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I'm a web dev since a decade now, but my design skills are... well, are the designs skills of a programmer! Anyway, I've been working on a personal project for some time now and I would like some advice on what I should do with the design of the website? Hire a pro or use 99designs (or website like that). Plus, what are the costs of the pros VS 99 designs?
I have no logo and no design. Anybody have any experience with this?

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3 Answers 3

@Lèse majesté has a lot of valid reasons why you should hire a professional designer.

Another alternative is to collaborate with a (or a few) friend(s) who is a designer - I think this way, communication will be better.

Another option is theme forest which has some really good web templates whether html/css or wordpress themes (if you use wordpress). I find a lot of designs at 99designs or crowdspring of low quality.

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If you have any aspirations for being a successful freelancer or starting your own business, I'd personally use the opportunity to "audition" graphic designers for future work. There's no better resource to have around than a good designer you can call on a moment's notice.

Disclaimer--I was a designer prior to being a developer (am now UI developer) The main difference for me between crowd sourcing and using a pro is that there's a level of communication that's lost in crowd sourcing. Its the reason that canned templates just don't make a GREAT website--they weren't purpose built. Sure, you can modify based on the theme given...but then, what are you paying for, really? Also, maybe this won't happen with your personal site, but there's a tremendous amount of flux in design and the web process--no matter how bulletproof your requirements documents or wireframes are, things change....often, they change a LOT. Now what? Can you reliably count on the low-ball offer at 99 designs to quickly and cost-effectively change to fit your needs? Did they properly layer and design for elements such as navigation and content? That alone could cost you hours worth of extra work in the cutup phase. If they give you poorly formatted html and CSS, you could REALLY be in for extra work.

Great design STARTS with a designer. I take mine to all my client planning meetings because they help shape the wireframes that lead to the final requirements. Who knows better than them what "works" with design? And, let's face it, clients don't care how great your code is--they care how easy it is to work with. Code only matters to a client when it doesn't work....

Good luck.

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Good point about changing requirements. The short time frame on sites like 99designs is definitely a huge disadvantage for some projects. However, for logos and other types of design, it's less of an issue. I would recommend hiring a novice designer who can work with Photoshop and do basic layouts (or learn to do it yourself), and just shop out the creation of the logo, original artwork, and layout elements. This is what a lot of magazine publishers and record labels do. –  Lèse majesté Sep 10 '10 at 16:59
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As a professional graphic designer I should encourage people to hire professional designers, and there are certainly* advantages to that. First off:

  • You are dealing with an actual person/people rather than a website that mediates all interactions between you and the designer(s). I personally dislike phone calls and prefer e-mail, but sometimes a phone call or face-to-face meeting is just the best way to communicate quickly and efficiently with a client (at least at the early stages of a project)
  • You are restricted (at least in the case of 99designs) to running specific contest-types and have less freedom to contract custom design packages. Brand identity is more than just a logo or a business card, and being able to work with a single designer to create your entire brand strategy is a huge advantage. Plus, you can build a relationship and rapport with the designer or design firm. This yields opportunities for further collaboration with a designer that is familiar with your business needs.
  • You are working with quite a different level of designer. The majority of crowd-sourcing designers are not experienced or professionally trained.

*That said, there are some major caveats to the above:

  • Graphic design is not easy to comparison shop for for most clients.
    • Design quality is not easily quantifiable, so it's hard for clients to look at 2 designs and 2 rates and determine which is the better value.
    • Most clients don't have the connections or knowledge to find a large pool of designers to compare. Instead, most just look at the 2-3 local designers in their area or go with the first designer they come across (usually sticking with them forever).
    • Graphic design, especially web design, is an over-saturated market full of under-qualified and untalented "professionals" who've simply taken a Photoshop class at their local JC and then decided they want to be a designer because it's easy money.
  • As a corollary of the above, design success has more to do with connections than ability. Most clients have very low standards/expectations (for the above reasons). So almost any designer will be received with open arms and recommended to other business owners. So going on professional reputation will almost guarantee overpaying for a mediocre design.
  • Crowd-sourcing therefore lets you cast a wider net and not be restricted by your geographical location. This may not be an issue if you live in San Francisco where there are artsy/creative people everywhere, but if you live in an average suburb or small city, you will almost certainly want to look elsewhere for design talent.
  • Because professional reputation means very little in most cases, it's almost better to crowd-source young high school or college students who don't have the ego to charge you $100/hr for a simple logo design. And crowd-sourcing by nature eliminates any personal bias based on age/gender/social skills/experience. All you really have to go on are results.
  • If you really need the one-on-one attention of a human-being, you can always swap numbers with the designer(s) you find on a crowd-sourcing site. But chances are, you can give them the necessary feedback over the web.
  • It is almost better for the client to have minimal involvement/delayed feedback when it comes to design work. You're hiring a good designer mainly for their aesthetic eye, not just their ability to use a graphics program. Let them do their thing and pump out a set of designs for you to choose from, then through repetition you can refine the design until it's something you're both happy with. Clients who get too hands-on often preclude a good design. It's like having a concert attendee direct an orchestra, or making the designer work with one hand tied behind his back.

So as a designer, I prefer clients not to crowd source their design work. But as a consultant, I have to acknowledge that crowd sourcing makes the most business and financial sense in 95% of the cases for small to medium-sized businesses.

However, if you have greater business aspirations (i.e. you want to become a 37Signals or YouTube instead of just a moderately successful web company, or you want to attract enterprise level clients to your business rather than just small accounts), then you will need to think bigger. Then it might make sense to shell out a little more and hire a professional brand consultant, as branding is a major component of a comprehensive marketing strategy. But this only applies to that rare 5%.

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+1 for a very detailed and answer. –  Jiew Meng Sep 10 '10 at 6:43
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+1 for honesty as a consultant (even if that means debunking some of the things commonly heard from designers) –  danlefree Sep 11 '10 at 0:20
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