Inside 99designs: How to run a successful design contest

We recently provided some advice to help you prepare for a design contest. Today’s post jumps into tips for running the contest itself, so if you still need to complete your design brief be sure to check out part one.

Running a design contest includes everything you’ll do between launching your contest and taking ownership of your new design. As we mentioned in the first post, it helps to think of yourself as the creative director and the contest as a collaboration between yourself and the designers; the best results almost always come from contests where the designers and clients are engaged equally in the process.

Here’s our advice on how to run a successful design contest.

1. Invite designers

The first thing you’ll want to do once you launch your contest is invite some designers.

In the previous post we showed you how to use our Designer Directory to “favorite” a list of designers. Once you’ve launched your contest you’ll want to go back to this list and start inviting designers to participate. If you run out of designers to invite, just use the directory to find more. You get 50 invites to use per day, so make the most of them!

To invite a designer to a contest, view their profile then click the “Invite to contest” button.

invite

When you invite a designer to your contest, the message will autofill with the subject: “You are invited to my contest.” Most people don’t bother to change this, so if there’s one thing 99designers have read over and over again, it’s “You are invited to my contest.”

Make your invites stand out to designers by changing the subject to something different. If possible, send a personalized message along with it. You may even want compliment a specific design of theirs that you like — a little flattery can go a long way.

By doing this, you’re showing the designer that you’ve noticed their talent and have taken the time to specifically reach out to them. You’ll be a much more appealing client to work with than someone who looks like they’ve sent the same invitation to dozens of designers.

custominvite

2. Know the contest timeframe, but don’t feel pressured by deadlines

Contests run for seven days by default, but if you find it takes a little longer to flesh out ideas, don’t feel pressured by the contest timeframe. If time is running low (or even if time has run out) you can contact our support team to request an extension.

Screen-Shot-2014-04-11-at-2.01.24-PM

A standard design contest is divided into these four stages:

1) Qualifying Round - Runs for four days (six days in a web contest) and any designers can enter.

It often takes a few days before designs start coming in — good design takes time. At the end of the Qualifying Round, if you need more time to get more designs or refine existing ones, make sure to contact the 99designs support team. They’ll be happy to give you a free extension.

2) Select Finalists (Shortlisting) - During the shortlisting stage you can pick up to six of your favorite designers. That means you’ll continue working with them in the final round to polish their designs.

Once you select finalists and move to the final round you won’t be able to refund the contest, so if you’re not quite sold on any designs at this stage we recommend extending the Qualifying Round.

3) Final Round - Runs for three days (five for web) and only involves your shortlisted designers — no new designers can enter.

You should be pretty happy with your finalists at this stage, with the only work left to do being small refinements. The aim is to perfect and polish your existing designs before choosing a winner. You can’t go back to the Qualifying Round from here, though we can extend the Final Round.

4) Select Winner / Handover - Once you award the winner you’ll agree to the copyright contract and go to the contest “Handover.” After the designer uploads your final files, you have five days to review them before the payment is released to the designer. If the files need further refinement at this stage, let us know ASAP so we can pause the auto-payment and give you more time to work with the designer.

3. Communicate clearly and leave feedback

Leaving feedback for designers throughout the contest is not only considered good manners, it’s also vital to the success of your contest. Feedback is the best way to communicate to your designers what you like and don’t like about their designs and how you’d like to see them changed.

You’ll be assigned a feedback rating that designers can see, which is based on the private feedback you leave to individual designers. Contests with good feedback ratings attract more designers, while contests with low feedback ratings act as red flags for designers. So make sure to communicate clearly and frequently! Hover your cursor over the “You” link on the main page to view your feedback rating.

feedback1

Keep in mind that only private feedback counts towards your feedback rating. Click on the speech bubble icon on a design to leave feedback, or simply type your feedback in the field to the right if you are viewing the design at a larger size.

bubble

feedback02-1024x555

You can also leave public feedback at the bottom of your contest entries page. This doesn’t count towards your feedback rating, but it’s good to use if you need to communicate messages to everyone participating in the contest.

It’s also worth noting that you can use drawings and photographs to explain things in a visual manner. Use simple programs like Microsoft Paint to make rough sketches on your computer, and websites such as imgur to upload your images and photos to give to the designer as feedback.

Getting a great design doesn’t happen instantly. Great communication is the way to get there.

4. Use star ratings sensibly

It might be tempting to rate a great design highly if you like what you see right away, but consider for a moment the impact this might have on the contest as a whole. If you rate entries too highly too early on it may:

  • Discourage designers from entering the contest due to a perception that the high rated entries may already have the prize in the bag.
  • Encourage the designer who receives the high rating to rest on their laurels and assume there’s no room for improvement.
  • Result in copycat designs — other designers may take the high rating as a cue on a style you like, and start submitting similar designs.

While it’s impossible to imagine how each individual designer will perceive a star rating, it’s best to avoid giving any design more than three stars in the qualifying round, unless you are so pleased with the design that you would be happy to award it the winner.

This will help keep everyone keen enough to continue working on new designs and make revisions to existing designs. Once you’re in the final round and have your favorite designs, go nuts with the ratings!

5. Attract more designers with a guaranteed contest

All contests become guaranteed once you go through to the Final Round, but one thing you may wish to consider is to guarantee the contest from the start. If you’ve successfully run a contest before, this option will be available from the launch process.

Alternatively, you can guarantee from your contest page itself once you have 10+ entries.

guaranteed

 

Choosing to guarantee a contest means you forgo your right to a refund, but in doing so you will attract a lot more designers to the contest.

So there you have it — a few top tips on how to run a design contest. Now it’s time to launch!

Sheamus works for 99designs as an Account Manager and crowdsourced graphic design expert out of our Melbourne office. In his time off you'll find him writing freelance, taking in the city's vibrant live music scene and trawling second hand stores for old Sega games.

4 Comments

  1. Jane

    This article series is really useful thanks. I am wondering when and how much to use the elimination tool?

    Reply April 23, 2014 at 5:11 am
    • Sheamus

      Hi Jane, glad you found it helpful!

      The best tip I have when it comes to eliminating designers is to not eliminate entries by good designers just because they are not exactly what you are looking for. Eliminate based on whether you think the designer has the skill and talent to execute a good design or not.

      You don’t want to discourage a talented designer just because their design doesn’t fit what you are looking for – instead, give them feedback and encouragement about what they need to do to get their work closer to what you’re looking for.

      I generally only eliminate designs from contests if they are of an exceptionally amateur quality or if there are too many entries in the contest to reasonably manage.

      Feel free to use the eliminate tool, but don’t go overboard and do use it with discretion.

      Reply April 23, 2014 at 6:38 pm
  2. Chris Bisson

    Hi Sheamus – is there an ideal time during the week to post a competition? i.e. when is the most likely time of the week that designers will be searching for projects to work on?
    Thanks

    Reply May 23, 2014 at 3:24 pm
    • Sheamus

      Hi Chris,

      Outside of holiday periods such as Christmas and Easter, there’s not generally a noticeable difference in designer participation on any particular day of the week – freelancers will tend to work whenever they can. Some designers will do most of their work outside a regular 9-5 job, whole for some designers using 99designs is their regular 9-5 job.

      I’d base launching a contest on when suits you the most. If you have things to do over the weekend, launch it on Monday. The more time you’re able to give to working on the contest and engaging with the designers, the better!

      Reply May 28, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Or leave a comment: