Getting graphic design work done can often be a challenge. Where do you even start? Hiring a full-time graphic designer is expensive and risky. Hiring a freelancer online can take a bit of time. And often times, your designer works in a completely different timezone, making collaboration near impossible.
That’s where 99Designs come in. The company offers a talent-sourcing platform where you can create a design contest and have designers from all over the world submit their entry. You pay 1 flat fee for the contest and guaranteed many drafts. Sounds too good to be true? Let’s find out!
In order to review 99designs accurately, we prepared several projects to submit on the platform. These projects are things that we actually have a need for and may use if the design results returned are good enough.
We’ll go through the entire process that 99designs laid out and follow all rules and instructions given to us. Upon receiving the design work, we’ll pass it around internally to 10 people in our office and simply give a yay or nay. Whatever the results are, will be the numerical grade given. Let’s begin!
What 99designs can do?
In short, just about anything but they’re limited to just graphic design. In our quick 99designs analysis, they offer the following design services:
- Logo & identity
- Web & app design
- Business & advertising
- Books & magazines
- And more…(the remaining categories are a bit obscured or too niche to list)
It’s a fairly extensive list and seems like if you’re a new startup or business, they’ll cover most of your initial design needs.
What 99designs CANNOT do
As the name implied, 99designs only offers graphic design. They can design a website or app for you, but you will need an independent development team to code it. 99designs also currently don’t offer content support, which isn’t that unusual. Whatever you want designed, you’ll need to provide all of the content before hand.
And that also means you need to do all the proofreading as well. Whatever you submit to be designed, will be designed. The designers usually won’t comment or question your grammar mistakes. So be sure to double and triple check all your content before submitting it to be designed.
Another thing to note, 99designs cannot deliver on time. The delivery runs on a rather flexible schedule that can take up to 2 weeks or longer. So if you need something done fast, 99designs may not be the best solution, even with the expedited delivery add-on purchase.
99designs’ ACTUAL pricing
When we audit 99designs’ pricing structure, we found a few of their categories to be confusing. Categories such as Logos, Web & app design, and Business Advertising can be misleading or vague. For example, when choosing a logo design, you might think you have to buy one of their packages that starts at $349. But with a bit of patience and knowing where to navigate, you can actually just buy a single logo design without any add-ons.
To avoid confusion, I’m going to break down a few of the categories below just so you know exactly how things are priced.
4 Different Tiers
After you fill out the first page of the project brief, 99designs will ask you to pick a tier. The lowest tier will give you the fewest number of design submissions and will usually be assigned to junior artists. Meanwhile the more expensive tiers get more design submissions and often given to more experienced designers.
The price breakdown below assumes you’re going with the lower price tiers, since that’s what most people tend to choose.
Logo & identity prices
Logo alone: $299
Packages: 5 packages offered between $349 – $599
Web design, Website Re-design, and WordPress Theme design prices
The $599 promotional price is NOT for an entire website design or re-design. This is just for ONE page. If you want multiple pages to be designed, 99designs will charge you PER PAGE. The more pages you want designed, the most it will cost. However, you’ll get a steeper discount per page if you request multiple pages at once.
As of now, 99designs only offer up to 5 pages designed initially. If you need more than 5 pages designed, you’ll likely need to hire a designer from 99designs afterward to continue working on the project.
1 page = $599.
2 pages = $749.
3 pages = $899.
4 pages = $1049
5 pages = $1199
Landing page design prices
Landing pages are charged at a flat rate of $349 since it’s just 1 page. There are no options for multiple pages. If you want additional pages to be designed afterward, you’ll have to create another $349 landing page contest, and that’s not cost-effective. If you have a landing page with multiple pages, you’ll have to cough $599 for the web design package.
App design prices
For the advertised price of $599, you are NOT getting an entire app designed. You’re paying PER page of the app to be designed. The more pages you want done, the more it’ll cost. But it’s the initial page design that will cost the most. The more pages you need done, the cheaper it is per page to be designed.
1 screen = $599
2 screens = $699
3 screens = $799
4 screens = $899
5 screens = $999
Business & advertising
The prices for Business & advertising are all over the place and might not make any sense. For example, why does it cost $299 for an Album cover design…when it costs only $199 for a Podcast cover? They’re both square dimension graphics with basically the same requirements. If you need an Album cover design, you can just request a “Podcast cover” to save money.
