99designs Survey: How to woo a designer

Here at 99designs, we know the designer-client relationship can be fraught with challenges — after all, with 175,000 graphic design projects completed on our site and more than 190,000 graphic designers working in our community, we’ve seen first-hand the trials and tribulations both sides deal with in this delicate working relationship. Often times these communication challenges can be traced back to a core cause: many clients just don’t understand what makes designers tick.

To help bridge the gap between clients’ needs and designers’ wants, we set out to research the inner mind of graphic designers by surveying them on everything from what motivates them to be designers to how they deal with difficult clients. A total of 2,379 graphic designers from around the world responded to our survey, with some illuminating results.

Here are the key findings of our “How to woo a designer” survey, which you can see illustrated in the infographic below. We also encourage you to click here to view a beefed-up version of the infographic that includes interactive commentary showcasing the best and worst things a clients can tell a designer – straight from the mouths of designers themselves.

(Note that in some cases percentages total more than 100%, as multiple responses were permitted.)

  • Know what you want before you hire a designer: Clients who know what they’re looking for at the outset of their design project score points with designers – 51% of designers surveyed consider that one of the most important characteristics in a client. 47% of designers say responsiveness is key, and 46% want clients who give them creative freedom. 36% of respondents put tremendous weight on getting paid on time, though the actual dollar signs themselves don’t appear to carry much weight – just 5% say the most important client characteristic is an unlimited budget.
  • Creative challenges motivate designers more than big paychecks: The opportunity to be creative and design something cool motivates 62% of designers to take on a project, compared to 48% who are swayed by fat paychecks and just 6% who consider a clients’ prominence key.
  • Designers crave your input: 48% of designers say lack of helpful feedback is among their biggest challenges in working with clients, while 42% point to clients’ lack of direction and 25% indicate unrealistic expectations as major obstacles. Most clients seem to be coming through with their wallets, though – just 16% of respondents say getting paid what they’re owed is a problem
  • Expect your designer to have – and voice – an opinion: The majority of designers say they speak up when clients disagree with them on a design decision – 44% will do what they’re asked but make their disapproval clear, while 18% try to convince clients their idea is better. 30% of designers report they just do whatever clients ask. Another 5% do what the client wants but figure out a way to ultimately charge more, while only 2% outright refuse to complete the project.
  • Designers are not overpaid – or clueless about business: 31% of designers say the biggest misconception business owners have about designers is that they’re overpaid, while 30% say clients think designers are clueless about the business world. 12% are tired of being labeled “too sensitive” and 10% give the business world a thumbs down for thinking designers are, to be blunt, not very smart.
  • Designers are an entrepreneurial bunch (who don’t necessarily want to work at your company): 41% of designers indicate that in 10 years they plan to be running their own companies, while 29% plan to be freelancing, 12% expect they’ll be working in-house at a company and 9% think they’ll be in agency jobs. Only 8% indicate they will no longer be working as graphic designers 10 years from now.
  • Designers love art and entertainment clients, are less psyched about religious and legal projects: Given a list of 22 common industries, 43% of designers say Art and Design is one of their favorite to design for, followed by Entertainment and The Arts at 24%. Three industries share a third-place ranking at 22%: Business and Consulting, Internet/Technology, and Food and Drink products. Designers’ least favorite industries include Travel & Hotel, Automotive, Retail, Religion and Legal.
  • Designers find new clients virtually everywhere (bowling, anyone?): In order of popularity, the most interesting places designers have sourced new clients are: community group meetings, restaurants, vacations, family gatherings, bars, weddings, public transportation, parks, gyms, beaches, online dating sites, airplanes, religious services, grocery stores, hospitals, post offices, funerals and bowling alleys.
  • Contracts optional?: 39% of designers don’t require clients to sign on the dotted – or any – line to do a project.
  • Hey, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Pepsi and Coca Cola – how about a new logo? If given the chance to redesign the logo of any major company, these are the top five designers would choose. The rest of the top ten includes IBM, eBay, Samsung, Nike and Wal-Mart.
  • Designers want gigs at Apple, Google, Coca Cola, Nike and Microsoft: If they could work for any major company, these are the top five designers would pick. The rest of the top 10 includes Pixar, Adidas, Adobe, Disney and Facebook.

About the Survey: The 99designs Designer Survey was conducted online in September and October 2012 by 99designs and  SurveyMonkey Audience. The 2,379 respondents who completed the survey include graphic designers active in 99designs’ community and graphic designers not affiliated with 99designs. For a copy of the survey, please contact lauren@99designs.com.

We’d love to know your thoughts. If you’re a designer, do our findings resonate with you? Business owners, is there anything you find surprising? Join the discussion in the comments!


PR Manager at 99designs
Lauren Gard, PR Manager in 99designs' San Francisco office, is forever on the hunt for riveting stories, gorgeous hiking trails, candy and ways to infuse daily life with creativity. Born and raised in suburban Philadelphia, she's happily called the Bay Area home for more than a decade.


  1. Cha

    Wow, thanks for the info (been a while not being active here)it does resonates to me. Cheers

    Reply November 23, 2012 at 4:25 am
  2. Shiv

    Great & Informational post. Being a designer i would like to say from business owners that let be clear about your design and concept’s, and second thing is give your idea, example and feedback for design.

