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Our experience using Contest on 99designs.com for a mobile app design (part 2)

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

6 days turned 20 something

When we started the contest, we were operating under the assumption that it will take 6 days until we have designs ready. And yes, theoretically one can end up with a final design in 6 days, yet practially it took us more like three weeks. This is how it worked out.

When the contest is announced (and payment secured using credit card or PayPal), it becomes visible for designers. Designers have 6 days to submit entries (for App / Web design contests). Contest creator can end a contest at any time by declaring a winner design, but if not, there are 4 stages (well described in the following help page):

  1. Qualifying round of up to 6 days (for the other categories it’s 3 days)
  2. Up to 4 days for the Contest creator to select up to 6 designers (not designs!) to invite to the Final round. Once you select any designer to go to the Final, the contest becomes guaranteed (=you cannot ask for money back and you will have to choose onse winner who will get the prize)
  3. Final round lasting for up to 5 days (3 days for the other categories). Only selected designers can submit new designs during this stage.
  4. Up to 2 weeks for the Contest creator to select the winner. During those two weeks, Contest creator can still ask designer for improvements. Yet once winner is selected (can be on the second day – does not have to be in 2 weeks), prize money is released to the designer and Contest is officially over.

So, the maximum contest duration for app/website design is almost a month (6 + 4 + 5 + 14 = 29 days). If – for whatever reason – you need more time, email 99designs support and they would manually extend (re-open) the contest, just make sure you have a good reason for asking :))

In our case the contest took around 3 weeks – we’ve received more than 100 designs, selected 4 designers for the final round, took all the time we had to improve on the designs (there were many small details to tweak) and got really confused – there were two equally good designs, so I’ve emailed support and asked if I can declare two winners. The answer came within 24 hrs – yes, it’s possible to declare a second winner, but they would not split the prize. Instead we’d have to pay almost the same amount for the second winner. No, thanks! Thus after a few discussions we’ve finally declared Ali as winner of our hearts. Our contest was very successful – we’ve received more than 150 submissions. Keep in mind – we were giving the smallest prize and asked for a lot of work (5 screens). My own hypothesis was that our success was due to clarity of brief and timely / constructive feedback.

Below are some of the designs we’ve received during the contest

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And these were the final designs by Ali

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How to make your contest successful?

1. Spending time to scout designers pays off

Once Contest is posted, it’s visible, yet that does not mean it will be successful. As I’ve mentioned in the first part of the post, we did not pay for promotion options, thus I was all worried “what if we get no entries?!”. Clicking around I’ve discovered I have … 50 invites. Was ist das? Those were invites to send to interesting designers to invite them submit entries to my Contest. Spent a few hours per day for two days discovering / inviting designers. Given the timeframe of the contest is 6 days, it’s essential to sent invites asap. I was targeting designers having app design experience and good attention to details. Seeing their work on Profile pages helped a lot, also helpful was browsing App design contests and checking who designed the pages I liked. Tapping Invite on designer’s profile generates an automatic invite, but I chose adding a message, too – to make it more personal. 80% of designers who sumbitted entries in our contest were scounted via invites (so, time spent well!). I’ve also received a few rejections (working on smth else now), and some advice (ex. Contests without guaranteed prize are unattractive for the Platinum designers).

2. Spending time on feedback pays off

A small exercise in empathy: say you’re designer and you’ve just submitted a screen or a few. You’re curious to know what the client liked and what needs to be improved. You’re curious to know if you haveCommenting on design any chance of winning. Yet the client says nothing. Demotivating, right? We were responding at the first convenience (easier said than done due to the global nature of the marketplace – some designs would be arriving at 9am and some at 3am). Some designers would just send two screens and wait for our feedback (in our case it made sense to start with spalsh and Landing page first as other pages would reuse many elements). Some would send a screen and their questions (that was very welcome). Some would react to all the comments and some would “forget” to implement what was asked. If that was important, I’d have to comment again. Imagine that as a 24hr x 7 ping-pong and you’d be close to the reality.

There are two ways how Contest creator can leave feedback. One option is to write a message to a designer. Pro – designer receives it as one mesage (easier to process). Con here is that you have to verbally describe what you want to have changed. Option two – add comment directly on the design screen (see screenshot), thus no need to describe what element you’re talking about. Problem with this – designer gets flushed with messages (one comment is treated as one message).

Designers were asking to rate their submissions and at first I did not get why is that important as the contest is far from over. It seems there were two reasons – visual feedback on preference is more ‘feedbacky’ than verbal comments (give 4 stars to Screen 1, 3 stars to Screen 2 and designer will focus on improving Screen 1), and as designers could not see visual quality of the other submissions, it was giving them indication if they should work more to win or just give up (say, if designer’s A design got 4 stars and mine got 2 stars, I might rather focus on another contest). It’s better not to be very generous at the begining – no design should get 5 stars during the first days of the contest as that sends a signal discouraging other submissions. I’ve found 2-4 stars to communicate pretty well.

Final #WordsOfWisdom about feedback – be nice. Those people are trying to help you, so take your time to thank them for the submission and interest in your contest, and as for the designs – tell what you like and what should be improved. Bombarding designer only with issues creates a feeling of you being a looking down & unhappy client. It pays off to be positive and encouraging. I have a tendency to jump to “please fix this, please move that” bullet list – not because I’m mean, but just because I’m afraid to miss on something important, thus made a rule to add positive feedback AFTER writing the negative one, yet write it at the beginning of the message. Sounds weird, but worked for me 🙂

3. Be ready for the unexpected (pays off, too)

At the last day of the final round few of the designers sent us a messages saying that somebody keeps reporting their designs for copyright violations. 99designs require that if a stock image was used, it would be properly credited with each submission and those designers forgot to add credits with subsequent submissions. Another designer used that to report them. When designer is reported, s/he faces suspension of the account if violation is found to be real, so the easiest way to reconcile is to withdraw reported design(s). Now, the logic of the reporting designer must have been – if all the other designers are reported, s/he can win (as you cannot declare a withdrawn design to be the winner). Reporting works for image-intensive designs and ours was such. Took a while to understand what’s happening (again, 99designs support team was ultra supportive) and some communication with designers to ensure they resubmit designs with proper copyrights.

That’s pretty much all I could remember and hope these two posts make your experience on 99designs.com a better one. Good luck! 🙂

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