Why We Don’t Mix Design Comps and Sales

A lot of times when we’re bidding on new work (e.g., responding to a RFP) there’s a question that lingers in the back of our minds: Should we do pre-emptive design compositions as part of our pitch? The answer is almost always* “no” but the concern is born of conditioning, really. For a lot of agencies it’s the norm to respond to a new opportunity with an arsenal of design work and eye-candy, seemingly in the hope of winning the work with flashy product over thoughtful process. But, the process matters a lot to us and, more importantly, the prospective client, which is why we consider mixing design comps and sales a bad idea.

As a bit of background, early work in this area usually takes the shape of designing a client’s new homepage (and likely additional pages) in the case of a redesign project, or comping up most of a user interface if we’re talking about an app. Producing this work during the course of an actual project usually involves research and conversations with stakeholders (internal and external); user experience design; and visual exploration and design. In short, getting this right involves a lot. It’s always seemed to odd to try and cram this much thought and effort into a sales pitch for one primary reason:

It completely skips any collaboration and relies entirely on intuition. Not the worst thing, exactly, but the work is missing a key element: the client’s input. It’s product built largely on assumptions -- and you know what happens when you assume -- and often surface-level details.

For Viget, and I imagine a lot of agencies, partnership and collaboration is a critical part of doing good work -- both for the resulting efforts and the client relationship. Jumping into design comps during the very early stages of sales stands in stark contrast to this ideal. So, if you’re delivering a proposal that speaks to your collaborative nature and is accompanied by premature work like this, that seems weird.

While a lot of groups provide this early creative in order to get a leg up in the selection process, there are other ways to make your bid stand out. While we won’t mock up a client’s new homepage during sales, we will produce designs and other assets that speak to our ideas, creativity, capabilities, and process. We might design some panels that talk about our IA/UX approach and how that would be tailored to the client’s particular needs. Or, we might create a unique visual that speaks to our overall vision and goals, whether they be technology- or design-related. These activities require a bit more thought and purposefulness, however, than just comping up a prospective client’s new homepage.

For example, when we were bidding on the WorldWildlife.org redesign, we accompanied our proposal with a custom-designed microsite that explained our vision for the redesign and showed off our ability to create a responsive site.  While we leveraged visual assets relevant to the redesign, we carefully clarified that the microsite was more of a digital proposal than a premature attempt at a redesign.

There are lots of ways to imbue your proposal with creative sensibilities, enthusiasm, and awareness that doesn’t involve risky guesswork and that compromises your process. This is how we do it. And, it’s proven more successful than not.

*Unlike some, we don’t have any moral opposition to upfront creative. On occasion, an exciting prospective client may request design comps as part of the sales process and is willing to spend time with us to do initial discovery work. In these rare instances, we evaluate very carefully if the opportunity is worth the investment, and if the risk associated with this kind of early design is ultimately the best way to start an engagement. Usually when these clients proactively solicit this work as part of the process, it’s done with a high degree of detail and direction. If not, we simply decline to bid.

Kevin is a senior digital strategist in our Falls Church, VA, HQ. He helps clients such as the World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Valspar create dynamic and successful online strategies.

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