Here’s a few of the problems with RFPs, and why they are like those you would find in a dating site. Dating websites are tools for quick disqualification and are designed to save people the time (and awkwardness) of ending up on bad dates. But they do so by limiting communication, which ironically makes that great date harder to find.
Creative services like web design and graphic design are very high-touch and consultative in nature.
When the selection process restricts communication, it is far more difficult for both the design agency and the client to qualify each other. What we did was take the last ten RFPs, combined them, and organized their content into three groups to understand what the average request for proposal contains.
In fact, what we’ve seen is that the typical RFP has more requirements for the proposal than for the actual project itself.
The company issuing the RFP wants to compare all the participants against the same criteria. They want to select a design company that understands subtlety and nuance, but they’re selecting them using absolute, black-and-white criteria. RFPs and dating profiles are both well-intended ways to help people start a meaningful relationship.


Next time you consider sending or responding to an RFP, take a moment to ask if you’re doing justice to yourself and the selection process.
Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media -- a team of Chicago web designers. Andy, can you share a sample of the most complete, well written RFP you’ve been provided? And a badly written RFP is the surest thing to break the project even before it starts – when the RFP is misleading, how can anyone seriously believe that the price and time frame quoted in the response will have any connection with reality?
And still RFPs and responses are taken seriously, project plans are built on them, and after the first month, when the vendor finished with the first round of analysis the whole thing breaks down and the teams are standing in the middle of chaos. In the quest to keep the process fair, they keep design companies and potential clients at arms length.
If the responding proposal lets the client check off enough boxes (budget, timing, experience, technology), it starts to feel like a match. Some companies will have better writers than others that know how to include more focused examples, align better with the clients’ mission, and be more organized with prettier formatting. He's a web strategist, a speaker at conferences, and has been featured and interviewed in media outlets like Forbes, Inc.
By the way, would you mind sending a few spec designs over so I can decide if I want to call you back?


I am working in a different area where RFPs could be more useful, but I have found time and time again that very few people can write a good RFP. My remark wasn’t sexual, more poking fun at the obvious lack of sophistication in the former Soviet state. Communication is limited, information is incomplete, and emphasis on certain things is misplaced. The worst ones are very long and (I’m not kidding here) they include very little information about the project, but a lot of information on how to format your proposal.
They’re typically innocent all the machinations that go into competent design and are unable to make a clear distinction between the effective and ineffective beyond their own taste (which we can agree is no way to base a design). I have some that have pages and pages on how to respond, but one a few paragraphs about the actual project.
Since we have not set rules by which a client can rely, creatives are consigned to pitch against each other based on mercurial criteria to which only we are privy. So my belief is, until we as creatives give the client-class a clear base-line for effectiveness we’ll forever be fighting the same battles again and again.




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