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99designs: How to Grow your Chances of Winning a Contest

Updated on October 14, 2012

Most of you have already noticed a strangely frequent advertising on the internet. Knowing that google possess privileges of setting the best matches for your browsing intents, an increasingly popular website is still amongst those advertisers who - with a substantial income budget - pay a lot of money to attract thousands of beginner, freelancer or web design professionals to their site.

The candidate is 99designs. In this minute fraction of time, a stunning amount of new subscribers are doing their best to reach their goal, win a contest and earn the prize.

Picture showing a design contest on 99designs
Picture showing a design contest on 99designs

How does it work?

99designs is a crowdsourcing page where anyone can register for free and start entering submissions while chosing among different kinds of categories. It can be a contest held by a law firm, an agricultural enterprise or a medical practice.

The contest may vary according to the type of work requested. Web design contest have a larger timecourse than logo design contests, but of course the prize is relatively bigger.

The task is simple. Read the design brief and start brainstorming. You have all the responsibilities to submit an acceptable and breathtaking work. But in fact, this is not as easy as we think it could be.

Entering the real "Nerve Field"

The very first step - we can rather call it a mindset - is to enter the worst field of your creative attitude.

What is this all about?

Generally speaking, you enter a contest, you read the design brief and start approaching the first idea which comes up into your mind.
After that your brain starts to create your 'optimal' pictures about how should you deliver your job, how should the illustration or your logo look like.
Here is a list of the most common inner questions arising during brainstorming session:

  1. What kind of font should I use?
  2. The contest holder set a rule of chosing exclusively between warm colors ranging from yellow to red. What kind of analogous colors should work?
  3. I have to create an emblem, how will my idea fit into the company's main goal and concept?

These may seem simplistic thoughts, but in fact this is the point where most novice designers fall into a trap.

Let's Drink a Coffee!

Many of beginner designers start entering contest with an unrealistic sense of self-esteem, heightened ambitions and motivation.

This is absolutely good! However, within the first hours, submissions and ratings, the first tank of these inner energies will go empty relatively fast. Now, procrastination would refer to other activities we go into instead of focusing on how to win contest holder's appreciation.

Common fears: the Triad of imaginative failures


Submissions of 99designs can be rated ranging from a score of 1 (or one star) to the dream of five stars.

The first sumbissions are always of critical importance. Basically, if your first work is being rated, you get a synthetic overview of your understanding related to the design brief and last but not least, you get an idea of the quality of your work.
The worst score can be a debilitating experience. In case you get a one star rating, every single idea and personal approach of your work break into pieces.

"Design #1 for John Doe has been eliminated"

Well, this is another freezing emotion. Your submission can be eliminated. The worst scenario is when you don't even get a feedback response to your work.

XY Josh is your competitor, and he has submitted a 4 star design

You have to understand that you are not the only one designer on the field. Unfortunately there are cases when you work really hard, you even achieve a 3 star rating to your work and suddenly a competitor steals your probabilites by submitting a 4 or 5 star design.


The Solution

What can we do if we are unlucky with our 99designs 'adventure'?
Here is a list of the main points we should follow before and after submitting our work.


Whether the design brief is unclear or there is not enough information available, we should create a relationship with the contest holder. Ask everything that will make your participation comfortable. Open your ways, request your priorities, you have the right to do this!

What about the contest holder? What kind of impression will be generated? The answer is simple, there is a great probability that contest holder will answer and pay more attention to your submissions.

Be the first!

Indeed, being the first designer submitting work will certainly attract the attention. Be aware not to waste your time, at any time another designer can enter the contest thus making you nervous and your work harder.

Do not create masterpieces at all costs!

First submission or not, always be sure to engage in prototyping! By this method, you save a lot of time and energy. If you have a concrete idea, it is better to show a preview to contest holder rather than working hours on a single logo while assuming that your idea is the best. Believe it or not, a lot of contest holders know their responsibilities and they also offer a suitable environment for quality work and guaranteed compensation. An openness to cooperation, 1on1 work is often present!

Save your work: Create templates!

If you don't succeed in a contest save your work, it may be useful in future occasions. With this attitude you give value to your work, you save a lot of time and energy and regain some confidence with yourself. Templates can be useful for further quality of your work. Let's see the example of a logo contest.

The host rated your design giving you a score of two stars. Unfortunately you don't become a finalist. However, when the contest ends, you start browsing entris of your competitors with higher scores. You will find a lot of more complex submissions with additional features presented such as a table view of a business card with the logo idea on, different color schemes and textures. All of them are great and inspirational ways to show your abilities! In case you haven't tried this style, it's time to give it a try. Create templates according to your taste, it will be much better!

Facilitate your workflow with two helpful tools:

  • Colorschemedesigner is an online and free tool for useful, elegant and visually pleasing combination of colors. The options are enough to deliver quality work, feel free to use it!
  • Balsamiq is an innovative tool for designing of mockups or sketches. If you prefer web design and you prefer saving a lot of A4 papers and ink, balsamiq is a great choice.


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