Getting the most out of crowd sourced design work

What is crowd sourced design work?

As a person wanting some design work done (logos, stationary, website, etc.) you can start a contest on a crowd sourced design website.  In the contest, you specify the prize (effectively how much you are prepared to pay for this contest) and you also specify a brief (your specifications and criteria for the design work).

Once created, designers that are members of the website can submit entries to your contest, hoping that you will pick them as the winner, and they would then get the prize, with a portion of the contest money going to the website hosting the contest. There will be a short period of time that the contest is run for (typically 7 days), and as the contest holder, you can provide feedback throughout the contest, so that designers can iterate their designs as you request.

When the contest ends and you pick your winner, the winner gets the prize, and you get the source files for the artwork (.ai, .psd, .pdf, etc.).

Note: Some sites will allow for you to get a refund of your contest fee if you do not select any winner, however terms and conditions of this are specific to the contest site you use.

How do I start a contest?

Starting a contest is quite easy, simply go to one of these crowdsource design websites, and begin a contest.  Your contest could be live minutes later, as long as you have your brief prepared.

The larger sites that I am familiar with are: 99Designs, DesignCrowd, CrowdSpring. Design contests seem to start anywhere from approx $150 upwards, the more you spend, the more likely you are to get stronger interest from designers.  The spend amount is also relative to the work being done (ie. a full website design is more effort than a business card).

RedGuava's logo

We used 99Designs to have our logo designed, and I was very happy with the experience.  The competition ran better than I had hoped with 169 entries (not unique, many were iterations).  The competition cost us approximately $300.

In the end, there were numerous entries that we would have been happy with as our logo, and it was a very hard choice to narrow it down to one.

The main advantage for us was that we got to see many different designers perspectives on our brief, and really had a diverse range of options to choose from.  It was also very impressive just how quick the designers were with their logos, and also iterating the logos after feedback was provided.

Strategies for a successful contest

Notably our experience is only with 99designs, however I expect most, if not all of this advice would be relevant no matter which site you use.

  • Make sure your brief is as detailed and clear as possible.  The designers unfortunately do not get to read your mind, so their designs are based only on your brief. A good option is to look at other design work you like, and reference them for examples.  If the designs are not really looking how you want, you need to reevaluate and perhaps modify the brief.  It is a fine line between providing plenty of information to steer the designers in the right direction, but not providing too much that limits their creativity.
  • Review other contests for similar types of work, and take note of designers that you like their submissions.  Contact these designers and let them know you have a contest running, you like their work, and would appreciate if they would consider putting in an entry.  It would also be relevant to promote your contest outside of the website you are using, you could use your company website, twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc. to get the word out, and hopefully entice a few more designers to have a go.
  • Provide as much feedback as you can, and be as specific as possible.  Doing this throughout the contest allows the designers to iterate their designs towards something you like. The more responsive you are throughout the contest, the more responsive the designers will be.


I have only had experience with 99designs, so cannot compare them with the others, however we did have a very good experience with 99designs, and I would recommend them (I do have a soft spot for Melbourne based software companies).

Our current plan is to use crowd sourcing for design work in the future, likely until we come across a designer that really shines, and then would look to establish a direct relationship with the designer.

By Joel Friedlaender