I'm starting out as a freelance designer (and no job experience at any company before) and I decided to join "contests" held by freelancer.com's users.

I've joined several of them already and I can tell that my designs are really good, I read what the client wants and doesn't want, etc... But instead my designs end up getting rejected or having only 2 stars and 1 star.

My head really hurts right now as I spent hours crafting it with all my heart and it end up getting beaten up by some crappy designs.

Thanks for sticking with me so far and sorry for making you read my rantings, and also for saying others' designs are bad, but I just can't accept that my designs got beaten up by crappy designs.

Have you guys gone through this before? What advice would you give me? Any response would be really appreciated. Thank you :)

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    i have been wasting my life on 99designs, and have yet to win once. I have improved since but damn i have entered like 200 contests which is so annoying. Anyway you spent 1st 3 days Contest holder figuring out what he wants is actually very different from brief, last 2 days liking something copy and paste and then just choosing something inappropriate. It seems to me biz owners are like 2nd worst ppl chose a contest. Someone else who expertise in market/psychology/art/ThatBiz should choose the best logo not owner.
    – user8795
    Jan 1, 2013 at 22:45
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    @MuhammadUmer 200 contests? At which point do you realize that's not a winning business plan. ;)
    – DA01
    Jan 2, 2013 at 22:52
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    @MuhammadUmer wow, you're a persistent one lol
    – siaooo
    Jan 4, 2013 at 0:36
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    FWIW, what you put in your portfolio doesn't have to be 'winning contest entries'. In fact, I'd argue contest entry logos might be a detriment (much of the industry frowns upon them). Instead, I'd simply put in the logos you feel are your best work and treat them as 'practice' or 'student' type examples.
    – DA01
    Jan 4, 2013 at 2:00
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    People do not know what they want until they see it. That is why spec work rarely does a good job: the client gives a brief but does not stick to it when they get a pile of options.
    – benteh
    May 24, 2014 at 12:33

4 Answers 4


On the point of contests in general, on top of what Farray's said I'll just add, do the maths: $490 prize for one person out of 1,109 entrants? Assuming all designs took just two hours on average and people keep at it as long as it takes until they finally win something, that'd give the designers participating in this system an average wage of 22 cents an hour. I imagine you probably spent longer on yours, so it's probably even lower for you. That's exploitation. Your time is worth more than that, and that's clearly no way to pay the bills.

enter image description here

(from http://freelanceswitch.com/freelance-freedom/freelance-freedom-158/)

There's an actual campaign, No Spec, against spec work (including exploitative contests) like this.

There are better ways to gain practical experience early in your design career. Anything that doesn't involve real direct feedback from a real human with a real mutual understanding of your real shared goal is like practising archery blindfolded.

Edit: Since writing this, I did actually meet one guy who had not bad experiences of these kind of contests (first ever) - but not in the way most people who enter them are hoping.

He works in interior design, and occasionally enters logo / web design contests because it's a no-risk, no-commitment way to keep his unused graphics skills slightly fresher. He prefers it to pro-bono work as there's no risk or commitment, and he prefers it to self-initiated work as, after a tiring day on his regular job, he's more likely to actually knuckle down if there's a convenient list of near-random briefs to idly choose from and actual deadlines to make it happen.

He's an exception that proves the rule. Like him, never enter competitions like these expecting to make any money, and never expect any meaningful or useful feedback. Use them only if you want an easy, lazy, no risk way to keep certain skills in practice, and if you're not realistically going to get around to doing higher-effort but more rewarding things like pro-bono and self-initiated projects.

As for the question of why your design didn't go down well, here's one concrete issue with why your actual submitted design probably didn't go down well:

I personally quite like it, it's got some character, it's fairly memorable, original and intriguing (a few critiques below). This is probably a big part of the reason why it didn't work out: it very effectively communicates a personality, but when the "client" is someone you've never met who's disinterested in the logo design process to the point of using a contest instead of actually working with someone, what's the chances of it by luck matching the specific personality of this company/guy you've never met?

If they wanted something challenging, innovative or high quality, they'd have chosen a designer and worked with them in a proper process. They went with a contest because they probably don't care very much and just want something (anything) that looks professionally produced, so they probably went with something very ordinary.

