotype design for Conway Wealth Group, the company seems to be some kind of financial analyst.
    • It must be elegant, crisp, good looking.
    • Preferably blue color.
    • It must contain a symbol that means whealth.
    • Aimed to company managers and executives within Fortune 500.

My Opinion

  1. If you need 837 proposals to design your logotype, that means something´s wrong.
  2. If you need 164 designers to design your logotype, that means something´s wrong.
  3. Let´s make some numbers to realise how ridiculous the situation is: 6.10US$/designer and 1.20US$/entry
  4. How long do the client spend watching, commenting and rating 837 entries from 164 different designers?
  5. There is no lack of time (at least 2 weeks) or budget (around 1,200US$) to create a quality proposal.
  6. The fact that the client extends the competition period means something´s wrong.
  7. The fact that the contestants are accusing each others of plagiarism means that the system is not the ideal. Let´s see the comments:
    • 14 comments
    • 7 hidden comments
    • 3 accusations of plagiarism
    • 0 answers from the client
  8. If you can understand the needs of the client from that briefing… then you better dedicate to clairvoyance, it´s much more profitable.
  9. If the client didn´t say a word after 837 proposals, that means something´s wrong.

Results

These are the 3 entries which have obtained a better feedback from 837, for a logotype that will cost near 1,200US$.

99 designs quality

What do you think from a technical point of view? Please give me your opinion :)

Conclusions

On one hand, we have 164 designers, with 837 entries (and there are still 2 days left), with a non guaranteed prize, an incomplete briefing, a client that doesn´t respond to the proposals and constant complaining of plagiarism from the contestants. If we´d share the prize, each designer would receive just about 6US$. At least 163 designers (maybe all of them) won´t get a dime for his work.

Do you consider this aceptable?

On the other hand, we have a client who has a more than reasonable budget of near 1,200US$ and a deadline of two weeks. And if everything goes as expected, he will obtain a pretty mediocre logotype.

Does the client obtain a service according with the ammount he pays?

And in the middle we find the intermediary, 99designs.com, who will get near 200US$. Considering that this web generated last month 715,000US$, and they obtained a 15% benefits (forgetting the extra 39US$ for each registration), their income of the last month reaches the not inconsiderable ammount of 107,000US$.

UPDATE 16 March 2011: 99designs tried to censor this post due to an inexistent copyright infringement. This post is a product review and fit within the Fair Use doctrine. The contest object of review is now private, I bet my review went further than I predicted.

Please, share this post in your social profiles.

This post was written by:

- who has written 96 posts on SOSFactory Blog.

My name’s Sergio Ordoñez I´m illustrator, graphic and web designer. A selection of my work is included at SOSFactory. If you want to support this blog, please be an active member: tweet the posts, participate in the discussions and the exercises :)

Contact the author

  • manu

    Greetings from Argentina! This website made me define what I wanted to study, Graphic Design, which I will start next year. Thanks Sergio!

    • http://www.sosfactory.com Sergio Ordonez

      I´m glad for you, remember creating a very good portfolio so you won´t need intermediaries!

      Good luck!

  • http://www.jevc05.net/ Darky

    Lo que yo veo es que le dedicas tiempo, trabajas sin recibir nada a cambio, muestras tu trabajo.. si ganas bien.. sino, haz mostrado tu trabajo a muchos diseñadores que no todos son honestos y que probablemente puedan usar tu logotipo, modificarlo y venderlo por otro lado.. puede pasar no creen?..

  • http://www.criteriondg.info/wordpress/ Skeku

    Caso 1: Supongamos que eres estudiante y que te apetece hacer trabajos ficticios.

    Caso 2: Supongamos que eres profesional, estás en paro y necesitas sacar pasta de debajo de las piedras.

    Caso 3: Supongamos que eres profesional y hay trabajos que no consideras que están bien pagados o que el riesgo de hacerlo no compensa el ponerlo en marcha.

    Bien, estos tres casos son perfectamente reales y no tendrían por qué molestarse entre sí. Uno podría pensar que el Caso 2 “molesta” al Caso 3 porque aceptaría trabajos por menos precio del que éste último ofrece. Pero eso es la oferta de la ley y la demana y es genérico, no es un problema del gremio ni de 99designs.

    Este tipo de webs que ofertan el famoso crowdsourcing hay que verlas como lo que son, una opción más para determinados tipos de clientes y determinados tipos de diseñadores o situaciones. Nada más. Porque por esta regla de tres, deberían eliminar todos (TODOS) los bancos de imágenes de stock porque joden a los fotógrafos, los bancos de iconos y recursos vecotriales porque joden a los diseñadores, los bancos de plantillas de motion graphics porque joden a los animadores y “pospo”.

