Mike Barnes has been a rockstar web designer on 99designs since 2012. His keen creative eye has regularly been praised by clients, and his work quickly snowballed into a full-time freelance career.

With the success he found on our platform (and a newfound passion for “extreme gardening”) he packed up his life in the city and moved his family out into the Canadian countryside. Today he’s his own boss and relishes the ability to choose what projects to work on and when, allowing himself plenty of flexibility to spend time with his three kids, work on his hobbies and enjoy the outdoors.

We caught up with Mike to chat about his career on 99designs, where he finds his inspiration and what it’s like to be living the dream.


Name: Mike Barnes
99designs handle: Mike Barnes
Location: Ontario, Canada

Tell us a little about yourself.

After graduating university with a degree in Archaeology, I quickly discovered working in Northern Ontario, Canada was nothing like any Indiana Jones movie.

On one of my first jobs we needed to go into some densely forested areas and I ended up getting lost for 2 days in a freak snowstorm. It was quite the ordeal… busted into a remote cabin on the second night and was rescued by helicopter the next day.

Needless to say, I quickly reassessed my career choice and I decided four walls around me was much better. Web design sort of fell into my lap and I’ve run the gamut of work environments – small design agency, big design agency, Federal Government and now freelance.

I became somewhat lulled into the government life with job security, benefits and pension… but the design work was simply not keeping my creative engine running. With three kids in tow and a newly developed passion for extreme gardening, I decided to leave the big city and move to the country.

At the time I had discovered 99designs, which helped add to my confidence that I could become a full-time freelancer. Today I am proud to say I’m full-time working on 99designs!


Where do you feel most inspired?

I am most inspired at my desk, when kids are in school, dog at my side, music on loud. I love to work on 99designs contests and projects, and I wish there were more hours in the day to work more. Each contest inspires me to go beyond my comfort zone, push the boundaries and compete for the win.

You’ve been a member of 99designs for a while (since 2012!). Can you tell us a little about your experience over the years?

In my early days on 99designs I struggled. Learning how to design on the 99designs platform takes some experience and perseverance to succeed.  Once I got a few wins under my belt, things really began to snowball.

I believe the design contest is a true measure of one’s ability to successfully take a brief and provide the best design for the client. No politics, no biases, everyone on an equal playing field. The desire to win and push myself to continue improving is what motivates me.

You work a lot in web design. How do you keep yourself current in an industry that’s always changing?

I have a few web sites that I visit for inspiration like awwwards. I believe it is important to know how to do it all – current trends, past trends, different styles and techniques. Ultimately clients will have different tastes and styles that they like, so I do my best to be as versatile as possible to provide what the client wants.


Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on?

My favourite project was dojo.com (see the 99designs contest here). It was nice to see a project go from design to a coded web site and retain much of the design aesthetics. But the best part was since it was a gaming site, my 12 year old son was very interested and could see a direct connection to what I do for a living… and he had a lot of fun going on the site that “Dad designed”.

You’re very involved in our 99designs community. What do you enjoy most about helping other designers?

I feel very fortunate to have stumbled across 99designs and to have found success and happiness. It has helped fulfill my dreams of living out in the country, and raising my kids in a wholesome community.

I feel there are so many people out there, like me, who can do the same. People who are tired or frustrated in their day jobs and who want to be their own bosses. If I can help one person fulfill that dream the way I did, than that makes me happy.


What’s your favorite part about being a freelancer?

The flexibility with being able to work from home, pick and choose projects that are readily available, and create my own schedule really stand out. With being a parent, it is so convenient to be able to leave your desk without asking permission from the boss when your kids are sick and you have to pick them up from school. Or when you simply want to go out and enjoy a wonderful summer day. Or when you just can’t bring yourself to put on a pair of pants.

Do you have any passions outside of design?

So many! As mentioned I am have crazy passion to get my hands dirty and grow fruits, vegetables, and native wildflowers. Summers are very exciting for growing, and welcoming the Monarch Butterflies which we have started to grow Milkweed for and raise the baby caterpillars to see them turn into butterflies and release them to help keep them out of extinction.

I also have a passion for old-school black and white film photography using “low-fi” toy cameras like the Diana and Holga. I take up whatever my kids are interested in, whether it’s soccer, butterflies, bees, making hockey rinks… I never get bored! I love being in the kitchen – homemade pizza is a favourite, pickling, bread… I’ve even started growing my own hops to someday make an awesome homebrew beer.


Anything else to add?

I’m looking forward to continuing to grow with 99designs and best of luck to all designers!

See more of Mike Barnes’ amazing work here.