There have been monumental changes in document design and formatting capabilities over the past 10-plus years.
This has meant there is now more choice and complexity regarding the design standard and level of graphic design within business documents such as business cases, grant applications and tenders.
There are some conventions, perhaps, but rarely any rules.
In the case of tenders for example, at the early stage of planning tenderers assess the extent of graphic design to be included, along with the associated resource and time demands.
Bid managers rightly query ‘return on effort’, especially as they presume or know the tenderer’s price is most influential.
Tenderers are grateful when the client provides a word template to complete, with maximum word or page count, but this “let-off” doesn’t always happen.
Within Vaxa Group’s tender advisory team we are often asked: ‘To what extent should a tenderer or grant applicant apply high-end design to impress?’
We always say “content is king (or queen)” ahead of design, if you need to choose, which I will return to – but first a quick story.
When I was working for a Council a few years ago, we sought tenders for ‘roadside dead animal collection’. Like many Council services, this is something we don’t think about, but “it’s a ‘thing”.
Included in the responses, was a short, hand-written letter on hotel stationery from a butcher. He explained as he was travelling around the locality, he would happy to collect a few dead animals for Council on his return trips.
His response was two paragraphs long in response to a six-page specification; and his application centred on his claims of owning a refrigerated truck, sufficient handling equipment and gloves in good repair, and he wasn’t squeamish about the collection based on his profession. However, he explained he would need a hand to retrieve horses.
Although impressed, we awarded the contract to a provider with a more detailed solution, including WHS and QA policies etc.
What stands out here is not that long ago, Councils and others were receiving hand written and/or short, typed letters of offer. A few years on, respondents are providing 3D models, fly-throughs, elaborate graphic design to demonstrate methodology, along with trucks with consortium livery to deliver the equivalent of a suburban library of documentation.
So back to the question of design within tender responses. Again there are extremes.
Bland word based documents are unappealing, and drain the reviewers concentration. Tenderers know this and are drawn towards embellishing documentation with sophisticated, graphic demonstration of their offer and solution.
From a client reviewer perspective, I always advise tenderers to ensure the content and key messages are always in their written response. Don’t rely on the reviewer to review, understand, or rate the response based on a diagram or graphic. The visual dimension is a complement not a response.
Reviewers both appreciate and are drawn to visual cues, so they are important and balance is essential. But first ensure the written response nails the question.
I’m just glad my kindly butcher didn’t provide a full process flowchart and realistic renders. You can get the picture in other ways, and for tenderers until AI takes over, words and content still count.