    Lo que dice Darky es complentamente posible. Puedes hacer un logo y que otro lo coja y lo venda como que lo ha hecho él. Pero también lo pueden hacer si lo ven en tu portfolio, ¿o no?

    Intentemos olvidarnos de estas discusiones y sigamos creciendo como profesionales. Intrusismo, clientes aprovechados y proyectos mal pagados los hay en todas partes.

    Un saludote Sergio. Te sigo desde hace un montón y no me extrañaría que hayamos colaborado en algún proyecto sin saberlo ;)

  • http://www.sosfactory.com Sergio Ordonez

    Hi Skeku, thanks a lot for contributing with a different point of view.

    I would´t like this being just a conversation between me and the rest, so I will wait a little bit for others users, in some days I will give you some arguments against yours one by one.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.creadictos.com Luis Lopez

    Creo que ese tipo de paginas estan hechas para diseñadores que:

    No tienen ningun trabajo. Estudiantes queriendo probarse. Recien egresados sin portafolio. etc.. no para diseñadores profesionales.
    Si eres un buen diseñador no necesitaras ese tipo de sitios y ya.

    Esos sitios son libres de existir “como lo decia el señor @skeku” asi como lo son, los sitios de fotos, vectores, iconos etc… los cuales hasta las agencias los usan.

    Creo que tambien seria una buena prueba ver algun dia a uno de los grandes diseñadores del tipo de jacob cass, David Airey o Sergio Ordoñes “aunque tu estilo es diferente” arriesgandose a participar en un diseño de logo como cualquier otro.
    Sabiendo que los clientes de este tipo de sitios no son personas que valoren el buen diseño seguramente perderian, creo yo.
    Igual muy bueno tu articulo y punto de vista

  • Roberto Fanti

    Now are over 900 works that partecipated into that contest.
    From the high rated ones, the only one that looks good, in my opinion, is the white one you posted on here.
    I was searching in the other pages and I saw many useless works because they used ideas from freebies, like.. mountains and sun?? or a giant W that reminds me to WordPress.. :|
    And more on: some of them looks like they made it while sleeping.. and I’m sure I can make better things while I’m sleepy.
    With 1000$ I believe someone can hire a single designer and make it work for a simple but optimized work.

  • Diana

    Y en el peor de los casos, empresas grandes como Gap o la revista Esquire hacen concursos de logos http://blog.99designs.com/2010/10/22/gap-logo-contest-and-the-winner-is/

    si lo hacen ellos no me sorprende que negocios pequeños-medianos hagan lo mismo, tanto como los “diseñadores”.

    Confieso que yo utilicé 99designs màs por curiosidad :) casi gano un concurso, y ¿què creen? Alguien me plagió y salio ganando. Es una pérdida de tiempo,es lo peor, en todo caso Elance o similares son “menos peores” que este sitio si es que buscas dinero “rápido”

    Por cierto, $1200 por esas propuestas? Por algo que debió llevarle al diseñador un par de horas en Photoshop?

    Cheers
    Diana

  • Nicolás

    Opino igual que un comentario mas arriba. Este tipo de sitios son mas para diseñadores con poca experiencia como en mi caso. Yo intente hacer algunas cosas para sitios asi, aunque no logre ganar en ningun concurso.

    Algo de experiencia sume, aunque no mucho portfolio porque no participe en mas concursos. El sitio que yo conozco es este: http://es.guerra-creativa.com

    Aca los premios no son una gran suma, pero es un sitio humilde y tiene una gran calidad en cuanto a sus diseñadores, las propuestas que veo son de muy buen nivel, por eso deje de participar porque no puedo competir contra ellos.

    Volviendo al tema, para principiantes como yo estos sitios pueden resultar un poco utiles por la plata que podes llegar a conseguir. En mi caso una suma como esa me vendria muy bien y a mi portfolio tambien.

  • http://www.sosfactory.com Sergio Ordonez

    Thanks a lot guys for commenting pros and cons.

    Please, keep it up, I will post a new article with a summary of these comments and debating about some of them.

  • http://www.nocturno.com.uy zedkin

    Hola, estoy bastante de acuerdo con @Skeku….esta clase de sitios tienen el publico que necesitan. Tanto las empresas como los diseñadores saben de que se trata por lo que ambos saben con que se pueden encontrar.

    Personalmente también conozco http://es.guerra-creativa.com … y recuerdo haber participado en un par de concursos sin exito. Y como dice @Diana, el nivel ahí dentro es bastante bueno. Aunque por supuesto, se ve de todo. He visto propuestas que me darían vergüenza mostrar si fueran mías.

