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Our experience using Contest on 99designs.com for a mobile app design (part 1)

Why & what?

If you’re into developing apps for various clients, you must be aware of the design challenge this creates: every app requires own look & feel, yet working with one designer typically results in App A looking like App B. People tend to have a certain style and it’s hard to get a radically different look for App B. Thus, for the TR project we decided to experiment a bit and try 99designs.com expecting a greater diversity of designs. If you’ve never worked with 99designs, this post will help you understand how the marketplace operates when running a Contest and how to make your Contest a successful one.

99designs.com claim to be “the world’s largest online graphic design marketplace”, connecting designers with businesses in need via contests, ready-to-order assets and 1-o-1 projects. A few months ago made-in-Australia, based-in-San Fransisco company distributed a press release claiming last year to have earned 60 mln USD in revenue, facilitated over 100,000 contests every month and paid designers on average 3.5mln USD per month. Having raised 10 mln USD Series B in early 2015 (led by Japan based RSP), 99designs plan to expand beyond it’s key territories (US, Australia, UK, Canada, Germany) and take Asia. Soon. In addition to providing support in key European languages their help pages now also “speak” Japanese and Bahasa Indonesian. Maybe Korean and Chinese are coming soon?

How it works?

As we had no experience working with any 99designs designer (and we had time), we’ve decided to go for a Contest. In case of a mobile app design, this is a competition where for a period of 6 days designers submit required number of screens based on the client’s brief (in case of app – minimum 1, maximum 5 screens per contest). Designers on the marketplace are classified into regular and Platinum designers, where Platinum designers are hand picked by 99designs and have a number of perks (like acces to the highest paid contests, being paid premium, etc). If they want, they can also take part in any contest (not just limited to the Platinum ones).

The first major questions to ask yourself is: Which package and how many app screens do I need?

Because the more screens you want, and the better designers you want to attract, the more you pay. And now it’s more than it used to be – just a few months ago, their app design Bronze package was 499 USD, Silver – 799 USD, Gold – 1,299 USD, and Platinum – 1,799 USD. Recently 99designs radically changed site’s design, thus maybe the major price increase (especially on the higher end project side where Platinum went up by 700 USD!) is to pay for … own redesign? :)))


Prices of App design contests as of May, 2016



Prices of App design contests as of December, 2015

Now, this is important: the prices quoted are for design of 1 screen! Back in December, every additional screen was +100 USD. Thus, if you’re getting a Bronze package for 5 screens, the total price will be 499 USD + 400 USD = 899 USD. For such a contest, designer’s prize would be 720 USD (as advertised on designers’ side of the marketplace). The rest goes to 99designs, I suppose.

Now, the dilemma here is simple: running a contest for 1 screen feels expensive (599!) as you can get additional screens for a 100 USD per screen fee. We went for 5 screens (899 USD package total) as those were the major screens for the app. However, managing the contest was more cumbersome – leaving feeedback to every designer about every screen and every new version of it took a lot of time. Also, some designers would upload just the first 2 screens and then would wait for feedback to develop the rest (I assume that was due to the fact that our contest was not guaranteed and they wanted to minimise the risk). Less screens – easier to handle and cheaper (in total).

Other important considerations

Wait, what is the meaning of a guaranteed contest? 99designs proudly state that “All packages come with a 100% money-back guarantee and full copyright ownership of the final design. All packages include the prize for your designer and all fees and commissions.”. If at the end of the contest you DO NOT DECLARE a winner and ask for money back, you do not have to pay anything. And get no designs either (common sense). If you declare contest as guaranteed, you say you commit to pay for one design even if it sucks (the worst case scenario when you like none of the designs but have to pick the best among the worst :)))).  One Platinum designer I contacted to invite to the contest told me we should have run a guaranteed contest as Platinum designers (remember, the best ones!) are unwilling to spend tim on non-guaranteed contests taking them as a too risky time investment. We were not sure how successful our contest will be, thus chose the non guaranteed option. Now I’d definitely go with a guaranteed one. Lesson learned!

Ahat are the other ways to splurge? At least a few months ago, these were the options (might cost more after the redesign 🙂

  1. 39 USD for an NDA protected contest (all designers have to sign NDA before submitting designs to your Contest)
  2. 19 ~99 USD for Promotion options (see below)


Keep in mind that by default in the app design category (also if you opt for NDA option), the contest is “blind” – designers do not see what the other designers have submitted untill the final Review stage, yet they see WHO are the other participating designers, and how the CLIENT has rated their work. Submissions in the blind contest look like this (for a browsing designer):


Contest title

Why on earth would that matter, you ask? Well, before uploding the contest, I did browse existing contests as if I’m a designer choosing which contest to give a try. And in addition to monetary prize, titles do magic in either seducing me to explore details (think of this as one of the conversion metric for your contest) or leaving me thinking “eh?”. Title like “New iOS app” means zero, while something like “Create a highly visual (route & photo based) travel journal app for iOS devices” works as a decent screener.

Creating brief

Brief is where you explain the app – what it’s for, what it does, what problem it solves and what problems it creates (kidding!), list all the requirements / wishes (like “purple preferred as main color), page elements / logic for the screens demanded. Sure, designers do not know your app, thus you might think the more info, the better, but my lesson learned was – OUR BRIEF was too detailed. First, nobody likes to read too much and a lot of text in brief looks scary – too much “homework”. Second, when you detail too much, it limits designer’s creativity. I’ve also uploaded wireframes (relatively high fidelity) created for the respective screens to make sure designer gets information architecture aspect of it. Pros – wireframe makes it easy to communicate intention. Cons – it’s limits creativity. Designers then tend to just follow the wireframe and “bake” end product.

The wireframes for designer were the following:

And so the Contest started. What happened next (and what we did to make it successful) – in the part 2 of the post. Coming soon!

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  1. […] This is the second part of the post where I share our learnings after having had a design contest on 99deisgns.com marketplace. Read the first part here. […]

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