Anyway, here’s a breakdown of what you can get at each different price points.
Starting at $149: Billboard, Tradeshow banner, Banner,
Starting at $199: Postcard, Flyer, Leaflet, Direct Mail, Poster, Podcast cover, Signage, Menu, Website header, Resume, Word Template, Tradeshow Booth, Other business advertising
Starting at $299: Album cover, Brochure, Booklet, Pamphlet, Email, Email newsletter, Powerpoint template,
Starting at $349: Car/truck/van wrap
Starting at $599: Infographic
In addition to the base cost of the project, you can pay for additional add-ons.
Dedicated support: For a price of $129 extra, you can have access to dedicated customer support should you run into any problems.
Guaranteed: This doesn’t cost anything, but it basically negates your 100% money-back guarantee with 99designs. The reason they offer this is because how designers are paid. Often times, they’re paid pennies for participating in your design contest. Out of possible 20 – 30 design submissions, they will only get paid a reasonable fee IF you choose their design.
If you request a refund, no one gets paid. Therefore, if you choose this option, designers have more confidence that there’s a stronger chance you’ll commit.
Here’s what 99designs promises if you choose to negate your guarantee.
- Have more designers participating
- Receive 50% more designs on average
- Get a wider range of creativity
Private contest: This $59 add-on gives you the assurance that your design/intellectual property won’t be leaked onto Google or used by designer. Designer will sign an NDA to ensure they protect your privacy. You can even use your own NDA.
Duration: Typical turnaround for 1st draft is 4 days. Need the design in a hurry? Pay a small fee for expedited delivery.
99designs pricing review
Overall, the prices can fluctuate quite a bit depending on which tier you select and how many add-ons you buy. I wouldn’t say 99designs prices are cheap, because they’re fairly expensive for just 1 design. They are cheaper than hiring an in-house designer or a design agency, but there are definitely much cheaper options. The one benefit of 99designs’ model is that you get a lot of drafts for that price, so you have much more to choose from during each round of revisions.
How long it REALLY takes to get your designs
There’s 5 rounds total that you need to go through before you can get your design files. Each round can take anywhere from 1-2 days up to 14 days to complete. Most of that does depend on you. If you give feedback quickly, you’ll get your design files much faster. Here’s a breakdown of the 5 rounds.
Round 1: Qualifying round (4-5 days)
In this round, 99design sends your project out to all qualified designers in their talent pool. Designers can choose to accept or ignore your contest. Once enough designers have accepted your contest and submitted their design work, you move onto Round 2.
Round 2: Select finalists (4 days)
It’s probably 4-5 days now since you started the contest and your designs are finally in. You’ll have a lot of designs to choose from. Now you have 4 days to review the designs and select up to 6 designs that you like. Any designs you don’t select will be rejected. Designs you select gets to move onto the next round.
During this round, there’s a 99designs review feature that lets you share the submissions with others via a shareable link. You have 4 days to select your finalists! Once chosen, the contest will be moved to the 3rd round.
Round 3: Final round (3 days)
In this round, you’ll need to leave revisions for the selected finalists. Your finalists will work on as much revisions as you give them in this round. If you don’t like something, you can request more revisions and they’ll keep submitting. Keep in mind you only have 3 days for this round.
Round 4: Choose a winner
Contest is now officially over and a winner must be selected. In this round, you can create and send a poll to everyone you want feedback from to see which design is the best. You can only select 1 winner.
Round 5: Handover (5 days?!)
Your designer now has up to 5 days to hand over all of the design files and any copyright materials to you. Yes, you read that right. 5 days.
So…how long does it really take?
Let’s assume that you’re super responsive and you complete YOUR part the same day 99designs notify you…
Round 1: 4 days for all initial designs to come in
Round 2: 1 day to select finalists (because you’re responsive)
Round 3: 3 days for final round of revisions
Round 4: 1 day to pick a winner (because you want the files fast!)
Round 5: 1-5 days to get files
So you’re looking at between 10 – 14 days to complete a single design project. If you’re a new startup or business that doesn’t have strict deadlines to meet, this delivery window is perfectly fine. If you’re more established and looking for someone to help you meet an aggressive marketing schedule, 99designs may not work for you.