    Pero repito, no estoy en desacuerdo con que estos lugares existan, ya que generalmente son un buen lugar de practica para diseñadores novatos, para conocer mejor las reglas del juego y aprender a lidiar con todo tipo de clientes (desde malos briefings, los ausentes que nunca responden preguntas, los que pagan poco, etc).

    Si eres un buen diseñador, y te promocionas lo necesario, no debería faltarte trabajo.

    Saludos desde Uruguay.

  • superDUPER

    Business is Business… superpost Sergio Ordonez

  • http://nathanmonte.blogspot.com Nathan Monte

    That’s not right, qualified people are wasting space for the disabled.

    What good is a cheap service, if not of good quality?

  • http://nathanmonte.blogspot.com Nathan Monte

    Sergio, you should do mascots for Brazilian blogs.

    A guy who has learned here and earn good money with this.

    Is Felipe Alves.

    Anything in contact by msn:
    natanmonte@hotmail.com

  • http://www.sosfactory.com Sergio Ordonez

    Hi guys, I already created a new post about this issue, it´s being translated right now. In the mean time I suggest reading this article: http://www.thelogofactory.com/logo_blog/index.php/spec-work-design-contests-crowdsourcing-designer-edition/

    @Nathan I´m focused in the USA and European market, it´s more profitable but I actually work for companies all around the world.

    Cheers.

  • http://www.cquence-a.com Andrey

    Hi Sergio,

    I can say that I’ve spent pretty solid amount of time on 99designs, won 8 web design contests and entered many more, but I can say that many things on 99designs are wrong. Maybe I will write a post about it in my blog, maybe not. You brought good points yourself here.

    The fact is that many contest holders don’t know what they are getting into there, as well as designers. The site is just playing on peoples feelings in a very similar way like lottery, only on 99designs people are made to believe they really can earn much if they work hard enough. People need to be educated. So the best thing we can do is to write about and let the people know what’s really going on there.

  • Daniel

    Hey, Sergio

    I believe that you made your point in your first paragraph, your own experience speaks for itself. 99designs serves its own purpose, and as long as it does and people play along with it, it’s fine.

    What really matters here is how experienced and talented artists like yourself experience. Competition in the low levels of design might be fierce, no doubt, but when it starts affecting the higher levels, that’s something that makes me uneasy.

    So… is it really that bad?

    Cheers,

    Daniel.

  • http://www.sosfactory.com Sergio Ordonez

    @Andrey: exactly, that is the point!. This is not about fear or egoism, actually for me would be more profitable telling just the opposite: “participate in contest designs, so you will be broke in less than a year and I will save a competitor”. This is about education, learn to love our job, appreciate your work yourself, be an honest competitor that push me to improve… but don´t trash your work… this is sad.

    @Daniel: this is not about me, the first paragraph is a fictitious situation as I state later, I have an stable clientele that appreciate my work. But my work is quite special because not every designer can illustrate and vice-versa so I just have a few competitors, and actually I don´t need hundred of clients.

    The issue is what newcomers are promoting by entering on free pitching contests and all the consequences of working on spec for themselves and the designers coming behind.

  • Pingback: 4 reasons why you should enter design contests. | SOSFactory Blog

  • http://www.divogames.com Dmitry

    Good evening, Sergio. I’m from Russia, sorry for my English :)
    About logo that cost 1.200US$. We have some slang words for this design: “hueta”, “huynya” or “uebanskiy logotype”. These words are very vulgar and in that case means undistinguished :) .
    Cost of same logo in our country – 20-100US$ maximum!
    Don’t worry, I hope sites like 99designs are turn up one’s toes very fast.
    You are better!
    The modern design keeps on by such people as you.

  • En0_0hensem

    even im not participate in the contest but i just feel sumthing was wrong when i came into the side such as crowdspring. now ur just explained it. thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/briantom Brian Tom

    i work under the alias of Hoshimo. look me up on 99Designs. ive won almost 100 contests, was the first showcased designer in their newsletters, and even worked for them for a little while (they have a place in san francisco). and yet…

    i could not agree more with what youve said in this post.
    i stopped designing for their contests over a year ago (for the most part)
    when working for them, and also as a contest participant for a couple years, i constantly advised them to change the system. they needed moderators, and more commitment from the clients.

    i wish you could have seen 99D back when it was a friendly community of quality designers who supported each other with positive feedback and fun competition.

  • http://uasvikash.blogspot.com Vikash Kumar

    Hey it was really a helpful post.
    thanks for sharing with us.

