Design contests put an army of designers (sometimes tens of thousands) at your disposal - harnessing this many people, naturally, requires thought and effort.  Whether you're a small business with a small budget and a big idea (think 'the new drive-through coffee shop on the highway') or a big brand with a big budget and your own 'campus' (think Google), when you decide to run a design contest, getting the most creativity for your cash deserves your attention.

We've seen hundreds of design contests go through  Most design contests go very well but we see many that, in our opinion, could have gone better and a handful that struggle to get the right outcome. To help our customers extract the most out of our design community and their design contests, we thought we'd share the attributes of successful design contests via our blog.  This post outlines the five core ingredients to a successful design contest and is the first in a series of articles on how to get the most out of your design contest.

-Key 1 - Choose the right task

FOR SMALL BUSINESSES: contests that focus on a single task (such as "logo design" or "homepage design") work better than projects that include a combination of tasks or a complex task (such as "10 page website design" or "a contest for a logo, t-shirt and poster design").  Contests for bite-sized tasks maximize the number of interested participants and minimize the time they have to put in to participate.  Split larger projects into bite-sized contests.  In addition to this, make sure you select a task that requires creativity - i.e. use design contests for projects where you are looking to get multiple ideas.  Minimize scope, maximize creativity.

FOR BIG BRANDS: generally, big brands need to be more selective when they crowdsource or run a design contest.  The most important question for selecting the right task involves - are we happy to be public about this?  If the answer is 'yes', design contests and crowdsourcing are in play.  Design contests should be considered by big brands for the following (where they can be public about it): new product launches; product design or innovation projects; and re-branding exercises. 

-Key 2 - Write a strong brief

FOR SMALL BUSINESSES:  a strong brief is critical when working with 1 designer, but when you're working with 10,000+ the importance of the brief is magnified.  Describe your industry, competitors or product - assume designers know nothing!  Write your brief with your business and marketing strategy in mind - communicate your target market, how you would like to position your brand and (if possible) outline what differentiates your product / service from alternatives.   Briefs of medium complexity and length work well - if you've never written a brief before, look at the briefs for other graphic design jobs to get a feel for what's worked for others.

FOR BIG BRANDS: big brand contests will attract hundreds or thousands of participants and can afford to keep the brief even more open than a SME.  (Note: The exception to this is if you're crowdsourcing something detailed and technical - like Hi-Tec's set of icon designs - in this case, tight briefing is critical.)

-Key 3 - Maximize your prize

FOR SMALL BUSINESSES: Ask yourself "How much can you afford?"  If possible, offer the maximum amount you had mentally set-aside for the task.  Look at other design contests to see what budgets they are setting - you are competing with these projects for the attention of the top design talent.  Don't forget your contest will involve multiple designers and will effectively spread your budget across all of them.  The more you offer, the more effort each designer will put in and the more of our top designers will be interested.

FOR BIG BRANDS: this decision is important and public.  You don't want to risk designers, customers and the public thinking you are trying to get something for nothing.  Generally you can take the cost of an agency and halve it.  Consider allocating the other half of your budget to an agency that can help you manage the process and make the right decision (see Key 6 below - validating your decision).  Innovative perks (like getting 1% of product sales if you win) are an innovative option for big brands that can generate extra publicity.

-Key 4 - Provide feedback

FOR SMALL BUSINESSES: constructive, personal, mid-contest feedback is critical.  When running a contest, there is a tendency for a contest holder to ignore designs that aren't perfect.  Treat the submitting designers as if you had employed them directly.  For example, if a designer knocked on your office door and showed you their finished designs, you wouldn't shut the door without giving them a response.  Feedback on the fly is a critical part of the design process and is considered good design contest etiquette.

FOR BIG BRANDS: feedback mid-contest is not required and not practical.  Big brands receive overwhelming responses, it is not possible to respond to 40,000 entrants and there's really no need - it won't affect the size of the response and a big brand has the resources to tweak or combine entries after the contest is awarded.  Again, the 'proper' thing to do is to acknowledge the submission immediately (perhaps with an email) and publish it somewhere for others to look at so the designer has been 'heard'.

-Key 5 - Validate your decision

FOR SMALL BUSINESSES: selecting a good design can be as difficult as having them designed.  Making a decision at the end of a design contest can be challenging if you have 25, 50 ot 100 choices!  This can be compounded if the small business owner has no experience in branding, marketing or knowing what design will be effective and what attributes a 'good design' should possess (for example, a logo should have balance, readability, simplicity).  Test the designs with your target market and, if possible, filter out amateur submissions and get some expert input from a marketing consultant.

FOR BIG BRANDS: this step is even more important.  Your selection will be very public and difficult to change!  Testing a new design and making sure the selection is right is extremely important.  It is risky to leave it to one person or one team.  Test the design, gather opinions systematically.   If you haven't already, you might consider involving an ad agency or brand strategist to help make this decision or run focus groups.It is an extremely natural extension to use 'the crowd' to help select the best design.  

In summary ...
Design contests are extremely powerful but it is important to: select your task carefully; provide quality guidance in your brief and via feedback; and get external opinions to help with your selection. 

In coming weeks we'll provide some more detail about some of the above decisions as well as begin providing other crowdsourcing, marketing and design contest tips for businesses. 
In the meantime, whether you have your business has its own 'campus' or not, follow the tips above and your design contest will be successful! is a leading design contest and crowdsourcing marketplace for logo design, web page design and graphic design.  Use DesignCrowd to start your design contest today.

Written by DesignCrowd on Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DesignCrowd is an online marketplace providing logo, website, print and graphic design services by providing access to freelance graphic designers and design studios around the world.