So you need a logo, or a banner, or maybe even something as simple as letterhead or a business card? You need it cheap, and you need it done well. One of the single most frustrating things about running a small business or early-stage startup is knowing how important it is to have effective visuals yet also how little there is to spend on it.
Maybe you’ve tried coming up with something yourself. Maybe you’ve called in a favor from a friend who has an old version of Photoshop or hired a student you found on Craigslist. There are plenty of places you can turn to when your budget is limited and your need is great, and we’ve seen them all. Most of them turn out to be dead ends that waste time and money. If you want great design, at great prices, you can now outsource most design jobs, meaning that the graphic design process is now faster, more affordable, and more reliable than ever…
We’ve tried using a number of graphic design outsourcing or online design services and can tell you what works and what doesn’t. Getting a great design result at a low cost is not always easy. There are definite challenges in using these low cost services. However if you approach it in the right way you can get great results.
NOTE: all prices are quoted at the time of writing, and we do not profit from any of the following recommendations.
With a design contest you post a project and choose an amount for an award. You can get several designers to work on your project and create designs (without receiving any payment). You choose a winner and they receive the award. You can often get up to 100 design alternatives for your project, and and in many cases you don’t need to pay unless you get the design that you are looking for.
A design contest seems like the perfect answer for getting design work done. However there are definite downsides. Most of the designers are either students or from India and other low wage countries. And mostly they are doing these competitions because they can’t get other work. So you can easily end up with 100 designs from perhaps 20 different designers, all of them absolutely terrible. It’s happened to us before. You really need to offer a large prize to attract the best designers. Our experience is that design contest are very good for getting logos designed – if you don’t get a logo you’re 100% happy with, you’ll at least have a range of concepts put in front of you. More involved work (web, UI, etc) can quickly go pear shaped in our experience.
The most popular design contest websites are:
Crowdspring works more like a contest than a traditional worker placement service. When you post a project, you don’t set an hourly or fixed rate—instead you choose an award amount. Graphic design projects start at a $200 award. According to Crowdspring, their postings get an average of 110 responses. In addition to the award, you’ll also pay a listing fee and a 15 percent project fee.
You can give feedback and see revised work as designs come in. After choosing your favorite, you continue to refine the design with the designer until you’re happy with it. If you aren’t completely satisfied with the outcome or don’t get at least 100 responses, Crowdspring’s money-back guarantee refunds everything but the listing fee.
To use DesignCrowd, you post a project, set a deadline, and deposit your project budget. The project is visible to more than 33,000 freelance graphic designers or studios worldwide, and according to DesignCrowd, the average listing gets 50 responses. The minimum project budget is $150, all but $40 of which is protected with a money-back guarantee in case you don’t find a project you’re happy with.
To post a graphic design project on 99designs, you create a brief description of what you want. Designers submit concepts to compete for your prize. You provide feedback and choose a winning submission. The winning designer gets the contest’s award, and you get the copyright to the original artwork.
Prize minimums vary based on the type of work needed, from a minimum of $95 for a Twitter background design to a maximum of $495 for web page design or WordPress theme. As potential contractors respond with proposals, you give them feedback and request changes as needed. Once you’ve selected the one you like best, you can approve the files, download them and send payment.
It’s hard to say which is best amongst these three. Based on our experience, Design Crowd has more Australian based designers, however you have to offer the top level prizes to attract designers from developed countries. 99 designs is the most popular site, and so this has certain advantages (a larger base of designers on the site). We have also tried others such as Hatchwise, but don’t recommend you do the same – the user interface and design of this web site is horrible!
Warning to Freelancers – Good News for Business Owners
99 designs and DesignCrowd have been criticized for encouraging horribly cheap payment and heavy reliance on spec, or speculative, work – when artists or designers put substantial time into a project without any guarantee of payment. 99 designs also transfers copyright for the original artwork to the business.
While some graphic designers may find these sites too much trouble for the profit, others are more than willing to submit proposals on contests. So these sites remain a good bet for business owners who want to get projects done quickly, select from a variety of submissions, and work on a budget.
Project based and hourly work
If you already have a relationship with a great designer there are a lot of advantages in just working with one provider rather than launching a design contest each time you need a new design. Firstly the cost of design contents will add up if you use them for everything. And most importantly, a relationship with a great designer will enable them to know what types of design you want, and deliver designs faster than with a totally new designer. So it’s a great idea to launch a design contest, then pick a winner and perhaps hire the winner on an hourly basis for any further work.
Which is better paying hourly or paying per project? Either method is okay. Generally if you have only a few designs that you need completed, paying on a project basis makes the most sense. On the other hand if you need ongoing work over many months and dozens of different designs, paying hourly is a better arrangement as it becomes difficult to calculate accurately how much each project should cost. Of course you need a good way to monitor and track the hours worked for the designers (Time Doctor, or Odesk are a couple of options).
Other ways that you can find designers for hourly or contract work
Freelancer sites like Odesk, Guru, Freelancer, Elance, Vworker allow you to post your job description and have people from all over the world bid on your jobs. Our experience with these sites quite honestly is that it is extremely difficult to find high quality designers. Most of the designers are from lower wage countries such as India, and to put it frankly their design skills are either very average, or terrible (or simply have a completely different aesthetic). However, there are exceptions. If you spend enough time trying to find a suitable person you can find great people on these sites. It takes a lot of work and time in trialing different people. It is much easier in our experience to find high quality programmers on these sites than to find designers.
eLance lets employers post a job description publicly and review proposals from their qualified contractors, or post one privately and submit it only to workers selected from their directory. While you won’t be getting mock-ups or spec images from the people applying to your project, you do benefit from eLance’s broad userbase and can potentially snag a much more qualified professional who is looking for a quick and easy job.
