Tender stage design solutions compromise projects

Written by Finn Taylor on 13th September 2013

(Last updated 11th March 2016)

"Just to clarify, are your really expecting us to provide IA's and designs at the tender stage - this is really contrary to our process and what you are buying into..." 

"I absolutely agree, but xxx feels he needs to see examples of your creative - wants to see some 'out-of-the-box' thinking" 

...and the conversation continues along predictable lines.

At this point as an agency, you have a choice:

  1. Do you compromise and try to throw something together for the pitch
  2. Do you go all the way and invest in trying to win the project by spending significant time to try to plan and design the project
  3. Do you stick to your guns and say thanks but no thanks, declining the tender
  4. Or do you tender without providing the IA's and designs, doing your best to convince the client that you are the best choice despite the fact they do not get to see something...


Talking to other agencies you will get a variety of views:

"...We don't solve the project at pitch stage... that’s what you buy our time for"

Andy Budd - MD and Founder Clearleft

"Its the real world and you have to do a lot of work to win the business - it's worth it when you win"

Paul Doleman - CEO i-crossing

Both of these standpoints are absolutely correct - neither is wrong and both agencies are very successful in their respective fields.

The question for an agency comes down to how you will deal with this request and whether as a client you will demand this tender stage work.

  • The agency - you can argue that you can look at their portfolio and awards to see their capabilities.
  • The client may argue that they want proof the agency really understands them and the project.
  • The agency might suggest that this is like asking the architect to design the house to win the project.
  • The client counter argues... but we need proof you really understand us... show us you really want to work for us.
  • etc

Whilst we can discuss whether it is fair for clients to expect tender stage designs, or whether the agency needs to have proved their desire to work with the client, the dialogue I want to have is about whether this is good for you as a client? Do tender stage design solutions actually help you and your project?

Simply put I would argue that tender stage designs compromises your project.

Ultimately tender stage designs/solutions results in decisions being made based on a potentially superficial set of options - looked great in the presentation (great presenter/good or bad day/loved the colour etc)... but these have not been developed by running the proposed process.

The results is the selection of an agency based on a solution that at the surface level appears to work, however below the surface it lacks substance and coherence...it does not prove the agencies ability to work with you...it only proves that they can create something that looks good in a pitch.

The result of this is:

  • You have potentially selected the wrong agency - they just got lucky in the presentation.
  • The proposed solution distracted from process and working relationship.
  • Decisions and pre-conceptions have been set at the tender stage which from will affect the rest of the project.
  • The process you are buying into is compromised, as you tried to jump to the end without doing the journey.

A project is the combination of chemistry, working relationship, process, skills, research, insight etc - tender stage design will not help you discover this, they will only blinker your team into the process they are buying into - these preconceptions which have been set will close down valuable dialogue and ultimately compromise the project.

I would argue that tender stage designs are not just wrong because they ask the architect to design the house before you hire him, or ask the chef to cook you your meal before you order it - the real reason this is wrong is because it negates what you are really buying into.....a process....a journey, where the best solution is both discovered and developed. 

As eloquently stated by Eden Spiekermann 

"The best work happens in a committed relationship"

This article was posted in Design by Finn Taylor