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!


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.

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