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Run a Competition to Find Your Next WordPress Blog Design

Posted By Darren Rowse 31st of July 2009 Blog Design 0 Comments

One of the most common questions I’m asked by readers starting out with blogging is around blog design and how they can get an affordable but unique blog design.

The irony of this is that I’m a self confessed dud when it comes to blog design. These days I hire others to do custom designs for my blog – but of course this doesn’t come cheap.

A recent survey here on ProBlogger showed that 79% of readers here use free themes or design their blogs themselves – but what if you want something more unique and/or don’t have the ability to design a blog or tweak a free theme?

I had all these questions buzzing around in my head recently when I paid a visit to local design marketplace site 99designs. I didn’t expect anything to come out of the conversation but what did come out of it excited me because it could meet a need that I see many of our readers having.

What 99designs have put together is a way to run a competition to have a new WordPress blog design created for your blog for as little as $369.

Now before I go any further – $369 is out of many bloggers leagues – but it is certainly a cheaper option than hiring a designer for $2000-$3000 to do a custom job for you. It’s not going to be for everyone but is sure to be an attractive option for those looking for a mid priced design.

The process to run a competition is simple. Here’s how 99designs describe it:

1. Set your budget and requirements

Tell us your budget and what you want designed, and we will post it on 99designs.com

2. Designers will create designs just for you

Designers from around the world will compete to create the best looking design just for you. Most projects get over 20 different design concepts to choose from. Rate the designers you like, eliminate the ones you don’t like.

3. Choose your favorite design

Pick your favorite design as the winner. Show it off to your friends! The winning design is yours to keep forever.

4. We code and install your theme (optional extra)

Through our partner, Thinktank Media, we’ll have your new WordPress theme up and running on your blog in 5 working days. Our themes are coded on the Sandbox theme, so they’re compatible with both WordPress.org and WordPress.com blogs!

They also have a 100% money back guarantee if you run a competition and don’t find a design that you like.

Keep in mind that what you’re running the competition for is the ‘design’ – to have it coded and/or installed you either need to choose to pay extra for these options or do that part yourself.

I hope those of you looking to find a new design for your WordPress blog find this useful! Check it out here.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. find it greatful, I also find them after great hazzles

  2. At end of the day it is about content, right? Don’t worry so much about the clothing – how’s the body, mind and soul?

  3. Spec work from outfits like 99designs will always appeal to a certain segment of the business world (ie. small businesses and overnight web startups) due to the low cost and multiple submissions to choose from. Designers in North America will never be able to compete with the rock-bottom prices these spec designers from asia, etc aim for.

    That being said, any successful business will soon learn the benefits of local partnerships with a professional design firm that provides ongoing support in the future. While a spec design might be cheap and easy, a growing business manager / owner will find their time being stretched thin, too thin to be constantly going back and forth looking for spec designers or low-bid developers to do one-off jobs and coaching them through what is required.

    A well-run business knows when to pay a real professional to manage their needs, it’s called delegating. Offloading your needs to competent partners to ensure high quality service and consistency over time is a hallmark of good management. If a manager can’t do that, quite frankly they would have been a nightmare to deal with anyway.

  4. This is a sad state of affairs to see a post like this on here…..Just like David said, “disappointing”. It is clear that Spec Work is a boil on the side of the professional design community’s ass that needs to be removed.

    I feel sorry for all of the part time “designers” that waste their time on these contest sites and get nothing in return. All you have to do is look at @specwatch ‘s twitter timeline and you can see exactly what design contests websites involve. http://twitter.com/specwatch

  5. WOW, this post has sure turned into a hot bed of “ideas”

    I will share my short, to the point opinion on this because i do have an opinion on it. I work in the industry but don’t do graphic work so maybe I am from the other side of the fence but I think everyone in here that is whining that this practice devalues the work needs to relax a bit.. You need to remember that someone who is going to pay $300 for a design is not going to be the same person that will pay you $2000 for yours, so your not losing out on anything.. secondly, the designers that participate are there by choice, get over it. thirdly if you don’t like it, don’t participate.

    It’s standard business and economics, if there is a demand there will be someone there to provide for that demand.

    And to the comments about those in “other fields” doing something and only getting paid if the client likes it, well.. thats life.. there are millions of deals every day where people do work and only get paid if their client likes it.. just how it is, architects, sales people, web designers, writers and the list goes on and on and on.

    Bottom line, this site will be there doing this as long as there are people willing to pay $369 for a PSD and a designer is willing to create it for that.. OK, I am done with my rant now lol.

    PS anyone want to do blog design for me for $350.00 get in touch with me, I will have a contest on my own site for this.

  6. I’m not going to reveal my real identity here because I’ve seen designers attacked by other designers for supporting these kinds of competitions but I have no problem with them.

    While in an ideal world we’d all like to make a full time living from design clients who came to us directly and paid us great rates for our work the reality is that life doesn’t work that way.

    Instead most bloggers opt to go with free themes or default themes. If designers want to take a shot at anything that could be devaluing our industry I’d be wanting to target free themes personally.

