The Dangers of Speculative Design
As an agency we often get the opportunity to pitch for work. This can be an exciting process that involves a lot of time on our part in terms of planning, research, ideas generation and everything else that falls within our quoting process.
In fact we can spend days preparing for a pitch. This is all great when the contract comes in. When it doesn’t you have to face the harsh reality that you will never get paid for the work you have done. Sometimes that is fine, you just weren’t the right agency for the job, you can learn from the experience. You win some, you lose some.
The problem for us always comes when speculative designs are required. This can be dangerous territory. Being an agency that sells itself on bespoke and tailored design, research and planning are vital parts of our process. We often spend hours getting to know our clients, looking at their products/services, getting to know their employees and their clients/audience, finding out their values and visions all well before any design work starts. This time spent asking questions and gaining insight is somewhat necessary in order to fulfil a creative brief, and in truth, you just can’t get that from a one-page tender document or emailed brief.
So in creating speculative design, we run the risk of not delivering or misinterpreting the brief. This is dangerous and can result in not winning the client. It is common that once a potential client sees a visual design they could be mistaken in thinking that this is the final product, if something isn’t right this can completely turn them off. It also doesn’t allow us to follow our creative processes. It is rather like designing a dress for someone without seeing them, not knowing their size, tastes or styles or even the occasion they require the garment for. You may hit the jackpot and get it spot on, this is rare and a massive stroke of luck. Surely design shouldn’t be about luck, but about knowledge, process and understanding.
We recently spent in excess of 4 days writing a proposal for a tender for a nature reserve. The project excited us and we were very much looking forward to the opportunity to work on this. One of the requirements of the tender was speculative visuals. We spent a number of hours researching and generating campaign ideas, our copywriter and illustrator were all involved too. Mindmaps, sketches, research, talking and looking and thinking of ideas, until we felt we had a great starting point to show how we would approach the branding and campaign. We submitted our painstakingly put together piece of work. 4 days, 5 people and 160 hours of manpower.
3 weeks later we receive a short email stating we were unsuccessful. We called and asked for feedback and were told that our concept focused far too much on one idea and wasn’t the right direction.
Disappointment. Nevertheless, from our point of view a piece of work we were very proud of, enjoyed working on and which now sits on our portfolio.
Recently we discovered the project had been completed, whilst the ideas and visuals were not identical, they certainly beared resonance to the ideas we submitted.
Another example. We produced some branding work, name generation and packaging concepts for a start up business in order for them to secure funding and investment to take a product to market. We agreed that if the product was successful in going into the production stage we would be the sole design agency and all work done to that date would be billable.
It turned out that wasn’t to be the case and in fact our initial brand and product packaging ideas would be taken to the manufacturer for their in house designers to work with, and we wouldn’t be paid.
A month or so later we find our work featuring on the website of the individual, with no accreditation or mention of our contribution*. They even took our ideas and found themselves on a well known BBC programme.
So that’s it, as a rule we now refuse to do speculative design work.
Not only does it not allow us to follow our important creative processes, but we can never be sure the pitching process is not just a process for scoping ‘free ideas’.
Costing and wasting our time, money and inspiration.
If you are thinking about asking for speculative designs are you really getting the best from your designer? You will be receiving something that is mainly a product of instinct and first response guess work. It may look good, great even, but is the concept and context there?
With real research, real planning and real collaboration your design outcome will be better.
*By the way, we had informed this particular client that we hold the copyright to these designs and they are not to be used or reproduced in any way especially after how things transpired.