In part two of our Words for Winners series, we’ll focus on tips that will help you understand what you’re really good at – and how to look through contests and pick them correctly. Ask yourself: what’s the difference between the best contest and the best contest for you.

Picking the right design contest can dramatically increase your chances of winning. We are often swayed by shiny prizes, only to enter contests that we stand no chance of winning. When we do that, we not only lose the prize, but also time and energy that could have been put to better use somewhere elsewhere.

Contest selection is part art and part skill. There are important things to consider before entering a design contest. Let’s review some of them.

1. Pick contests based on skills, not the prize

Prize money is important, but it isn’t the only thing you should be looking at. By glasshopperart

Chasing prize money, regardless of the project type, is a common beginner’s mistake. You aim too high, waste time and energy – only to be disappointed in yourself or angry at the client.

You need to be realistic about your capabilities. Unless you’re some sort of design superhero, you cannot be equally good at designing logos, websites, printed pieces and product packaging. Instead, you will probably excel in one or two of these areas and be somewhat mediocre in others.

For example: I’m quite good at designing logos, advertisements and printed pieces, but I don’t have what it takes to be a top-notch website designer. This is why I avoid these contests altogether, regardless of the prize money.

The sooner you understand your strengths, the sooner you can focus your energy on the right type of work and increase your chances of winning. If it’s too early for you to decide, then by all means enter a variety of design contests to see how you perform – then make a decision. Just don’t let the prize money blind you to contests that are best suited for you.

2. Pick fresh contests with optimal number of entries

Tempting as it may be, entering a contest with the number of entries on the left is usually a bad strategy. Stick to contests like the ones on the right.

A contest with tons of entries is already well underway. At this point, the client is revising the potential winning designs already – and that means you stand very little chance of being noticed, regardless of design quality. That’s because the client is no longer receptive to new ideas. For them, the “idea” stage is over and you are probably too late.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and you just might be the salvation the client is looking for. In those rare cases, you should investigate what’s going on in the contest before adding to thousands of entries.

Here’s one way to do that:

  • Look at recent design entries and notice designers who dominates the list (i.e. they submitted several entries on several occasions)
  • Click “Rated” filter at the top to show only rated designs, then see if same designers are getting high ratings (four to five stars)
  • If yes, this means that the client is probably refining the work he already prefers and it’s going to be very hard to attract his attention

As a general rule, aim to enter “fresh” design contests with low entry numbers –clients are happier to see your ideas then.

3. Only pick contests that challenge or inspire you


If you don’t get the urge to design something as soon as you read a brief, the contest probably isn’t right for you. Finding the right contest will have you immediately thinking of potential solutions and ideas for client requirements. It should feel like an exciting riddle that you can’t stop thinking about. It should never leave you indifferent or bored.

One way to quickly spot these contests is by looking at the client’s industry. You should decide which industries you respect or find particularly interesting. Then start focusing more on those types of contests.

In short, read a lot of briefs and let the right contest find you, not the other way around.

4. Don’t let invitations dictate your contests

Just because you’re invited doesn’t mean the contest is a good match for you.

Invitations are a tool clients use to recruit better designers to their contest. They’re never a winning guarantee.

Rather, they’re a way for clients to say, “Hey, I like your style. Give my contest a try.” When you get invited to a contest, always be sure it’s the right fit for you. If it’s not your type of work – or if it doesn’t inspire you – just say thanks and move along.

Choosing the right contest is like choosing a pet. You’ll invest time and love it, while remembering it’s not necessarily something that brings in a lot of money. After all, if you love the company’s mission and do well, you’ll enjoy doing all of the follow-on with additional compensation.

Next up: 6 contest winning strategies for 99designs

Cover photo: LittleFox