    I’ve entered such competitions many times and have benefited in many ways from doing so. I’ve won prizes but more importantly I’ve developed lasting and profitable relationships with those I’ve worked with and found new clients who’ve seen what I’ve submitted in competitions.

    I liken entering competitions like these to writing a guest post on another blog. Bloggers who put themselves out there and write posts for ProBlogger and other well known blogs have a chance to showcase what they can do, expose themselves to new audiences and drive traffic to their own sites. Designers who enter these competitions similarly get great exposure which often leads to ongoing work.

    At the start of my business I did more of this kind of thing and I can say that spec work helped me get started and develop a good reputation and healthy client list. These days I still do it on occasion when things are slow but for designers wanting to get their name out there and get into this business I think it’s a legitimate and worthwhile thing to explore.

    For designers who don’t think it’s good – I simply advise to not do it. Vote by ignore it.

    Lastly I’d argue that the majority of people running these competitions are probably people who would not otherwise have gone for a complete customized design. People running these comps would previously have been downloading free themes or at most buying so called ‘premium’ themes. If anything these kinds of competitions bring more bloggers out of ‘free theme’ land and into a place where they consider the kind of work a designer can do – something that’s good for all designers in my mind.

  7. parttime says: 08/01/2009 at 5:45 pm

    A rofessional will not accept spec-work or contests that are unlikely to generate significant payoff via buzz. State your hourly rate, or project cost with 50% to start 50% on completion.

    These things are great for beginner freelancers, amateurs. A professional would walk away, and rather spend her/his time elsewhere.

  8. I support self blog theme designers! Created my own, and I love it even more

  9. 369 is not bad at all. The company I work at being in the marketing portion I am able to trade a design for marketing/seo time. It would be nice though to have a bunch to choose from.


  10. @ Jason from 99designs – Regarding your rationales about why designers participate in 99design contests.

    1) ‘to make money and build a business’. That’s IF they win the contest. The vast majority of designers on 99designs don’t win anything. Accordingly, they don’t build anything either.

    2) ‘To gain experience and practice their skills’. Designers can do that WITHOUT participating in 99designs, and without submitting their work, free of charge, to a service that then sells a service that includes that work for forty bucks and 10% of the contest fee, plus what ever other upgrades and additional charges you manage to extract

    3) ‘To get feedback from clients”. Read the comment sections of your contests. Some of the most common comments are along the lines of “feedback please”, “WTF – no feedback?!!” or variations thereof.

    And while some might be moved by your story about the disabled designers, I’m more inclined to see it as 99designs using disabled designers as human shields to deflect their company from criticism. As my main issue with sites like yours is that designers aren’t getting paid for their work, I might also be inclined to think “wow, 99designs are taking work from disabled designers too, and not paying them either”. Though, that probably doesn’t sound as moving as your statement, something you think is poignant enough to cut-and-paste into the comment sections of several other blogs.

    In terms of the designer who’s using 99designs to keep her business afloat, I might be tempted to view this as a come-on for designers likewise struggling through these difficult times, and a cynical ploy to suggest that working on 99designs is a viable alternative. But even if taken at face value, one or two designers being successful on 99designs does not negate the tens of thousands that aren’t.

    I notice that you’re now using Crowdspring’s rasion deter of designers using 99designs to find clients. Your comment of “as many as 1/4 to 1/2” is so open-ended as to be absolutely worthless (which is it? 1/4 or 1/2?) and is questionable into the bargain.

    Many people run multiple contests for various projects – ie: a logo design contest begets a stationery design contest, which begets a web design project, which begets a brochure contest. And now, they have WordPress blog designs to choose from as well.

    I don’t blame you – that’s an effective use of 99designs if one believes in the concept, and from your POV as a business – but it might suggest that happy contest holders are more likely to hold another contest than utilize the services of their winning designer. After all, isn’t 99designs about NOT hiring individual designers because of the “expense”, “risks” and “lack of choices”? And once they’ve held a presumably successful contest, they are going to ignore everything that drew them to your site in the first place, in order to obtain artwork in a manner that 99designs repeatedly tells them is inefficient, expensive and restrictive in creative latitude?I find that hard to believe.

    “Obviously…this is a very interesting discussion…but the bottom line is 99designs.com provides opportunity.”

    It is an interesting discussion but that’s YOUR bottom line Jason, not THE bottom line.

  11. In response to BJ,

    GAHHH!!! **Atacks BJ with Photoshop slice tool**.

    Actually it is kind of sad when the design community is split to the point of aggression. I hope the sarcasm was read in my first comment and not come off as aggression, maybe one two many exclamation points? LOL.

    This is obviously a hair trigger topic, but information is the best weapon of choice I feel for this topic. For me it’s not so much the doing work for free, because if that was the determining factor you also have to agree that Pro Bono work or charity work falls in this category.

    It’s the stigma of it all, you read stories of people getting into legal battles that have there root in design contests because someone ripped another design, then best case the ‘artist’ or company gets it for using ripped art; worst case the blame falls back on the true original artist.