How to get QUALITY designs from 99designs?
If you’re coming to 99designs with a limited budget for graphic design, then chances are your results will vary. From my experience, the lower tier designers often just use templated graphics from Freepik or Envato.
If you want high quality designs from 99designs, here’s what you’ll need to do.
- Sign up for higher tier: Choose Gold or Platinum plans. They’re significantly more expensive, but that’s what you need to get experienced designer’s attention.
- Fill EVERYTHING out: When creating your project brief, do not skip any steps. Fill out as much information as you can and spend time creating a solid brief.
- Give additional examples: The last field on most form will ask “Is there anything else you would like to communicate to the designers?”. Use this opportunity to give more information. Also include even more examples of what you like and don’t like. This helps the designer narrow down your preferences.
Pros & Cons of 99designs
We’ll start with the PROS
- Affordable compared to hiring an inhouse designer
- No hiring or managing of designers. They do all of that for you.
- Lots of designs to choose from for each round
- One platform can cover most of your design needs
- Easy to use platform
- Clear indicator of how far along your design is
- Offers a 100% money back guarantee
Now for the CONS
Who is 99designs really for?
99designs is best suited for startups, small businesses, entrepreneurs, and anyone just starting out. The prices are affordable and you get a lot of selections. Having 20+ drafts submitted to you is a great benefit, especially if you’re starting out and have no idea exactly how you want to brand yourself.
For larger businesses, marketing teams, and agencies, 99designs may not be the best fit given how expensive the bill will eventually be if you need 10+ designs per month. The 10 – 14 day delivery window can also be a major setback if you’re trying to meet deadlines.
- Can get expensive if you have consistent design needs
- 10 – 14 day delivery
- Design quality is mediocre unless you’re willing to pay a premium
- No real way to interact with designer except through feedback
- Customer support is a paid add-on
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We Used 99designs For Logos: Here’s Our Review
What is it like to use 99designs? We’re going to go through the process of creating a design contest from start to finish to show you what the entire experience is like, so you can decide for yourself if 99designs is for you. For this 99designs review, we’re going to follow all instructions given and document each step of our journey for you to see below.
For this test project, we’re going to submit a contest for Owner’s Mag logo to see if 99designs can interpret a better logo for us. Chances of me getting this approved and having the CEO change the logo is practically 0, but this will be a fun project that everyone in our office can contribute feedback to.
1. Creating our design project
We went ahead and searched “Logo” and went through the process of creating the logo project. When selecting the business category, surprisingly there’s nothing related to digital publication, news, or publisher there. We went ahead and chose “Internet” as our category.
2. Choosing a name
Now it’s time to name our project. We’re going to call this one “Owner’s Mag Logo Design”. Not sure if I’ll ever get the approval to change the logo, but it’ll be a fun project that everyone at the office can give inputs on.
3. Types of logo
Logos come in all different shapes, themes, and types. They can be just a word logo, icons, abstract, or something unique with a mascot. Here’s where you can tell the 99designers what type of logo you want.
4. Choosing a style
I like this section a lot. Sometimes it’s difficult to actually describe what you want. Here, you can browse through a long list of logo designs that cover a wide spectrum of styling. Select the ones that best fit your taste and it’ll give the 99designers a better idea of what you want.
I went ahead and chose a few text-focused logo, since Owner’s Mag is a text-only logo. The selected examples in the screenshot above aren’t the ones I chose.
5. Brand Style Meter
I’ll be honest, this section is a bit weird for me. On this page, 99design asked me to explain the style I want using different sliding scales. There’s more than the 3 listed in the image above. I personally had a hard time deciding if Owner’s mag logo should be “Classic” or “Modern”, “Mature” or “Youthful”. Femine vs Masculine I can work with. But the other categories aren’t intuitive for me.
6. Choosing Colors
Now it’s time to pick our color preferences. I stuck with “Reds”.
7. Writing project brief
Filling out the project brief didn’t take too long. The questions were straight forward and all makes sense. It is odd that the project brief itself is this far down the process.
8. Choose your package
So far, we haven’t paid 99designs anything. Now it’s time for us to pick a tier for our plan. Although the Logo starts at $299, that’s actually for the Bronze tier. The higher tier you go, the more submissions and higher quality the work will be. Or at least that’s what 99designs promise.
