The Worst Design Advice Ever

“Start by doing a free logo for my startup. Think of the exposure!” Exposure doesn’t pay bills.

“Make my logo look like (company name) and just change up a few things.” Okay, sure. Where do I sign up for the free lawsuit?

“After all your revisions, we like the original the most but still aren’t happy with it. Can we rethink the final price?”

Okay, okay. The last one wasn’t necessarily advice, just a stupid ass question. It’s like saying, “Hey, thanks for being my lawyer but you lost my case. Can we forget about our previous agreement and I pay you less because this situation sort of sucks for me?” Hell no; I worked my butt off for you. The more eloquent response and what I actually said was, “Unfortunately, I don't renegotiate after I've spent time on the project.”

Now, the worst advice I’ve ever received is to get my career started as a designer on 99Designs. What that statement actually equates to is, “Go spend 53 hours on designing things that you most likely won’t be paid for. Also, it’s great because you don’t have to deal with the mess of copyright transfer; the client can see your design and copy it if they want! It’s especially amazing because all designers are introverts and you don’t have to talk to anyone!”

Selling the idea pretty well, aren’t I?


In an article I recently read, a 99Designs customer was interested in getting a logo designed. They paid $499 for the service and had 489 logos submitted to the contest from 113 different designers.

Did you get that? 489 logos for $499 is $1.02 per logo. $1.02 per logo.

Give me a second while I pick up this table I just flipped...

Hold up a second, don’t you realize that some of those logos are simply the same design but with different colors? Okay, cool. I get that. If there were 489 logos from 10 designers, I might say that that situation isn’t as bad and they can take the liberty to do however many variations they want to be the winner. The problem is that’s not the case.

worst advice

The Worst Design Advice Ever

Here, 113 different people with 489 entries competed for a prize of around $350 (99Designs doesn’t explicitly state how much they take) just hoping that they would be lucky enough to understand the client’s brief and be declared the winner.

112 of the 113 designers absolutely wasted their time with no pay off other than lower self-esteem, a crappy 5-star rating system, and the possibility of comments for feedback.

Want to know the worst part of it all? The contest holder said, “113 designers created 489 different logos for me. Frankly, that’s too many. With all of those choices it’s harder to select a winner than if a designer just presented you with three good designs to choose from.” Check out this NY Times article about a study of how too many choices can lead us to be less satisfied.

In the end, the 99Designs customer was pleased with their logo but realized that 489 options was way too many to choose from and a dedicated designer that provides just 3 concepts would have been a better route. Or so he said...

When asked if he would do the contest again, he replied, “I think I’d do it again.” No lesson learned there.


Steve from the comments section of the article says, “Most 'designers' on 99designs are fighting for money with dishonest techniques like stealing logos, using stock images and flagging other designs. They are mostly people from poor countries and as such, $200 commission means a lot for them. Who else would spend hours crafting a logo and have big chances of getting rejected? Certainly not a professional logo designer!”

A 99Designs customer doesn’t know where these designs come from and have to trust the designer when they claim the design is their own. 99Designs customer support offers the following advice:

  1. Listen to your designers. They’re the experts! Essentially, take their word for it.

  2. Search for similar designs. Good advice!

  3. Ask them if their designs are legit. Yeah, because that’s going to work.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

For some more perspective, on, there are more 1 star reviews of 99Designs than 2, 3, 4, and 5-star reviews combined. Below are some of those reviews:

“Poor pool of designers. I recommend using a professional agency that can cater to your taste and style. The designers here are not worth the money and most importantly the time!”
“I had expressed my concerns that designs were not useable. Expensive especially since I got nothing out of it. They locked all the designs as I was not able to chose a "winner". None were good enough to be useable at a company level.”
“...I did not and will not be getting what I wanted and paid for on this site. Very sad, but true. Now I am out $400 and have to start all over again.”
“I got just over 50 designs back, some within minutes of posting (first red flag). Out of which, only 2 had bothered to read the brief. Dozens comprised of people simply typing the company name out in a very bad free font, and sending it back as if that was real design or effort.”
“It's a minefield. You might get a cheap logo, but god only knows what awaits down the line if you've (your designer) has infringed copyright law.”

Many of these designers are going to be people who are using pre-made logos or icons who skim a brief and then add the company name to the design. It’s simple, easy, and only effective for those trying to make a quick buck while not giving two shits about the brand they are creating for the client.

It’s easy to put out a logo with your company name and claim something as abstract because abstract doesn’t always require an explanation.


Of course, all of this leads the most important part of any design job which is almost completely negated by the 99Design business model.

The designer-client relationship is hands-down the most critical part of the design process. Outside of 99Designs, the initial meeting involves everything from getting to know the owner’s personality and background to anything under the sun the client wants you to know. Within that conversation are endless questions the designer can ask to better know the brand.

This doesn’t happen in the 99Designs business model. You’re given a brief that 99Designs made and the contest holder hopefully put a bit of time and introspection into. Even then, there is not much to take away from the brief when it is made to be a streamlined process of minimal communication filled with sliders and other UX to make the client feel comfortable.

I don’t want a comfortable client. I want a client to squirm when I ask them questions that they don’t know the answer to.

Why? Because it gets them thinking of what they want their brand to be portrayed as.



Essentially, 99Designs is screwing over the design industry by labeling the job of creative professionals as something that can be accomplished with little money and little conversation.

@@Spec work has no place in the design community and especially nowhere near anyone who deems themselves professional.@@

Billy from the comments section of the article sums up how I feel by saying, “Isn’t this totally unethical? Would you have a restaurant make you every dish on its menu, try them all and then only pay for your favorite one? Sounds like exploitation to me.” Damn right, Billy. Though, it’s more of a voluntary exploitation on the designers part. Either way, it’s baiting people to send in designs for a chance at the money while cheapening the profession for others.


What’s the worst advice you’ve ever heard? Let’s talk.



American Institute of Graphic Arts’ (AIGA) position on spec work

No Spec

Spec Work Design Contests: Tragedy of The Commons

Logo Design Contests