An Open Letter to 99designs

Hey Crew At 99designs,

I’m a fan of your work.  Your site, sitepoint, is a great resource to designers around the world.

Over the last year, slowly, you have been dragged into the spec work conversation.

I don’t think you want to be here.  I really don’t.  I don’t see you as a middle man trying to make a cheap buck, I think you really care about the design ecosystem.  With that, I want to challenge you to change your model.  With the following steps, I see you as being a shining becon of best practices.

1) Become The Middleman

During the panel at SXSWi this year, you said that 50% of your projects lead to follow on projects with the designer and client.

Simply put, I think this is your model.

The problem you are solving is connecting designers and clients at an agreed on pricepoint.  The client really doesn’t want 99% of the people working on their branding to go unpaid, they just want to find the one designer that will rock the project.

Like you do now, handle the legal and escrow.  When someone wants to hire a designer, let them turn to you and your network of designers.

2) Portfolio Matchmaking

The main pain point of finding a new designer is finding a style you like and imagining what they can do for your project.  Why don’t you provide a portfolio hosting service with the ability for clients to request work right there?

3) Set Pricing Guidelines

This is an amazing opprotunity, really find out what it costs hourly to work on different types of branding projects.  Make suggestions ie. “vector design generally is very tough, please bid in the $40-$90/hr range).”  Track what is being offered, what is being paid and take satisfaction surveys.  See what the pricepoint for quality work is.

4) Abolish Paid Contests

Your paid contests really started off with great intention.  Now they are getting mud slinged with other companies just trying to profit off of the faddish thought of ‘community.’  I’ve outlined before on this blog why I think this style is both short sighted but also creates a bunch of people with motives to create negitive content around your brand.

Abolish the ‘contests’ you have on your site.  If your problem is truly as I stated it above, then your current solution is just a short term fix.  Get rid of them.  Replace them with the older ‘just for fun and skill’ roots.  Consider doing nonprofit work or try to solve a problem that isn’t getting attention.


Perhaps a client can request a sketch from the designer (or 10 designers) agreeing to pay them $100 to kick off the discussion.  Suggests they put some quality time in, and in turn, they can see the designs, and beginning process of the designers.  They can set a price during this process, and the escrot would be set up by you (taking the middle man fee, of course).  Act as the software project management, and make sure deadlines are being met and both sides are happy.

The point of this post?  I think you can be so much more.

I see this as a drastic change from what your company currently does, and in the end, will result in you taking the lead and never looking back in this field.  The room at SXSW had some pretty strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

If you tweak your model, everyone in that room, and in all sides of this debate will become a fan.

And I want to see that.

If I can help in any way, I would love to.


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