Let’s jump straight to the answer for this question…

Yes. Design matters.

This question came up recently at a luncheon I attended featuring a panel of owners’ representatives who manage proposal review processes in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry. The panel’s answers to this question reminded me and everyone else in the audience that proposal design isn’t only about color, layout and image placement.

In fact, their answers illustrated something much more fundamental – design is about the user’s experience

For those of you who, like me, have put together many, many (MANY!) proposal responses – and for those of you who manage people who do this – you know well the heavy emphasis that is placed on aesthetics – page layouts, graphics, image selection, logo placement, white space,  etc.

Ironically, none of these aesthetic elements were mentioned in the panelist’s comments regarding what makes a winning proposal response:

  • One responder talked about the critical importance of organization, that they appreciated the use of tabs and consistent header pages for each section.
  • Another shared that fonts needed to be legible. They coached that using a small font to fit in more words onto a page was a poor strategy that only served to irritate the reviewer.
  • Still another panelist emphasized the consequence of following an RFQ/P’s directions explicitly, to include what is requested and not stuff the proposal with peripheral information.

These reviewers were telling us in no uncertain terms that the design of a proposal response is not just look. It’s also about ease.

Their comments suggest that the success (or failure) of a submission is defined by the user’s experience.

User experience is not a new idea. It is a conceptual design discipline with roots in human factors and ergonomics that, since the 1940’s, has focused on the interaction between humans and machines. As computers became a bigger part of daily life in the 1990’s, the idea of user experience proliferated widely.  User experience, or “UX” design, is broadly used to today, predominantly with regard to interactive interfaces such as websites, software, apps and the like.

However, listening to this panel reminded me that UX is not limited to digital disciplines. UX is simply good marketing. All marketing efforts need to be concerned with the experience being offered to the target audience.

The fundamentals of UX design must be integrated into a website, absolutely, and also into our proposal responses, brochures, social media strategy and even interpersonal marketing such as email, phone conversations and other communications.

Ask yourself, how will this effort (website, email, proposal, etc.) serve the recipient? How will it feel to them? 

UX demands that we look beyond simply focusing on what we want to tell our audience about our firms and consider what they are looking for, the problems they are trying to solve, the challenges they are working to overcome, the information they need to further their objectives.

UX is about…
…composing a proposal response that is easy for the reviewer to comprehend, efficient in its composition and relevant to the original request.

…inviting a prospect to get to know your firm by creating a website that is easily navigable, cooperative and clear.

…diminishing roadblocks between you and your clients by developing a project approach that is direct, accessible and transparent.

…listening to what the client needs, desires and fears and responding in a manner that is both thoughtful and empathetic.

Ensuring our design and marketing activities prioritize the user’s experience is critical, especially as audiences are bombarded with unprecedented amounts of information.

UX shifts the focus from selling and winning to service and solutions