May 12, 2016 6 Common Noob Mistakes and How to Avoid Them in Design Challenges

Guest Post from [mahestro]

I was proudly a noob in the Topcoder community once. In this lovely and magical journey of being a noob I made a lot of mistakes using the Topcoder design platform, formerly called “Studio” by then. It was not that bad though; after all, the official definition of mistake – according to the royal academy of the truth – is an unnatural phenomenon that forces us, innocent creatures, to perform wrong actions in certain tasks. What I want to say is, it was not my fault, it is not your fault, it’s the universe that conspired for us to fail but hey, you know what? we won’t let them!

Anyone can make a mistake, nobody is perfect. If you’re not sure of this line, just ask the record label that rejected The Beatles before they were a success arguing that this band was “not sellable” – ah? The regret of this company must be unmeasurable and I don’t doubt it after seeing the remarkable success of this band (one of my favorites).

Luckily for us, no one is going to reject us because we’re going to prevent noob mistakes from happening to us! Besides, The Mahestles rock & roll band is da best! I’ve heard once that you must learn from your mistakes. I prepared some typical situations and tips to avoid them. You have to know this is from my personal experience as a designer and as a copilot during my wild adventures in Topcoderland, they are about using the platform when you’re competing to be more specific. It’s very likely I’ll be missing something here but I’m up to keep making mistakes to make this list longer and useful for my fearless readers – btw, they are four now and growing, yaaaay!

Follow me and this advice, my fierce horsemen, and I’ll promise that you will be the next platform expert from the community and also you will buy the next, next, next mahestles band because this one above belongs to me now.


Sometimes it happens that you register to a challenge, then for some reason you didn’t submit anything, you realized you were not going to compete in the end. The challenge ends and you were still there with zero submissions. This challenge will affect your stats; if you care about them, you should unregister. It’s known that right now they don’t matter too much because you can’t see any of that, but I’ve heard that in a near future there might be certain stats in your profile that shows an effectiveness rate by using your amount of registered challenges vs amount of completed challenges and other variables. Again, if you care about your stats you shouldn’t register for every challenge that you see.

Enough math, you must know you can actually unregister from these challenges, there is a way that only the masters of the dark side of the force know how to do it. Fortunately for this article, I belong to the dark side of the force and I’m going to show you how to unregister from a challenge.

  1. Go to
  2. Find your challenge in the categories listed in that page.
  3. Find the “unregister” hyperlink. Hit it until it bleeds!
  4. You would probably see an error page after confirming the unregister process. Don’t freak out, it’s part of the dark side transformation, it means your training is complete (it’s just fine, just go back).


When I first began, I thought that the challenges forums were a place to talk about the weather. I was so wrong; if I knew how rich they were, I would have probably lost those challenges anyway but I would have learned much more.

Most competitors ask really good questions on these forums that probably help everyone to clear out any doubts. Also, this is an opportunity to ask questions to the client. This is the place where communications with the client and the copilot happen.

Suggestion #1: Watch the forums of the challenges you are registered for. There is a link (as in the image). Once watching a forum, you will receive notifications of any activity on that challenge forum. How cool?


Suggestion #2: Create a separate thread for every topic you want to discuss. Let’s say you want to talk about about fonts. You should create a new thread titled “Questions about fonts” or something similar. This way the content is more organized for everyone. Avoid asking questions in the welcome or spec review thread. They are forbidden land.

Suggestion #3: Prepare your questions and do them as fast as you can. It’s not very wise to wait to last minute to start asking questions. Sometimes there could be a delay because of the time zone difference with the copilot or client. Plus it’s known that some copilots such as mahestro prefer going to the beach instead of checking their freaking work!!!


Do you know the amount of useful information a screening email has? No offense, but I bet you don’t, unless you have developed detective skills level Sherlock Holmes. Right Watson?

After submitting a solution for a challenge, you receive a “submission sent” email confirmation. After the screening phase is over you also receive an email. This email tells you if your submission passed the review. First question, where on earth do I see that in that email??? It’s known this email format is a bit heavy and it’s hard to find the information at first sight. That’s why I say it’s not our fault we make mistakes, it’s the universe conspiring against us.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you that this is real and I’ve seen it, you can do it too. You can see if you passed or failed the screening process. If you passed, cool. If you didn’t you want to know why, right? Well, this another adventure – yay! You need to check your scorecard, the link it’s at the bottom of the email. It opens a page with details of your review scorecard and comments from the reviewer telling you why you failed. Voilà, mystery solved Watson.


As a copilot I’ve seen cases when a designer accidentally mixes the content of their zip folders. It can happen to anybody, let’s say you put the Photoshop files inside of the screen files ( It will make the system confuse your submission and upload it incorrectly – even the system makes mistakes here, they’re everywhere!

A simple method to avoid this confusion is keeping a file organization template for your projects. This is a sample of how I organize my files. I’m sure it’s not the best method but it works for me. How is your method? Enlighten me please!



Nope, nope, nope. Not cool dude. It wasn’t cool when agent Smith cloned himself and almost beat Neo in the Matrix film, right? Well, it’s kind of the same feeling in real life (are we really in real life?). When you’re participating in a challenge you may upload several copies of your submissions, just slight variations of the same concept, maybe a different shade of a background, a different button style, but same concept. When this happens, it makes the client invest more time in the feedback review, it creates confusion, because he/she has to try to figure out what are the unique changes you are proposing, therefore delay in the feedback delivery process. It may affect the whole challenge timeline.

What I can suggest would be to gather everything into one single solution if the uploaded submissions are not unique at all. Create separate folders with a proper name of what you want to show, things like alternate color proposals, and so on. The client and the copilot will appreciate this from you, believe me! In the case you are submitting to have back up just delete the old ones and keep your master piece only.


Besides your actual files, there are two other items that are very important to keep safely with any copyright issue in a submission. This is font and stock imagery declaration. A submission can fail screening if there is no accurate information of the resources used in them.

It could happen to you if you forget to take control of the fonts you were using or the images you’ve been pulling from For this, I create a txt files to keep notes of the fonts and photos I’m using, that way I won’t forget to include any of them.

Also, if you’re using photos, you should provide the comps (small previews) from the site in a folder in the source files (see #4 image).


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