Free Design Concept? Just no.

A tender document arrives into our inbox. It looks like an interesting project. It’s completely within our capabilities. Include a design concept as part of the submission? Oh.

Let’s just set aside the obvious first objection that it’s completely unreasonable to ask any company to provide the most valuable part of their service for free before deciding whether or not to work with them or not.

Requesting design concepts as part of a tender submission is not going to give the best result for two significant reasons:

  1. Firstly, most agencies with a proven design process will simply bow out of the tender if they see a request like this, thus eliminating a higher level of creative talent and expertise. 

  2. Secondly, we find that there’s rarely enough information in a tender document that allows us to identify for ourselves what the authentic values and offering are. Quite often, there are statements, layout guides and functionality requests in an RFT that need to be challenged or justified. Good agencies don’t blindly follow a brief. A companies' percection of itself, its target audience and value sometimes needs to be challenged to achieve clarity and alignment before we even start to think about the design concept.

We have to understand the needs of the audience we’re trying to engage in order to create a successful and fulfilling brand experience. That can only be achieved if we have the opportunity to collaboratively explore and understand our client's challenges, their brand's authentic value and relevance. How else will the concept be a success? Once we’re all clear in understanding what matters to both the brand and their target audience, it’s easy to unearth any contradictions and resolve them.

There are other ways to get a sense of an agency’s creative ability before deciding whether or not to work with them:

  1. Look at their portfolio of work

  2. Read their testimonials and talk to their clients

  3. Ask them to come in and present recent work they have done

  4. Ask them what the brief was and what problems they solved

  5. Are all their websites the same or do they look different depending on the brand and their requirements?

  6. Are they passionate when they talk about their work?

  7. Are they curious about your business?

This will reveal a lot more about which agency is going to deliver the best result without ever having to devalue the process by requesting for free work.