This is a guest post from a recent client, Jason Grey of AeroSphere. The views of the author are his own and have not been altered by 99designs. Please note: At the time AeroSphere ran its t-shirt design contest, the top-tier package offered by 99designs was Gold. 99designs recently updated its contest-package tiers, and the language in this post has been changed from Gold to Platinum to reflect the appropriate service.


Our Cape Town-based aviation clothing brand, AeroSphere, recently launched its first t-shirt design competition with 99designs (see the contest designs and results here), and as a first-time customer we really didn’t know what to expect. Sure, we knew how the site worked and had tracked quite a few competitions from launch to winner selection, but doing it ourselves felt somehow different. After we posted our brief and the first few designs started rolling in, it was as though a curtain had been pulled back and we’d been transported to the engine room of a massive design vessel. Very suddenly we were directly responsible for either reaching the destination or hitting a virtual iceberg and joining other noobs in Davy Jones’ locker.

Thankfully, we not only made it to Design Paradise Island, but we found buried treasure as well! Needless to say, we’re some extremely happy Pirates right now, and we’re planning many more contests with 99designs and our newly formed band of extraordinary crew members. Before we head back to the beach house for more celebratory drinks, we thought we’d share why our competition was worth its weight in platinum.

AeroSphere T-Shirt Contest Winner

Winning design by GRAPHELLS

1: Go platinum

We treat our brand, just as many great companies do, with seemingly paternal fondness, and that’s why we wouldn’t let our brand just go and “play” unsupervised. If AeroSphere was going to be spending the night at a friend’s house, we wanted to know everything there was to know about that kid and their parents. 99designs had done all background checks for us when we committed to a Platinum contest (aka Gold contests), by locking the competition for entries only by approved Top Level designers. We knew our brand was going to come home safe and happy.

2: Be specific in your design brief

Remember, you’ve now got Rembrandts and Picassos out there turning the heat up on your design concept. You don’t have to be shy, because these glistening folks are professionals and used to dealing with demanding clients. Tell them exactly what you’re looking for, and give them examples. The more the merrier, and in the 99designs framework, it’s as easy as click and post. Now don’t go all War and Peace on them, or by the time they’re finished reading your masterpiece, the contest will have ended and you’ll be left wondering what just didn’t happen.

3: Feedback

Top Level designers are like supermodels. They stick around as long as you keep telling them how gorgeous they are, but if you go quiet, your competition will look like a swimsuit fashion ramp in Siberia. We committed to feedback on every design that came in, and by day two and after nearly 100 submitted designs, we found this to be quite a chore, but an incredibly necessary one. When NASA launched Neil Armstrong to the moon on that historic day, they didn’t get the trajectory right the first time. It took thousands of minute course corrections, but the end result was a giant leap for mankind. If you want a design worth going to the moon for, you’re going to need to put in those course corrections.

4: Guarantee the prize

Nothing says, “I’m committed to this relationship,” like a big, sparkly diamond. Not the one on the other side of the glass at the mall, but the one that’s sitting snug on your betrothed’s finger. We knew by day two that there were designs of such quality we were going to be happy to award a winner, but guaranteeing the prize attracted more designers, including those who until then had just been circling the boat. That was a welcome surprise.

5: Go over and say hi

My Nan, in her delightful wisdom, always reminds me, “Faint heart never won fair maiden,” and so by just posting a brief and sitting back you’re sure to get some great designers. But sometimes that really fair maiden needs to have her castle stormed by a brave night. Not that we’re saying were knights, ok wait, maybe we are. That aside, these Top Level designers can be found in quite a few ways, but with your account comes one more piece of platinum…

6: “My PA will handle that!”

It’s the line you’ve worked so hard in your career to be able to say. When you “Go for platinum” with 99designs, the company gives you a personal account manager for the duration of your contest, and you don’t even have to have your name on your parking spot to earn it. Once your account manager has made contact, they’ll give you a linkable list to some of the best Top Level designer’s portfolios, and you can quickly see who is most likely to meet the skill standards of the contest you’re running. Your Platinum account manager is also the go to person for any concerns you may have. Then it’s back to the Knight thing, just click and invite those “maiden designers” to your contest. They love that…

7: Stars in your eyes

“You shouldn’t judge” is the defensive line you’ll hear when the going gets tough. A funnier oxymoron of a comment you’ll never hear: “Don’t judge if I should judge or not…” But in this game, what you think comes easily is actually the hardest part of all. You’re going to find yourself up late at night staring at some seriously outstanding designs and trying hard to figure out which one is the best and why. Our only advice here, and what we did, was this: judge based on the brief, be honest with the designers, and take your time. You’ll know when you know, because the force will be strong with the right one.

We hope you have as much fun and success as we did on 99designs – and we want to give a quick shout out to the outstanding talents who submitted designs for our contest. We love you guys.