I spend so many nights in hotels around the world for work that I'm pretty careful in my choices of where to stay. That makes the odd disaster - such as the place I was in in Budapest earlier this week - somewhat surprising, and rather frustrating.
Someone had clearly put a lot of careful thought into my room's design. The brown decor. The plastic chairs (inspiring, no doubt, the phrase “Designer chair concept” on my reservation confirmation). The cut-out, numbered footprints on the wall. (Yes, really).
The problem was that that careful thought had clearly been around a decade ago - so it all felt incredibly dated, and slightly shabby. My suspicions were confirmed when I looked at the list of prestigious awards the place had won - from the likes of Conde Nast. In 2008.
It reminded me of a comment I scribbled on a proposal that a client in London asked me to review recently: "This looks very 2012."
"Fabulous," they said, falling into my trap, remembering that most wonderful of British summers. "The Olympics. Gold medals."
"No. Just a bit dated."
See, proposal design's moved on faster than almost any area of our profession.
In the States, Mike Parkinson's seminal book ('Billion Dollar Business Graphics') was key to pushing people towards higher-impact, more client- & benefits-centric design. On our side of the pond, SP organised and sponsored the first award for proposal design in 2008, in association with APMP UK - trying to trigger the profession here to think differently.
Then, for a few years, the Strategic Proposals UK team produced an annual 'black book' - a nicely-bound portfolio of the best work by our designers. These days, it's in a PowerPoint deck: updating it in hard copy once a year would seem too infrequent, such is the pace of change in the level of proposal design needed to keep ahead of the pack. Indeed, I happened to glance the other day at some my team's 2014 work - which gained wonderful plaudits at the time and helped clients capture many big deals - and grimaced at how dated it now looks.
As I commented in an APMP conference presentation a few years back: people see what it looks like before they read what it says. And if your documents today look like they did even three years ago, they simply won't look contemporary.
Of course, people argue, more and more proposals have to be submitted via online portals which restrict design creativity. There's not much you can do if it's Arial, 10 point, no illustrations. In fact, all that's meant is an explosion of creativity at the presentation stage (or, when it comes to 'orals', as many in the profession in the US rather, erm, surprisingly call the pitch phase). Those buyers who are incredibly over-prescriptive when it comes to RFP responses offer us virtually free rein when we go in to present.
These days, a great proposal not only needs to "superbly articulate a compelling story" - to quote BJ's memorable phrase. It needs to be bring it to life superbly visually, too. And if you don't have the resource and skill in your team to achieve that, you'll almost inevitably be falling behind your competition.