    Then oh my goodness… these forums that the contests actually happen in… it’s nasty. Seriously, the few I’ve read made me feel dirty, like I was watching some adult smut on TV.

    “More more more! yeah I like #’s 3 and 5, # 8 move this over there a bit, yeah that’s it… keep them coming, I’m liking what I see”

    It’s like I’m watching these artists’ creativity get prostituted out (I don’t use another more aggressive and forced word out of respect for the ladies). For real, go look for yourself and you will see that my fake quote up there is pretty close to reality.

    Then to top it all off, 90% of the time the quality quite bluntly sucks… I mean how good can it possibly be when it’s rushed and it has no back end design foundation to stand on? It’s just eye candy (some of which look like literal candy you eat).

  12. its always a good idea to have a competition, will bring you a lot of attention and the visitors like the interactivity.

  13. @Steve

    1. Not necessarily true…while obviously it is great to have your design chosen…there have been many occasions where a designer was not chosen as the official winner…but the project holder later contacted them to purchase some of the work they created for the project.

    2. Yes there are lots of ways designers can get experience…99designs is one of them. There are usually between 350-400 real projects to work on at any given time…that’s real clients…real experience.

    3. True…some project holders are better at giving feedback than others and it is a cause of frustration when a client does not engage. We do proactively reach out to the clients to let them know their feedback responsibilities…and provide a lot of resources to help educate project holders on how to successfully run a project on 99designs.com. It is a work in progress.

    Say what you will about the positive examples that we give…they are true stories and not hard to find. You are absolutely correct that I bring them up because they are poignant.


  14. I love to design but feel my efforts are sub par. However this competition is very interesting to me.

  15. @Robert Anthony – “Speculative work would not fly in ANY other profession, why do people think its okay to do it with creative work?”

    Spec work is a regular part of many other industries. You probably won’t need to think very hard to realise that businesses and professionals in many different industries will deliver pre-sales, high level designs, demos, quotes, and other “spec work” in the pursuit of building customer relationships and winning deals.

    Myself, I turned to 99designs after several designers I approached told me variations of:
    – they don’t do logos (despite their portfolio having logos in it)
    – they aren’t available
    – I probably can’t afford them (without even giving me a quote)

  16. I’m a new blogger so of course I chose a free theme. As my blog gains more exposure and readers, I will definitely need a new, unique, and appealing look. Holding a competition is an efficient and inexpensive way to choosing your designed theme.

  17. Michael says: 08/06/2009 at 10:56 pm

    Here’s a buyer’s perspective…

    I understand the frustration of many in the design community who lament against crowdsourcing. But if I can have hundreds of designers compete to create my logo, website, or stationary, etc…then why wouldn’t I do it?

    Take logo design, for example. The usual routine is to pay anywhere from $500-$1000+ for a logo. You relay your ideas to the designer, based on his or her design intake process. The designer then gives you the “privilege” of having anywhere from 3-5 revisions. Don’t like what you got by your last revision? Pay another couple of hundred bucks to have the concept “re-imagined” while the designer monetizes the experience in a blog post titled something like ,”How To Deal With Clients Who Don’t Know What They Want In A Logo In The First 3-5 Tries.”

    Look around you. Many institutions and professions are being radically changed due to emergent, deflationary, and disruptive technologies such as crowdsourcing, automation, and outsourcing. Its not just designers that are in trouble—lawyers, and doctors such as myself will have to adjust to a rapidly changing technological and economic landscape. Those that adapt successfully to these changes will survive and maybe even flourish, and those that insist that crowdsourcing is wrong will be undercut.

    This represents a fundamental shift in the locus of control with respect to where the design concept resides. Many designers are used to the satisfaction which comes with bringing a client’s idea to life. Crowdsourcing and co-creative technologies take the conceptual reins of power out of the hands of a sole designer or firm, and allow other designers as well as the client him or herself to participate in the process. The cat’s out the bag.

  18. I love to design but feel my efforts are sub par. However this competition is very interesting to me.

  19. Blogging is not easy at all. It requires patience, relevant skills, as well as dedicated work.
    I think, just as in the real life, there are no short cuts to making money in blogging as well. If you see it closely, a lot of principles that apply to other businesses apply to blogging as well.

  20. I’m a new blogger so of course I chose a free theme. As my blog gains more exposure and readers, I will definitely need a new, unique, and appealing look. Holding a competition is an efficient and inexpensive way to choosing your designed theme.

  21. sounds great! Need to remember this. Thanks Darren.. Its really a very infomercial & helpful article for me.. Thanks again..

  22. Take logo design, for example. The usual routine is to pay anywhere from $500-$1000+ for a logo. You relay your ideas to the designer, based on his or her design intake process. The designer then gives you the “privilege” of having anywhere from 3-5 revisions. Don’t like what you got by your last revision? Pay another couple of hundred bucks to have the concept “re-imagined” while the designer monetizes the experience in a blog post titled something like ,”How To Deal With Clients Who Don’t Know What They Want In A Logo In The First 3-5 Tries.”

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