  • Eric Larson

    Looks like a designer riped off a cadalic symbol and then another designer thought he could do it better…the third one is way better..but i don think its rediculous about the 800+ designers with no cost guaranteed..only way i would even think about getting in this contest is if i was bored as fuhhhh haha. good post man.

  • http://www.sosfactory.com/blog Sergio Ordonez

    Stay tunned, 99designs just contacted me claiming that I’m infringing their copyright by posting the images in this review… 0_0

  • Eyenod

    I used to compete on 99 designs and its a very tough market there are a lot of “clients” who just post contests to take ideas and proposals and then leave without paying the money to the winning design or they make fake account and declare a sub par design the winner. Websites like 99designs sadly diminish the value of design and make the prize line of design drop due to starving designers or people who are willing to work for peanuts. There are designers who make a living off 99designs and they are good, the problem is that necessity makes unqualified designers think that’s working a logo in “MS word” is graphic design.

  • http://twitter.com/VincentVisser VincentVisser

    I have not used them before and don’t see the need to. I wonder how long those 186 designers spent on making those designs? If they had spent that time promoting themselves they would maybe have gotten a client that would turn out to be long term user of there services and in fact make them more money in the long run.

    People need to stop thinking about quick rich payments and think about the long run. Try and get a good number of clients that you can communicate with well understands your design style and also understands you and how you work. This takes time but it means you will have a steady client base that will always use you for a project if your skill and style is what they are looking for.

    I cant believe people are putting forward designs for no pay…. What are you doing? Do they not undstand by not getting payed that they are free labour…. Would you take on any job if you where garenteed not being payed… I would not touch a company that does that.

    By what I have seen on the 99 site it looks like allot of companies just dont know what they want and want you to come up with ideas for them.. I have worked with clients like this before and they never happy.

  • Laurazarbcousin

    Hi I took part in this contest and I won it…. they were always sending me emails, so I really don’t know what ur talking about.  The 1st 2 designs are mine, but those didn’t win… I know they aren’t good but like I said….I arranged the logo for how the client wanted.

    But I stopped taking part in 99 designs, as sometimes,they dont choose a winning design and I found it unfair and a waste of time.

    • http://www.sosfactory.com/blog Sergio Ordonez

      Hi Laura, this post is not against you or the company that hired you. It’s about a unfair way of making money, the only one that really win is 99 designs.

  • Pingback: 99Design, No pay work, Free Samples, no spec, outsourcing » alessandroveneart.com

  • Anonymous

    They are all
    goddamn ugly.

  • Ceruleano

    Most awesome post ever!!:)

  • Dan

    I ran a contest on 99designs. I guaranteed to award the prize of $1000, so I got over 850 entries. Here’s my breakdown: 

    450 entries were junk. Clip art and unimaginative crap.
    350 entries were OK. Not great, but not bad, some level of design skills
    50 entries were good. All of these showed imagination, insight and skill.

    I provided some feedback to every designer. This took many hours, but I felt it was only fair. Most of the 450 junk entries received feedback like, “Does not convey any of our 5 key values, please reread the spec.” When a designer submitted new or revised entries that were better, we gave more detailed feedback.

    We would have been happy with any of the top 5 designs, but the winner was truly excellent. She captured our concept, and conveyed 3 of our key values in her design. It was clear that she had read the spec and thought about it. 

    We are now working with her on a web site design.

    • http://www.sosfactory.com/blog Sergio Ordonez

      The question is… do you really need to review 850 entries to find a designer you like? 
      You have a decent budget… no need crowd sourcing sites.

  • Freelancework1989

    agree with sergio

  • Fasih

    Dear SOS,
    I loved your website as well as your work, its really amazing, your work is quite similar to 
    “spork” of 99designs.
    So are you working there too?

    • http://www.sosfactory.com Sergio Ordonez

      I never will work on crowd sourcing sites, could you give me a link to his profile, please?

    • http://www.sosfactory.com/blog Sergio Ordonez

      No, I never worked in crowd sourcing sites.

  • Sweetbuddy

    That Site´s are a waste of time, many ppl there like ” Iam a Designer for 10 Years ” ……. 10 minutes later i saw someone how submitted 5 Design´s for a Contest…it was full of Stock- Illustrations and Clipart…i reported him/her…30 mins later i got an email, all Design´s i repordet where removed… and the funny think is the designer postet a comment, i dont want to get in trouble and i respect the rule and this site… sorry but fuck that, and there are much more funny things i saw there like logos from some Website where u can generate Logos…. so its not serious for me , maybe there are some good people which do realy good stuff… but i dont understand why a contest holder need more then 2000 entries and picked then the most ugly logo ever….

