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Early in my career as an entrepreneur, I learned about the need for a professional presence and brand identity. But as a frugal writer with limited visual skills, I resisted getting a logo designed for my website.
More recently, the need for a visual representation of my website’s concept became more apparent and more urgent, so I decided to commission a logo design for Working to Live Differently. After reviewing recommendations from a trusted colleague, I decided to try 99Designs. This company facilitates the development and delivery of graphic designs for logos as well as websites, apparel, e-book covers, and more.
Outsourcing a logo design was fun, fascinating, frustrating, and, ultimately, fulfilling. Working directly with designers to translate my vision into a graphic design was a new challenge for me. But I learned valuable management lessons from this experience:
A straightforward process for interacting with a vendor is desirable for customers
99Designs appealed to me for many reasons. First, I could get a decent design for a reasonable price. But more importantly, the company offered a clear process for controlling all project phases from specifying design requirements to receiving a finished product.
Though I would have liked to engage a local graphic designer, I was unsure about the sourcing process and feared that I could not compensate the designer fairly. My lack of knowledge could easily annoy and frustrate a designer. So, I opted for a straightforward method offered by 99Designs.
Fast methods are efficient but can be ineffective
When I started investigating design options through 99Designs, I discovered that I could purchase a prefab design for just $99. Using this method, I could select a logo, get basic customizations, and walk out of the virtual logo store with a branded presence within 24 hours.
But the details stopped me from choosing this route. Yes, I could get a customized design for $99 in one day. But to get an exclusive design that no one else could use, I would have to pay an extra $199, bringing my total to $298 (just one dollar less than a fully customized and exclusive design).
(Note: If you are in a hurry for a design and/or don’t need exclusivity, then the premade logo may be a great option. For example, you might want a clever logo to put on flyers, invitations, and t-shirts for a one-time local event, making this a time- and cost-effective choice.)
Paying more does not always mean receiving better value
After ruling out the purchase of a premade logo, I decided to hold a design contest. Basically, I sponsor a design contest; designers submit logos for my review, feedback, and selection; and I choose the winning design.
There are multiple tiers of design expertise available at various price points. Selecting the right price is meant to attract the right types of designers at these levels:
- bronze, $299
- silver, $499
- gold, $799
- platinum, $1,199
At each tier, buyers are promised increasingly skilled designers and 30 to 90 designs for consideration.
I perused 99Design’s portfolio of design contests showcasing the winning designs, design brief, number of designs submitted, and the price paid; and concluded that I could get a great design for an entry-level price.
Being clear about what you want is essential to getting what you want
My goal in outsourcing a logo design with 99Designs was to tap the creativity of a graphic designer, who could envision and create a graphical representation of my website’s concept. However, I still needed to provide guidance on my needs and wants.
To communicate my vision, I responded to a series of prompts. From this information, 99Designs created a design brief. For example, I expressed thoughts on my website’s purpose and its audience, my visual style, the values that the logo should convey, and colors most appropriate for my message.
Developing the design brief forced me to consider and convey my goals for the design. It also served as a tool to judge logos submitted in the contest.
Feedback is useful to the motivated
The folks at 99Designs emphasize the need to provide feedback to designers. Active participation by contest holders like me indicated commitment to the project, provided additional insights into design goals, and enabled designers to refine logos for immediate reward and hone their capabilities for long-term benefit.
So, as the designs trickled and then flowed in, I gave frequent feedback, explaining what I loved about a design and offering tips on improvement. In addition, I scored designs on a 5-star scale with ratings such as “has potential,” “good,” and “great.”
Only one or two designers made meaningful improvements to their logos based on my feedback. Many simply created designs based on comments about what I liked (the use of green, growth, and concept of threes) rather than interpreting the design brief into an original logo.
Later, I learned that you can hold private contests in which designers do not see competing designs. In this way, feedback is useful to the motivated person who truly wants to improve and not blindly followed to (falsely) demonstrate compliance by the unmotivated.