The following are more passing comments than part of an answer, but I'll throw them in anyway:

  • Minor tip: the moustache looks a little bit high relative to its size and the size of the hat
  • There's no real stylistic relationship between the "ecilipse" backdrop and the chef image. At first I didn't even realise the eclipse thing was part of the logo, I thought it was a separate presentational device and only realised it was part of the logo when I realised it was an eclipse. There should be some correspondence that ties them together as being part of one unit - for example, the stark white with non-perfectly-circular edges style that exists in the logo could work for an eclipse.
  • There's also not much correspondence between the text and the central image (the fact it seems you weren't satisfied with any one of the placements of the text, and the fact it seems to work as well as part of the image as it does as something wholly separate floating outside it, is always a good warning flag that something needs re-thinking). The typography doesn't feel like it's adding much to the image, and the earnest serious sci-fi/space character of the type feels like a clash with the slightly cool cheeky understated character of the cartoon
  • Book recommendation: Really good logos explained, it's a panel of designers giving good quality critiques and comments on a bunch of decent, realistic quality logos. Full of valuable practical insights.
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    "At first I didn't even realise the eclipse thing was part of the logo, I thought it was a separate presentational device and only realised it was part of the logo when I realised it was an eclipse." I didn't even realize it until I read you saying it here.
    – Joe Z.
    Jan 4, 2013 at 16:49

I've joined several of them already

You've joined several already and haven't made any money ... that should be your first giant "red flag" about the "contest" process as a source of income.

I can tell that my designs are really good

At the end of the day, if you're designing as a source of income, it doesn't matter if you think your designs are really good - what matters most is that the client's expectations are met. This requires communication.

I read what the client wants and doesn't want,

Reading a spec sheet will never be a true substitute for open dialog. Oftentimes during the design process, you will need to examine and refine what the client really wants. Sometimes you will find that what they really want is not at all what you would have assumed by reading their original proposal language.

What advice would you give me?

Do not participate in contests. Pure and simple.

The bottom line is, your question is really one that should be asked of the client, not some random designers. No one can definitively answer for why a third party chose another design over yours. Unfortunately your work was done through a format that doesn't provide this communication channel.

There are more detailed posts about the pros and cons of design contests at this question:
Are logo design contests considered "spec" work and what are the pros and cons of participating as a designer?


I missed this question when it was posted. Some good answers already!

I'll try to add a short one:

The reason design contests typically fail for both those commissioning it and those participating in it is because it's not real design.

A real design project isn't about giving a client what they think they want, but rather it's about working with the client to determine what the needs of their business are, and how best your design can meet those needs.

In a design contest, the formal relationship between the client and the designer is rarely, if ever, there.

As such, design contests are just attempts at creating random decoration.

Avoid design contests altogether...whether you are the designer, or the client, they are bad all around. The only 'winner' is the web site that hosts and gets their cut.


Material costs

Graphic Design is a professional service industry. You would never build a house for free when you're learning framing because there are material costs involved. You wouldn't open a clothing store and sell your merch under cost either. The beauty of our industry is that material costs and inventory are virtually non-existent. We provide a service as a means to a product.

Our only real limitation is the number of hours in the day. If you have the equipment and you aren't using those hours you're just throwing them away. If you don't have anything better to do, why not blow a few hours on another project? You could also be working on business development or training yourself in some new skill. You're an adult now: Weigh the costs and do what makes sense.

It's all about experience

Never lose sight of your goals: Learn, have fun, and earn money. You can't expect to win killer clients and make big bucks when you're starting out. When you're young and willing to live on next to nothing, you have a low standard of living expectation anyway ;)

Some people choose to gain their experience in school. They shell out thousands to participate in something not all that different from a logo contest. And the criticism a professor provides isn't always that much more helpful than a bad client. Sometimes it's worse because it's based on an ideal not business. (Don't get me wrong, University was one of the most important times in my development as a designer)

Just make sure you pay the bills

If you're trying to gather experience designing in response to a creative brief, there are no wrong answers. Get out there and start designing things for anyone that will have you. You only have to make enough money to survive until the next job.

As long as you're adding things to your portfolio that you're proud of, you're on the right road. Just be ready to have your ego stomped on by dimwits. Once you have an awesome portfolio to show for your efforts and lots of reality behind you, you can start snubbing contests and bad clients and things you don't like to do. Then you can be a super star!

  • Just an aside, while we may not have material costs, we certainly have costs. (one problem with design contests is a lot of the people you compete with are likely using pirated software, fonts and the like so it makes it even more detrimental to the industry)
    – DA01
    Jan 4, 2013 at 2:01
  • And regarding the school...there are certainly bad schools (diploma mills) but a respected design school is an infinitely better place to learn the trade than logo design competitions.
    – DA01
    Jan 4, 2013 at 2:02
  • Don't misunderstand me: schools are fine, I just happen to think they're a little overrated at this point in history. Most people I know have learned more being in the market than they ever got out of education. Myself included. I wouldn't trade my education, I just don't think it's a prerequisite for success. Jan 4, 2013 at 2:47
  • definitely not a prerequisite. I agree. But definitely a great place to get a very solid foundation (and, whether we like it or not, a lot of design and ad agencies still expect a degree).
    – DA01
    Jan 4, 2013 at 4:23
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    I agree. For a freelancer, everything depends on the portfolio.
    – DA01
    Jan 4, 2013 at 20:50

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