  • Vamp2013

    For all employers 99designs is paradise on earth ! For all designers 99designs is a modern way of PLAGIARISM and a dramatical waste of time !!! It mainly works this way: Competitions are created and prepaid, designers’ ideas were caught, the competitions were closed and repaid without choosing any winner and the best handed-in concept can be redrawn. Else: I often experienced contest holders choosing kids’ stuff as the winning design (maybe their own one handed-in by signing up a different account, which can easily be done within less than 30 seconds), but only to dissemble a winner and to avoid paying designers’ work. In fact they or rather the platform pays themself ! And they got what they needed: Ideas ! Handing in them can be withdrawn, BUT once sent, the employer can save those to his/her desktop and so there’s no point in withdrawing !

    Result: Beware of nonprofessionals and scammers ! This is no time well spent !!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/isismarques Isis Marques

    Amazing review, I’m writting about it for my blog/portfolio, using a Brazilian website as example…And I was afraid they could censor me, or even come with legal prosecution. Good to see that we can talk about it, because is such a loose of time for the client and the designers!
    I tried to participate because the staff and the site itself seems pretty decent, but the lack of communication between designers and clients, plus the bad taste and the system based in “I ask and you’ll do” will never deliver a good quality work.
    Congratulations for the post, for your blog (I just met it yesterday), I’m really glad with the contents I’ve seen here and how personal is your approach to write. It will be a great inspiration for sure, maybe we can collaborate in the future!

    A hug and a great week! =)

  • alex

    I went on 99 designs and I found the best designer I could. He has been a user for about a year and a half. He has won 54 contests but…. he has submitted 350! I went through all of his designs and added up his winnings which came up to about 11,000ish dollars. I wrote him and asked him how long it took him to make a traditional logo and he said 4 – 10 hours… so average 6ish X 350 = 2,100ish hours of designing. I then asked him what else he did other than 99 designs and he said paint and draw. HO! LY! CRAP!

  • k Madison Moore

    Just a few weeks ago I found out that one of the designers illegally used one of my photos of one of my original paintings for a book cover contest and it was the winner. It was on 99 Designs site since last August and I had no idea until a fan told me about this. The designer won $200. and 99 got $99 for this winner.

    After contacting them they took it down immediately. Then I found out that they also sold the copyright of the cover with my work to the author that requested this project.

    So, they take my copyright photo and sold it as a copyright!

    They have stated that they will supply the author with a new copyright and will also supply me with a copy of this and also the name of the designer. Yeah right….I am still waiting. They will not give me the $300. that won because of my cover and tell me I have to get it from the designer but they won’t give me the designers name so they make this impossible. His screen name and the name he uses at 99 Designs is Daliborka, tells me nothing!

    Watch out for these people, especially artists. They will steal your work and they think that is just ok. So they are making money off the backs of artists and don’t care how they do it! Total rip offs!

  • ©hris

    This is a really insightful article Sergio. I’ve been in 99designs for 1 and a half year already and I have earned around $25,000 from my 15 wins from 91 contest I entered, this amount includes follow-up projects. Though now I’m thinking if I still should continue since I know how to play the game.

    Currently in my previous win I just got a follow-up project, it’s my second project now from the contest holder so I haven’t been on 99designs lately. They are a concept company from Central Europe and I believe are pleased working with me. I’m happy with this kind of situation than doing 99designs 10 contest a month with a 75% chance of winning one contest.

    I read an article from web-strategist about “Designers: Why Spec Work Is Not Going Away- How You Should Respond.” I agree with this, and is to getting a poor, mediocre quality of design. I’m not to brag, but I see a lot around 99designs, clip-art like winning logo’s, website design-inspired-almost-look-alike what the CH gave for inspiration.

    But then again, spec work will be here as it has been long ago, and not only in the design industry. I’m from a third world country so earning me a dollar is really big for me, that’s why I jumped into the wagon. But I admit that I’m not getting what I should from doing spec works from a crowdsourcing site.

    My goal now is to earn as much as I could to start this big project which I believe will not only help me but the entire community. It’s hard to trust Venture Capitals specially if they see potential in a project and just get your idea and improve it a bit, and in the end they get all the credit. But since KickStarter only support US, Canada and UK and not Asia, I need to earn even if it’s from spec work.

    Regarsd from Philippines

  • ©hris

    What are you worth as a creative? What is your idea worth? What will
    your idea do for your client? –When you can answer these questions,
    you’ll figure out why it is important to value creativity. Even when it
    exceeds well beyond a design piece or a brand identity. The creation of
    value through the value of creativity. – Marc Rapp