For this, we chose the Silver $499 plan. We’ll be expecting about 60 designs to be submitted with this package.
In addition to the $499 we’re paying for the Silver tier, 99designs will upsell us for a few things. Some of these I think makes sense, others I felt should be included in the price I’m paying.
Personal Creative Consultant ($129) actually looks like customer support to me. I’m not a designer, of course I will need some help through this process. I felt like this should’ve already been included in the price instead of being a $129 add-on.
Guaranteed doesn’t cost anything. But it will null your money-back guarantee. This ensures the designer WILL get paid if they make it to the final round. Because of 99designs’ pay structure, this makes your project much more appealing to designers and more will likely submit drafts if you opt out of their guarantee.
Private ($59), this came as a shocker. I didn’t know this would even be public. Why my project is even open to the public in the first place is beyond me. This doesn’t feel right. Paying $59 just so 99designs keep my designs private seems like a scare tactic for me to cough up more money. Not a fan.
Duration lets you pay a bit more for faster delivery. For this, I feel the prices are fair and it’s typical to pay more for expedited work anyway. You can pay $39 for 3 day instead of 4 day delivery, $59 for 2 days, and $79 for 1 day.
9. Complete! Now we wait…
I opted to not purchase any add-ons for this review. Once paid, we’re redirected to 99designs’ dashboard where we can see the estimated timeline for the project. From today, it’ll take about 4 days for all of the designs to be submitted. Each day some designers will submit their work and on the final day, the round will be closed and we have 4 days to pick finalists.
The Designs Are In!
First off, very disappointed that we only received 17 designs instead of the promised 60. I contacted 99designs support about the issue and they claim that they don’t guarantee “60”, even though their pricing tiers clearly listed “Expect ~60 designs”.
Maybe the 17 designs we received are good? I’ll let you be the judge of that before we give our verdict.
Here are the 17 designs that 99designers submitted to us after 4 days.
What does our office think?
We passed the designs around our office to get some initial thoughts. Most thought the designs were random and not aligned with any of the directions given. Some look templated. Others look like they just slap a random icon in front of the text and call it a logo.
Overall, none of us were impressed by the results thus far. We eventually picked #6 to give feedback just to move the process along, not because we love the design. We felt let down that only 17 versions were submitted since 99designs promised we’d get around 60 designs to choose from.
We submitted our revisions and now wait for our designer to spin something back to us.
4 days later…
We received new versions of logo #6 within about 3-4 days. Personally I wasn’t happy with the new versions, but I shared the new designs with the office. You can probably guess how we all felt about the new drafts. Results…were disappointing and not what we had suggested. At this point, we didn’t feel compelled to give any further instructions or move the project to the final round.
We’re not happy
We decided not to continue the project given we’re not happy with any of the drafts so far. Even revisions were still so far off what we would even accept. I understand graphic design is subjective, and that sometimes you just have a difficult client. I assure you, we’re not that difficult and was looking for a very simple logo.
It was hard for us to justify even moving to the final round given the designers barely followed our directions. We specifically asked them to design the logo using our RED, and some of them ignored it completely. We asked them to NOT use any icons and just keep it text-based, yet there were logos with random icons.
Getting a Refund
Our experience could be a unique case and your experience could be much more pleasant. We eventually asked for a refund and was met with another obstacle. You can’t get a refund on the website, they request a call to speak to you to “verify” your identity before releasing your refund.
This is an annoying step clearly put in place just to discourage refunds. I oblige and got on a call with a representative. The rep was understanding and didn’t try too hard to sell me, which I appreciated. Our refund was promptly processed afterward.
Our experience with 99designs has been mixed. I like how intuitive the website is and how easy it was to get your logo project started. The biggest let down were the number of submissions we received (17 instead of the promised 60) and the quality of each design. You can judge for yourself. Looking at the logos submitted, I didn’t feel like we got even intermediate level designers. These just felt rushed, patched together, and overall unpolished work.
Giving revision was difficult because most of the designs were so far off base. I didn’t know where to start, except tell the designer to re-read my project brief and start over.
Overall, it wasn’t the best experience for us. We would’ve gladly paid an agency or a freelancer the same amount and get more dedicated care and attention to produce 2-3 good logos instead of 17 poorly design random logos.