One of the worst parts of my job is doing design work for pitches. You simply don’t have enough information to produce a quality design. Recently I discovered I was not the only one to feel like this and that in fact there was a growing movement campaigning for an end to speculative work.
It’s not that I have a particular problem with doing speculative unpaid work in order to win a new client. I have no problem, for example, in the hours spent producing a proposal or going to presentations. My problem is that speculative designs provide no real value to the client in making their choice of a web design agency. They might perceive them as useful but in reality they are less than worthless.
Design is a process
Arriving at a design for a website is a process rather than a flash of creative inspiration. A whole range of factors influence how a design develops and none of these steps are present in speculative work.
Producing a truly good design involves:
- A collaborative process with the client in which you understand their organisation and vision for the site.
- Usability testing with end users to see how they respond to different design approaches.
- An understanding of the competition and how they present themselves online.
- Detailed analysis of brand guidelines and other marketing collateral.
- An iterative process where a design is refined and evolved through a number of stages.
- A solid grasp of other external factors which may impact the look and feel, including accessibility, technology constraints and internal business factors.
At the proposal stage of a project you have little or no communication with the client, have undertaken no usability testing and have little in the way of background information on the company and their objectives.
Of course many clients see things differently. They want to see what the design agency is capable of “creatively”. Of course the web design agencies are all too aware of this and so the designs produced are often not realistic. Instead the designs become part of the sales process and are more about selling than providing a viable solution. The emphasis is on “looking cool” and “creating impact” rather than tackling the harder to understand issues of accessibility, usability and business objectives. Showmanship replaces substance and everybody loses.
The client loses because they are being shown the superficial rather than a real world solution.
The design agency loses because even if they win the project they will almost certainly have to throw out the initial design work done as being unfeasible.
If you are in the process of issuing an invitation to tender, seriously consider whether you need to ask for speculative designs. Instead, take the time to review the web design agencies portfolio and speak to their clients. Far more can be learnt from accessing their “final designs” on actual sites than can ever be gleaned from a design produced with the single objective of selling you their services!