This week was incredibly exciting as we embarked on a design adventure with 99designs to create the cover for (not quite finished) book #3: Nerd Know-How: The 24 Best Apps for Work… & How to Use ‘Em!
Book covers can cost upwards of $5000, but design contests on 99designs start at a few hundred dollars. I bought the $799 Gold level, and I ended up with 281 designs from dozens of talented designers. After a little help from almost 600 of my newsletter readers and social media audience (that’s YOU!), I narrowed it down to my top four designers and asked them to iron out the last little details.
Today I had a final runoff between my two favorite designers, and I picked this winner! We’re still tweaking a couple of things, but I’m in love. 🙂
From a selfish point of view, I adored this process. A month or so ago I started working with one of my favorite designers on this cover, but after several false starts, well, he fired me as a client — in a friendly way, of course. But I was getting frustrated with our lack of togetherness. When I started the 99designs contest, I was amazed by the different perspectives from the other designers. The design I chose wasn’t anything like I had envisioned, but it just fits. I’m very happy.
BUT… and there’s a big but… I feel incredibly guilty. I’ve used these services before, most recently to create my present logo. But the other projects were quicker and less involved. This time, dozens of designers submitted thoughtful, innovative and thorough designs that I’m sure took them hours of work. The way the system works, the designers who made it to the final round and didn’t win will get a higher ranking for being a finalist, but no money (or at least I think that’s what happens). And the winning designer only gets about $500 of my $799 (again, I’m not quite sure about all the numbers). And $500 is very little for a quality designer.
One small consolation for the winning designer is that I will need help with a couple of other projects related to the cover, so I hope to be hiring him again. But for the second place guy… nada, and nothing for the dozens of other designers who tried their best. With a smaller project, I didn’t feel guilty. But with the time they had to invest in this intricate design, perhaps a contest is a little too much to ask for design professionals.
What do you guys think?
I think it would be nice if the runner up received some cash… there is a lot of work (time) that goes into somethign like this.
Beth, thanks for highlighting a pattern that affects not only graphic designers but also writers, artists and architects who enter competitions for work, when only one fortunate entrant sees a return on their time, effort and other inputs. It’s not a fair system, it affects creative fields disproportionately, and I appreciate your understanding that.
I’m not a creative professional, and I understand the pressure on independent designer sand other creative types, but it seems to me that the rules of the contest are clear to entrants. If a designer isn’t prepared to put in the work with the full understanding that it might come to nothing, they should do something other than enter a contest, no?
Designers, as well as anyone else who takes the time to enter a contest of any kind, know the risks associated with it. Been there, done that. Not every kid gets picked to play ball. Not every song gets played on the radio. Not every apple gets picked from the tree. It’s life. We win – we lose. You’re a good person for feeling empathy – and that’s respected. But they chose to enter knowing they might not be picked – so I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.
Hi Beth, Thank you for your thoughtful assessment of the dilemma designers have (and conscientious clients ought to have) about design contests. It is one thing to ask a class of design students to compete; they get something out of it (learning experience, a grade, a design degree). Those who entered the competition made the choice to design “on speculation.” There will always be eager beavers trying to please. I discovered how bad I am at gambling while in Las Vegas; so as a rule, I don’t gamble. I also don’t enter design contests for the reasons you touch on — my time is worth way more than $0. A free consultation up front can establish whether I have the talent, vision, cooperative attitude, etc. the client seeks. The only way to remedy the design contests problem is to NOT PARTICIPATE. I would rather spend those several free hours interviewing clients who agree to pay me what I’m worth! That’s my .02 cents. You asked!
P.S. You ended up choosing the one I voted for, so that made me happy! And I want to say that I love what you are doing with your identity, newsletter, content, design, etc. Very nice.
I see a contest like this as an excellent way to begin building a portfolio. Those just breaking into the business need a place to start- a contest!
Even if they don’t win, they’ve put themselves and their talent out there and have learned from their efforts. And if they like what they created, it becomes part of their portfolio.