Dec 19, 2009

How to Win Online Design Contests

Ready for the answer?


The End.

In all seriousness, in almost all things, the first step to winning or achieving is participation. You can't expect to shoot a ball in a basket unless you first attempt to make a throw.

The idea is simple, but the motivation behind emphasizing this fact, is for one main reason:

Online design contests need good designs.



Having worked as an art director at Design By Humans and Teefury, one fact behind the scenes that is not apparent to the public, is that it's a stressful job to oversee the scheduling of designs, especially since there is a monetary risk value attached to it.

Every shirt need not be a success, but in the long run, businesses have to thrive by creating products that sell to help it's customers get a great product and B2B partners thrive, in this specific case, artists.

Online design contest businesses like DBH and Teefury have a quota of shirts to schedule and print, so the appetites of the businesses for art are quite voracious. Voracious like a fat man at a buffet. Are you a fat man? I didn't mean anything by it. Supposedly using analogies is a very simple way of getting the message to the reader.

This situation is not specific to online designs contest, but in other business that create products in general. Art directors working for other companies that may not have such a diverse product line still have to create new designs to satisfy the needs of their consumers. And consumers... people... need variety especially in a consumerist economy.

I worked as an artist for a small NASCAR product development company for a couple years. Even at such a small company that only did a few shirts a week, the need for new art was enough to expand our art department from 1 artist up to 5 with occasional pro freelancers.

The truth of the art business is that, companies dealing in art need a pool of art that can be easily accessible at any time to fulfill the potential sales needs that arise. Sometimes in the art world, it's a shotgun approach, especially if the company is working in the mass retail market. Mass retail seems to be such a lucrative market, that they have the pick of the litter, so art businesses need to pitch multiple products sometimes over and over until the time is right to the mass retailers.

So submitting and getting printed isn't all that difficult if you follow some basic rules.

It's like a lottery, but a lottery in which you can manipulate the variables in your favor to almost guarantee a win.

How Do You Guarantee a Win?

1. Participate

2. Participate/submit often.

Not only do you fill your portfolio with designs, and learn/improve with each piece, participating and submitting helps to your name float up to the top when directors may be considering designs to print provided you have the right kind of art.

Human nature has a tendency to reciprocate friendly gestures, and when you begin to participate in an online community it will build a foundation of trust. People do business with people they trust and know.

3. Cater your product to the market. This is a major key. Businesses that sell art have their specific genre into which they are pigeon-holed. If you think of any of the major sites online, what kind of art do you think of when you hear the brands:






The chances are you can easily identity the product as the brand even if it does not have a logo on it just by the type of art.

Sometimes you do have to study the company's products and design accordingly. It's not a hard written rule, but behind the scenes, the comment...

"Um... that looks too Shirt.woot,"

or similar will arise.

At both DBH and TF, we have passed on designs that are great because unfortunately they were not within the genre in which we know is successful with our consumers.

Even in my own artist experience, I tried pitching very high quality artsy designs to Shirt.woot, and at first they we impressed and printed me, but they are much more reluctant now a days to do anything outside of their genre. It's proven in my sales numbers. At shirt.woot cute sells, arty farty sinks.

4. Be nice, or really, don't be a pain in the ass.

When you are a pain in the ass, by being high maintenance, asking too many questions, etc etc, frankly, you make the job of the AD much more difficult. The likelihood they will want to work with you again is not great unless you have great artwork and you are worth it.

Being nice also helps. Or just being business like and straightforward helps. Here is my art. Want or no want? Thank you. Neeeext.

The easier it is to work with you, the better.

5. Be your own marketeer.

In the online world, every artist can create an appreciable effect on sales by marketing to their fan base.

You don't have to have a fan base, but if you are going to be a full time artist, you better get one, or you wont be an artist for long.

Even if you can't make a dent in the sales volume by your promotions because it doesn't reach anyone, at least it will make you seem like you have your shtuff together, and provided you continue to promote, stick and move, you will most likely learn how to best market your art.

Behind the scenes we occasionally see the effects of this. Our perception is molded by your actions and efforts.

During the DBH 10K contest, we noticed the artists that were the best at promoting themselves were the ones who were able to generate traffic and votes, and concurrently, typically this correlates somewhat to sales. Only somewhat because if you build a product that is generally widely appreciated, it will sell on its own.

But seeing the numbers, we do get impressed with the ability of the artist to market.

The foundation of growth for online contests like DBH, Threadless, and Shirt.woot is that it requires that the artists all promote their works for the sites to get more fans and consumers. It's almost like a MLM. They thrive on concurrent marketing by the artists.

Help us, help you, help us, help you.


In the online design contest realm, the easier you set yourself up as a supplier the more likely you will get picked up, and have subsequent designs be printed.

It's not that difficult and only takes persistence, so take a stab!

Check the sidebar for a list of the most prominent contest sites and the main blog for reviews of the types of shirts being printed

Submit to DBH

Submit to Teefury

Comments are appreciated!


MJ said...

Great info- artists who learn how to promote themselves definitely have the advantage in the contest world.

AW177 said...

Great read, I enjoyed it very much! Thanks for writing it!

thestray said...


zerobriant said...

that hits a target:) read. analyzed. recorded. applied...thanks jim