“I’ve got 99 problems but a design ain’t one…”

Recently my boss came to me and asked about 99designs. The question was, should we use this service?

I had heard of the site before but never interacted with it. I didn’t know too much regarding how it works. So I decided to do a little digging. I read a few articles and immediately realized how controversial it is.

I understand why it’s attractive to business owners; you get to see a ton of designs from designers all of the world (tailored specifically to your needs), pick your favorite one and only pay the person whose design you chose.

But on the other side, as a designer, I understand why this is detrimental to the design industry. I asked a few designers in town about this matter. Below are a few quotes from them on their feelings about it:

“I went through the site and passed it along to a couple other designers that I respect and overwhelming everyone says it devalues graphic design. I would never use it or be a part of it.”

“It’s incredibly degrading and kills design. It cheapens your business and makes you look less credible as an agency.”

There are websites devoted to stopping sites like 99designs, like no-spec.

AIGA, the professional association for design is vehemently against companies and designers using sites like this.

So how does it work?

Someone internally at The Abbi Agency tested it out. They signed up for the service and posted a logo inquiry.

Here’s how it works on the client side: You sign-up as a client (FREE) and then create a project that you need design work done for. You provide the details about the project (you can provide as much or as little as you want) and then set a date for how long the “contest” will run. Basically the designers compete against each other for your monetary prize. Once you select the winning design, the designer will send the final design file for the client to use.

Here’s how it works on the designer side: Basically, you sign-up as a designer (FREE) and then start browsing the site for work that clients need done. The client offers a monetary prize for the winning design; so you can imagine when the client offers more money, more people submit designs. Also, the more money you offer, the higher the quality of designs expected.

Why is it detrimental?

It becomes quickly apparent to the designer that the chance of your designs being picked is rather slim. And even if they are chosen, the monetary reward is usually pretty low, much lower than you would be paid in the industry for the same work. So you end up doing all of this custom work (completed products) for absolutely no money (most of the time). The client gets to see all of the work that is submitted, so even if they don’t choose your design, they still get to see it and could decide to replicate it in house or on their own. Also, many designers could submit stolen work or stock work and the client wouldn’t know the better.

There is no integrity in 99designs because it’s anonymous. You don’t know whom you’re working with and you can’t verify the design work. If you use services like 99designs and other people in your industry find out about it, you become worth less to the clients.