Or more accurately- 99 Mediocre Designs.

I heard about 99 Designs a few years ago and really didn’t think much of it at the time. But I recently heard a radio commercial for the service and it started to sink in how much traffic this site was actually getting, and so now I feel compelled to voice my opinion about it. Afterall, one of the great beauties of blogging in America is that we get to say what we want. I know I’ll sleep better tonight.

If you haven’t heard of it, 99 Designs is an online marketplace of crowdsourced graphic design (according to their website). Crowdsourced? Sounds like outsourced. In fact, that’s almost what it is, with the exceptions being when a task or project is crowdsourced it’s assigned to an undefined group of people, who may or may NOT get paid. Sounds an awful lot like exploitation.

This is how 99 Designs works (in particular order)-

  1. Interested Party (aka Client) launches a design contest by creating a clear outline or creative brief of what is needed/wanted and chooses style or styles of design that he/she is drawn to based on existing, popular designs.
  2. Client chooses a design package.
  3. Designers then opt in to the competition by submitting their design(s). The Client provides feedback via an online forum
  4. The client chooses a winner (if there is one), pays the money, receives the artwork and the copyright to the artwork.

Here’s one major flaw in the model- creative briefs are not easy to create. I find the best way to create one is to have a 1-on-1, face-to-face interaction between client and designer. I have a set of questions that I ask, but the briefing rarely sticks to the script. I discover things about the client, their business and/or project that I never would have realized. 99 Designs removes all that personal interaction from the design process. You wouldn’t go into a surgery before first having a consultation with a doctor would you? Maybe a logo design isn’t as important as a surgery, or maybe it is, depending on the surgery. A logo is how your brand lives and breathes, so why not treat it as such.

However, I do think there is a place for 99 Designs, and while there are obvious imperfections, I find the site/service very well thought out and easy to use (from what I can tell).

Here’s who I think could benefit from using 99 Designs-

CLIENT:

  • Your main priority is timeframe, you need something FAST
  • You have a very small budget (although I believe you can get a much better logo for not that much more money)
  • You don’t care about a process or personal interaction with the designer. You don’t care who does your logo/design or what their name is.
  • You want to be able to choose from MANY designs, perhaps a 100. (This could deflect from reason #1. I don’t like to present more than 7 concepts, I can’t imagine having to choose between 100 designs, but to each his own.)

DESIGNER:

  • You’re fresh out of school, or maybe you are self taught and need pieces for your portfolio
  • You’re unemployed and need a way to make some money, even though it’s not a guarantee

Those are the only two reasons I can come up with on why a designer would want to subject his work and time to 99 Designs. But they are 2 good reasons. I’ve been there, hopefully never again, but I’m pretty sure I would have submitted some work on 99 Designs if it had been around when I was fresh out of college. I’ve always enjoyed a good competition. However, I can’t say enough for gaining experience in an agency-like environment, being a part of a team. Learning from people who have been exactly where you are.

The fact is, 99 Designs isn’t going anywhere. People use it and people like it. My only hope is that there are enough potential clients out there who appreciate and recogonize the importance of a truly collaborative process from an experienced design professional.