3 Key Principles of Effective Proposal Design

You’re wandering around a book shop and see an interesting title. You pick up the book. You page through it. Then you find the title is the only interesting thing about it. There is too much text with nothing to break it up. The layout is confusing and hard to follow. It’s jam-packed full of words with nothing that inspires you to read them. What do you do? You put the book back on the shelf because you can’t be bothered wading through the content to find out if there is anything relevant.

Your proposals and business documents can suffer the same fate.

Some may argue that the content of a proposal, or a bid or tender submission, represents a more compulsory read to its recipients than does a book. And maybe they’re right. But how eagerly it is read, and how deeply the detail penetrates the mind of the reader and compels him or her to action, is something over which you should take the opportunity to exercise maximum control.

After all, even the most cut-and-dried procurement evaluation panel still comprises human readers. And confusing, overwhelming, causing to go cross-eyed, or otherwise annoying evaluators is not the most effective way to impress them and turn them into allies. 

Principle No. 1: Your proposal must be both functional and attractive to the eye.

“Functional” means logically ordered and easily navigable, as well as easily readable (visually speaking). Thoughtfully laid out, with consideration of the reader.

The definition of “attractive” relies somewhat more on the type, audience, subject matter and context of the pursuit . . . . e.g. whether it is a formal Government tender that requires strict adherence to a tight set of format-related specifications, or whether it’s a proactively prepared proposal to a commercial enterprise. But whatever the context, it needs to look nice. Attractive to the eye.

Principle No. 2: A proposal or submission document is a communications tool. So the lay out must work for the content.

It is the unfortunate norm for a designer to dive into working on a job without even reading – even skim reading – the text. To be perfectly frank, that’s lazy and irresponsible. As just one tiny illustration of the point, some copy just doesn’t look good, thematically, in a certain type font. By way of another example: Some designers break up text to suit their design, without any consideration for the flow of the copy.

Principle No. 3: “Branding” is more than a logo.

In the context of a proposal or other form of visual presentation, the sense of your “brand” –as created in the mind of your target – includes not only the words contained in the document but its “look and feel”. Its lay-out, typography, use / display / quality of images . . . it all, collectively, creates an aesthetic that is uniquely you.

For better or for worse.

If your company has a branding guidelines document, such as that that should have been provided by the originating designer of your logo and other associated visual branding elements, be sure to follow it. But, at the same time, keep in mind the broader context of branding. That is, the cumulative impression of your organisation in the mind of your target / reader / market, as created by all elements of their exposure to you.