The problem with 99Designs

The Problem with 99Designs | Ordering Steak At a Buffet

The Problem with 99Designs | Ordering Steak At a Buffet 1024 602 Nick Saporito

I recently had a potential client reach out to me and ask how my logo design services compare to those of 99Designs. It’s a good question that any rational person in the market for a logo would ask. My reply was lengthy enough that I realized it would make for a good blog entry if I elaborated on it a bit more and emphasized the main problem with 99Designs that I see.

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99Designs logo

For those who aren’t already aware, 99Designs is a crowdsourcing platform for design-related services. A client who is seeking a logo design posts a contest, then a large pool of designers will propose design ideas. The client chooses which design they like best and pays for that design only.

The Problem with 99Designs

From a designer’s point of view, when you participate in design contests, the overwhelming majority of work you do is likely unpaid. If you’re lucky, you’ll win some small percentage of the contests you enter, and hopefully the payout will be enough to subsidize all of the time you lost doing work for contests you didn’t win.

The more contests you enter and the more logos you churn out, the greater your chances are of earning an income. And that’s the main problem with 99Designs that I see — it puts designers in an assembly line state of mind where they’re more focused on winning the numbers game than they are on doing good work. And because of that, I could also see contest holders coming away feeling dissatisfied with what they received.

Assembly line

Believe it or not, many of my own clients initially came to me specifically because they were unhappy with what they got on 99Designs and similar platforms. This is why I’ve made a special point of branding myself as someone you can turn to when you’re seeking a more personalized, one-on-one experience, and want design that has more depth, thought, and effort behind it. There’s clearly a market for this sort of service, and I believe it’s a big part of why has been so successful since I launched it.

The Steakhouse Analogy

I liken it to choosing between a steakhouse and a buffet. Why would you go to a steakhouse and choose between chicken, beef and pork when you could go to a buffet and sample all three?

Cut of steak

At the steakhouse, you’re getting a much better cut of steak. Good steak is their product, so they dedicate more time and resources to finding and preparing a quality cut of steak.

The steak you’d get at a buffet usually isn’t nearly as good as what you’d get at a steakhouse because they need to accommodate volume demands first and foremost. Quality steak is not their product; the abundance of choice is.

Likewise, when you host a design contest, ask yourself what it is you’re really paying for — a personalized logo that reflects the brand you’d like to establish for your business, or the abundance of choice?

Experience Level

Another potential problem with 99Designs is the experience level of designers it attracts. I personally don’t know of a single designer worth their salt who would participate in a design contest. In fact, I don’t know of any working professional who spent years honing their craft just so they can gamble their time with it.

Personal trainer

If you’re a personal trainer, would you write up a personalized meal plan and workout regimen for someone in hopes that they pay you for it, or would you only do so once you’ve secured a deposit?

If you’re a CPA, would you prepare someone’s taxes under the premise that they’ll only pay you if they like what they see in comparison to what other CPAs have also prepared for them?

People who have marketable skills that they’ve built a track record of success with typically understand that their time is valuable and would never entertain the idea of entering a contest with it, unless it was purely for fun or charity. This leads me to believe that sites like 99Designs primarily attract beginners and students.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a beginner or a student — I was once a beginner too and got my start on Elance — I’m just pointing out that it could be a problem for someone looking to employ the services of an experienced designer.

Who Should Use 99Designs?

Sometimes a quick design by an inexperienced and inexpensive designer is all you need. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, the problem with 99Designs is that you could probably pay far less for it on a site like Upwork or Fiverr.

Should designers participate in design contests? Well, if you’re a student or beginner and you just want to gain some experience and establish a body of work, in my opinion you’d be much better off using a platform like Upwork or Fiverr as well because at least then you’re being compensated for your time. Even when I was a beginner with no experience, I still acknowledged that my time was valuable and that I should be compensated for it.


However, if the idea of entering some design ideas into a contest sounds like fun, and you think it’s a good use of your own time, who am I to judge? The same can be said for those looking to host a contest to get their logo designed — I’m sure it’s not impossible to find quality design work on 99Designs. I doubt they’d big as big and successful as they are if they weren’t producing a lot of happy customers.

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Nick Saporito

Nick Saporito is a Philadelphia-based graphic designer who specializes in branding-specific design. A full portfolio and information regarding services offered can be found at

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