Jeremy Ellsworth, a.k.a. JereKel, is a Top Level designer and one of our highest-paid members last month. He has a robust portfolio of clients gained in contests and elsewhere, with whom he does business using 1-to-1 projects. With no formal design training, he owes his success entirely to his own enthusiasm and work ethic (and ok, maybe the website he’s using).

In this designer profile, we chat with Jeremy about his personal story, his tips for success on 99designs, and his hopes for the future.

Name: Jeremy Ellsworth
99designs handle: JereKel
Location: New Hampshire, USA
Contests won: 4
1-to-1 Projects completed: 23


Did you go to school for design?

No. In fact, I never finished high school – a decision I made myself. When my family moved towns, rather than switch schools I decided to hold down two jobs instead. I worked from 7am to 3pm in a factory assembling dishwasher parts then 4pm until sometimes 1am as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

How did you start designing then?

During my time as a dishwasher, I was very heavy into online gaming. I wanted a website for my clan (team), so I started doodling around with Adobe Photoshop and that was the start of it all. Since designing my first clan website, I’ve never looked back.

Other clan members started asking me to design their websites, and soon I realized that the demand for this service wasn’t limited to gamers looking for team websites, but included actual businesses.

Do you ever feel disadvantaged by not having formal design training?

In some ways yes. I feel there are many aspects of Photoshop that could better me as a designer that I still do not even know exist. On the other hand, I’ve gotten pretty far with the knowledge I do have. I feel I know enough to do what I love to do for a living.

Where do you look for instruction?

For the most part, if there is something that I’ve never designed before, such as a wire, I will look for the best possible tutorial online that explains in great detail on how to design a wire. There are many websites that offer free tutorials and there are many videos on YouTube that offer great tutorials as well (I usually just search for them), so the resources are there at my disposal when I need them. Learning as I go has never been a problem for me.

I also like to look at sites such as FlatDSGn, Dribbble and Behance to see what is trending and figure out a way to incorporate the design trend into the work that I am doing. One of my old time favorite sites that I still visit today is deviantART, which I also use for design inspiration. Of course, there are many sites that I did not mention, but these are the ones that I visit on a daily basis.


So when did you start using 99designs?

I came across 99designs many years ago, back when it was SitePoint, but didn’t start using 99designs in its current form until more recently. I won a contest in my first month, which made me really think that 99designs could change the way I do business. I’ve never looked back.

I don’t always win all the contests I join – in fact, most of them I lose – but I never look at each loss as an actual loss. I take them for what they are and learn from them. I believe everyone must fail to succeed.

Do you have any specific examples?

Yes. In the first contest I joined, I focused more on the visuals then the actual content. I always look back at that particular contest and wish I had done things differently, but to grow as a designer you must make mistakes. On that particular contest, my mistake was that I focused too much on making it visually appealing and not so much on the content that was needed for the page. That much is clear to me now.

I’ll sum it up with this: To anyone who has lost a contest and thinks they should just give up, there just might be that one contest you do that changes your life forever. I can say that this has happened to me, and I’m so grateful to 99designs for the opportunity.


You’re referring to your 1-to-1 work for xerosis?

Yes. 1-to-1 projects have really changed the way I do business online with my clients. My relationship with xerosis began when I entered a contest he hosted for The Body Challenge. In his brief he stated, “I need this extremely quick (1-2 days).” So I jumped on the contest and had a homepage fully designed within about 5 hours. Besides me there was only one other designer who made an attempt at his contest, but since I was the only one that did all the pages in the time frame in which he was asking, he awarded me the winner.

Since winning his contest, xerosis has been giving me work each and every month. In fact, I work on a monthly salary with xerosis. He gives me the projects to work on, and I bill him through 1-to-1 projects at a price we agreed upon back in February of 2013.

I would like to say that if you have a client outside of 99designs and you are using PayPal to collect payment from your client, use 1-to-1 projects instead. The service is simple, easy and it really lets you log all your activity in one convenient place. No disputes about payment – exactly the peace of mind that freelancers want.

What does your monthly work for this client consist of?

It varies from month to month. Some months I will do 2-3 websites plus email templates, social media graphics, etc. Other months I’ll do mobile phone application designs, logos, websites, an admin panel, flyers, etc. I’ve done everything from website to TV application design for xerosis.


Do you have any other advice for designers about how to succeed in contests?

When I first encounter a client on 99designs, I read through their brief to make sure everything is clear to me. Once I’ve read through their brief, I’ll download all the attached documents, then I’ll re-read the brief again while looking through the attached documents and files (such as logos, wireframes, etc.). I always read the brief more than once, sometimes even three times to make sure I have a clear understanding of what the client wants.

What are your goals for the future?

I have a 4-year-old stepson and a sixteen-month-old daughter, so I try to spend as much free time as possible with my family here in Laconia, New Hampshire.

Professionally, I would like to learn how to code. As a designer, only knowing how to design and nothing else kind of limits what I can and cannot do. I’m not the fastest learner (it has taken me since 2005 to learn what I know about designing), but that has not hindered me in the past. Coding is the next step, and what I plan to focus more on in the near future.

Questions for Jeremy? Ask in the comments!