The site comes with an impressive array of project management features, since it’s set up to handle not only graphic design work but also programming, writing, web design and a lot more. eLance allows you to collaborate with contractors, view works in progress, and manage workers’ time, if you choose to go hourly. Managers with fixed-price projects can set an unlimited number of milestones, each of which requires a status report from the worker.
Each project gets an eLance-hosted “workroom” with a file management system that allows collaborators to share files and leave comments. Entering time sheets, sending invoices and making payments can all be automated.
Employers may list projects for free, and contractors include the eLance fee in their quoted rate. When it comes time to pay for the work rendered, you can make payments using a credit card, Paypal, or ACH transfer from a bank account—you may also choose to make escrow payments through eLance, which pre-funds the work and makes payments when approved.
Posting jobs and interviewing contractors is free on oDesk. The site takes a 10 percent commission from workers’ advertised rates. When you post a description of the work you need done publicly, interested designers will send you their cover letters and resumes. You also have access to their oDesk portfolios, relevant test results and feedback ratings. If you choose to post privately, you can search the database for contractors you’d like to work with and invite them to view your listing.
Like eLance, you can hire at an hourly or fixed rate. The site offers a Work Diary section that lets you view a memo about what a contractor is working on, screen shots six times an hour, and a graph showing their activity level. Hours worked are transferred to a financial report by oDesk automatically.
In addition to graphic design work, oDesk matches businesses and workers for web and software development, writing, customer service, marketing and other projects. You can pay contractors with a credit card – if you plan to spend at least $500 per week, you can apply to pay with checks.
After creating a vWorker account and posting a project, the site’s thousands of contractors can submit their bids. You’ll also get to view their resumes, cover letters, certification, and past employer’s ratings. After you find a designer you like, send escrow payment for a week’s worth of time (or your total project payment) to vWorker and they can begin. Using the site is free when you are posting a job – contractors pay a small transaction fee to participate.
Hourly workers are required to clock in and out, and the site’s AccuTimeCard application takes frequent screenshots and optional webcam shots of their activity. You can be refunded if contractors waste time by taking extra breaks, talking on the phone, playing games or sleeping.
When setting up your payment options, you have the choice of paying a fixed price on completion or milestone payments. You can be refunded if a contractor doesn’t finish the work on time, on budget, and to contract, which the site defines as “100% as described in your contract, and meeting industry-wide expected standards.”
Types of design work to outsource
Logos - In our experience design competitions are a great way of getting logos done.
Simple web site design or layouts- Design competitions are also great for this. If you really don’t have a lot of design requirements you can also go wtih a more simple method such as a pre-made design template (search on Google for design templates).
Complex web sites – Larger websites (more than 20 pages) that need a lot of different elements will likely need a lot of ongoing design work. It’s best to try and find a designer that you can pay on an hourly basis or for the project. On the other hand you can pay them to complete the entire project, however, make sure that you have very clear specifications.
User interface design - One of the most important aspects of designing your site is the usability. When users visit the site, can they navigate the site easily, can they find what they want? Do the forms work effectively, or do users find it difficult to fill them in? If you have a complex site with lots of things that the users need to do on the site, usability is crucial. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find any designer that understands usability, and very difficult to find a low cost designer that understands usability. The best way to get started (if you have a low budget) is to learn about this by yourself and spoon feed the designer. Also you can copy conventions from sites that have multi-million dollar budgets that they spend on usability (Facebook, Linked In, Google etc).
Designing for conversion - Do you want your web site to actually SELL for you? This is an advanced skill that is almost impossible to find in low cost designers (and even in high priced designers!). Again you need to learn about conversion yourself (and direct the designer). Two great web sites with lots of free information on conversion are: marketingsherpa.com and abtests.com
Getting the design brief right
One of the most important factors to getting a good result is writing clear design specifications. 99 designs have some great templates for the sort of information you should cover in your design brief. For example, will your new logo be a word mark, pictorial mark, letter form or might it be based around a character? Will it be feminine, young, playful or loud, simple and modern? A good designer will need to know all of this information before they get started to help them create a relevant design for the target audience. Some examples of existing design you like will also help.
Tip: You should also make sure you designs are delivered in as many formats as possible. For instance, a vector version of your logo (scalable graphics) will be much more useful then a Photoshop document, although both versions might be useful.
Other useful information you should include in your brief
Along with a general description you should also try and clarify or provide the following information for your designer:
1. The title of project
2. How do you want the project delivered? FTP? Dropbox?
3. Due date and any other milestones
4. Any sketches or existing resources you might have, including any relevant market research
5. Any calls to action, headlines, or body copy that needs to be included in the design
Design competitions are a great way to get started, and are fantastic for logo designs for example. If you need more complex ongoing work however you will need to develop a relationship with a designer and pay them per hour or project to create designs for you. You don’t need to spend $10,000 to get a great design for your business, you can get a good result with a much lower budget. If you are looking to hire someone on a more permanent basis, you can also try posting an advertisement on your local job sites, or in design forums like DesignersTalk.
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