So, today I received a really interesting looking tender document.  It was well thought out, neatly presented, contained all the information I’d need to put together a full proposal and was, all in all, pretty enticing.  Except for one thing.  One of the things they requested in their document was:

A concise submission should be returned including: (…) Sample page of Proposed Design

You see this less and less, but it’s still there.  This request for free work.  It is well documented why designers of all stripes should resist this type of request but I don’t think anyone has put it better than Paul Boag in this article.

And it was his first point that I used to come back to the person in question: it costs everybody money.

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Photo by e-magic – http://flic.kr/p/5Y57G

Whilst on the face of it, the potential client is getting a good deal (they send out 10 tender documents, they receive 10 pieces of free design) it actually ends up costing them money.  There is an undeniable cost of doing business involved in creating a design mock up – it takes time (not just design time, but you’ll need to research the industry, the competition, etc.), there may be materials involved (stock photography, fonts, etc), and – unless you’re the designer I’ve not yet met who nails it first time every time – you’re going to want to do a couple of revisions yourself before you send it to the client.

So, let’s say, there’s 8 hours work involved in putting together a reasonable home page mock up.  The cost of that to the designer is likely to be over £400.  Now, if I have to do this for each proposal I receive, but I only win one in 3 tenders, then I have to cover the cost of the failed two tenders in the one successful one.

I end up having to bill the ‘successful’ client for 24 hours work, but only do 8 hours for them.

That doesn’t work for anyone.

Last year I wrote about a better pitching process and this speaks to some of the same issues.  If you want to assess the skills of a web designer before you hire them – and of course you should – then look through their design portfolio.  Get some references.  Speak to past clients.  You want to hire someone who has the design skills – but design is about more than drawing pictures, it’s about solving problems and communicating goals.

You’re not going to be able to understand if your designer can do that by producing a piece of speculative design work.