Becoming broadly educated enables sound decisions
We often believe that we can simply hire outside expertise to solve many of our business problems. Though outsourcing allows you to leverage strengths rather than bother with certain details, having a working knowledge on various topics allows you to direct, evaluate, and manage outside talent.
For example, I have taken community-college and graduate-level courses on design to compensate for my lack of natural visual capabilities. As a result, I have a rudimentary understanding of effective design. I should not have to study a logo until I understand its message; I should “get it” without thought or hesitation.
The logo design I chose represented precisely what I hoped to communicate: the idea that movement in a purposeful yet playful and childlike way leads to transformation.
Managing a project with check-in points yields better results than viewing the finished product at deadline
Throughout the design contest, I received prompts and messages from the customer service team at 99Designs, advising me on appropriate next steps.
The company guided me through the entire process that included:
- Creating a design brief
- Choosing the level of expertise
- Inviting designers to participate
- Viewing designs submitted
- Providing feedback on designs
- Guaranteeing a winner of the design contest (which I thought I had done when I initiated the contest but involves an additional step)
- Selecting finalists for the final round
- Awarding the prize to the winner of the design contest
Plus, whenever I had questions, the folks at 99Designs responded quickly and pointed me to areas of the website with complete explanations. As a result of the periodic check-ins, I felt comfortable with the design process plus received what I wanted in terms of creativity and logo delivery in specified formats.
Decisions should help your business further its goals, not satisfy your emotions
As I evaluated design proposals and interacted with designers, I felt empathy toward those working speculatively on my behalf. Having toiled for little reward in the past myself, I wanted to reward all those who submitted designs, particularly one of the first designers who seemed to grasp the theme for my website.
I even wrestled with the idea of awarding the prize to multiple designers and purchasing multiple logos, an option offered by 99Designs but requiring similar payment to all designers. My husband discouraged me from buying the two top designs, not because he wanted me to save money but because he felt (rightly) that I should make a firm decision and move forward with that choice.
At some point, I realized that my emotions were too strongly influencing me. Fortunately, I was able to make a decision based on business requirements, not personal feelings. Ultimately, the winning designer not only gave me a great logo but also thanked me for my kindness, showing me that empathy was fine as long as I did not let my emotions take over my decisions.
People will try to take advantage of you, even in situations where you think you have the advantage
When I signed up for 99Designs, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of a design contest in which designers spent hours developing a creative piece for me but did not get paid unless I selected one of their submissions. But it never occurred to me that some of the designers would try to take advantage of me.
After I selected logos for the final round, I received private messages from my top two designers questioning my choices, which included back-up logos if my favorites became unavailable for whatever reason. They both sent me a link to examples of generic designs.
This turn of events was fascinating for a couple of reasons: 1) I was pleased that I had recognized the best of the personalized designs; and 2) I no longer felt guilty about not paying designers for their efforts as many had provided generic logos that cost little time to produce.
99Designs also works to discourage generic logos and awards platinum status to those who routinely submit original designs. Learn more about these generic concepts here: Generic and Common Logo Concepts. Nevertheless, I noticed platinum logos that seemed generic to me. Buyer beware.
Numbers are important but can be misleading
When I reviewed the success stories and testimonials at 99Designs, I noticed that the number of designs submitted for each contest was generally fairly high. For example, customers often received 50 or 60 designs for a flat fee of $299.
Interestingly, in the end, I also received a large number of design submissions. However, there were only a handful that were viable contenders and even some of these were generic designs. Many designers submitted 20-30 very similar designs, which bumped up the numbers.
This made me realize that numbers can often be misleading. Actual engagement of qualified designers was much lower than I expected based on the typical volume of designs. Fortunately, I got what I wanted but I could envision that relying solely on participating numbers could be misleading. In future endeavors, I will pay more attention to the quality of those participants.
One of my goals is to become a better hands-on manager, inspiring, directing, and confronting people as needed. This project reinforced my understanding of my strengths plus pinpointed areas in which I should improve.