    Reply November 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm
  3. Shaun.B

    Hi, as a business owner, I like to see what designers propose as their ideas for a logo or design, rather than initially submit a pictorial idea of what I want. After all, I am not the designer, if I could do it, I would just create my own logo. That being said, I totally agree that a business customer should know at least what they want to achieve and be prepared to make exact decisions and offer precise guidance to enable the shortest path to a completed logo or design. I have offered up ideas for a logo designed by myself in the past for a different business and it just ended up sending designers down the wrong path, which was then hard then to backpedal and get designers back on the right track to achieve our design goals. I currently have a logo design competition running where I purposely didn’t offer suggestions or diagrams for the design. I hope and believe there is enough information there for the right designer to come up with the right logo. After seeing some logos and other designs listed on this site, I am very much look forward to seeing what the designers come up with. :)

    Reply December 3, 2012 at 5:30 am
    • Laura N.

      What you’re saying here sounds like spec work. Basically gathering a lot of logo for free and end by choosing one. This is pretty the least rewarding type of work. And it also goes in the category “the biggest misconception business owners have about designers is that they’re overpaid”. You don’t value their time this way. There are very few professions where a client would ask for work before even paying or offering a contract, although it seem that a lot of business owners expect it for design. The perfect logo doesn’t exist. And neither it is about what the owner find aesthetically attractive. A design is about something which meet objectives, compliment a company image, etc… And you cannot achieve this without giving more information to the designer. Requirements and spec doesn’t stop a designer from being creative, it’s the opposite : he or she needs to find a creative way to achieve the objective. Now, a lot of owners don’t know what they want, which is fair. But most of them also believe creativity is a magic skill allowing us to match perfectly their exact expectations (even if they can’t express them).

      Reply December 5, 2012 at 3:57 am
    • Aaron A.

      Hi Shaun.B,

      I can understand what you’re saying about hiring a designer to do a logo or what have you since, y’know, they’re supposed to be the expert. You comment about making suggestions that ultimately send designers down the wrong path, you’re totally right there too.

      To put it frankly, probably 90%+ of “designers” (I use that in quotes to infer a person calling themselves a designer who doesn’t understand the full breadth of their field goes far beyond Photoshop) you’ll talk to have little or no idea what they’re doing. I’m not talking technical knowledge or knowing their way around Photoshop; I’m talking about not knowing what questions to ask. Many people think designing a logo is drawing a picture and choosing a font to go along with it, which is totally wrong.

      A logo is your company’s entire identity, it summates everything about your company and its reputation in a single image (or text, in the case of a type-based font). Before a designer puts pen to paper to sketch out logos, they should be asking questions about your business, what it’s mission is, asking what kind of emotion or feeling you would like your customers to feel when thinking of your company or its product & services. They should be researching competitors, looking at their business mission, tactics, reputation and analyzing all of this data before even making the first sketch. Large advertising agencies will charge amazing rate to redesign a company’s identity (upwards of $100,000) because they KNOW what a logo is all about, and what it means.

      Paying a “designer” $200 or $700 will get you an amateur that will make you a handful of variations on tired, cliché logo themes and slap your company name on it. I have a design background and today I freelance occasionally but 90% of the time run a separate business selling collectible books online. Having that design background cements how very important a logo and brand identity can be, when coupled with high quality products, great customer service and attention to every detail, even as down to constantly developing new ways to streaming my inventory management.

      A logo is so much more than a picture.

      I’m not soliciting work here, I just like to educate people. Everyone knowing more helps us all grow, work better together and create better businesses.
      If you’d like to continue this conversation (no charge, of course), please click my name to visit my site. From there you can send me a message.
      I hope what I’ve said has been helpful.

      Reply December 5, 2012 at 1:59 pm
      • Laura N.

        Hi Aaron

        Your message is really interesting and I agree with it. I guess Shaun is right to point the difficulty of giving a direction to the designer. Although, “they are supposed to be the expert” is not equal to “they should be able to read in my mind” but I think we agree on this.

        I’d like to have your insight about the need for ALL companies to have a logo. Let’s be honest, some companies can’t afford to pay for “proper branding” work. So what is the alternative for them? Should they all have a logo? Should they have a quick, amateur one? Should they just have their name written in a correct font? I’m aware that all the projects are different, but what are the alternative when you don’t have the budget?

        Reply December 6, 2012 at 1:39 am
    • Raul R.

      I’d like to say something I believe is important. The client should provide complete information for an assignment, be a logo, an ad, corporate image or whatever he or she needs, I say “complete”. The designer spends too much time in research to get something that meet client’s brief, and having not one makes it a kind of clue game, that’s not professional. And the last thing, you get what you pay for, big companies charge hundreds of thousands because they have big groups to fulfill client’s need, a freelance does all the work alone and need to bill all that work, if you pay nothing you, as client, get a poor job.

      Reply December 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm
  4. Done Collective

    Thanks for sharing this interesting data with us. Most of the things I knew but there were some that really surprised me.

    Reply January 7, 2013 at 8:30 am
  5. singingsue

    The design process is creative and organic, but must be steeped in research and psychology, especially in logo design.

    A logo is the FACE of a company. If the client doesn’t supply exactly who & what that face is, then the client should get in a car and drive around with a blind fold on, as you’ll be wasting everyone’s time, and there’s gonna be an accident.

    Communication is EVERYTHING, and, EVERYONE’s time should be valued equally no matter which side you sit on.

    Reply January 30, 2013 at 3:53 pm
  6. Peyton Quinn

    I am wondering if anyone here has done any storyboarding for film? I have decently selling novel and Lion’s Gate showed an interest in making it a feature film. But they financed a children’s film in the final analysis. But I feel a storyboard of say 6 or 8 frames, and they would be black and white line drawings, would sell the idea best to some other producer. If naybody has donme such a project I’d like to hear from you and see some of your stuff, thank you!

    Reply February 1, 2013 at 1:45 pm

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