Visual design of proposals – 5 main tips
Howdy! 👋 The devil often lies in details and sometimes visual representation can kill or seal a deal. Join us on a quick tour through some crucial aspects to keep in mind when designing your offers & proposals. Let's go!
1. Plan the contents
No matter how good your designers are and how much time & money your pour into a design, it will always be secondary to the content.
When opening your proposal, a customer usually follows one of 2 scenarios:
For quick deals, small sums and initial offer comparison between vendors, they will open it and quickly scan for only the most vital info: how much, when is the deadline, what are the hourly rates.
For larger projects (such as custom software development), they will dig into the details and take a look at what sections/modules the proposal contains, how much they cost and what are the priorities. For instance, customers requesting a mobile app will usually wish to see mobile-related modules with the most hours & budget. If your desktop website takes 95% of dev time, this will look bad in this regard.
A proposal must, first and foremost, contain the most crucial information. You can only plan the design once you know or at the very least suspect what the design should consider in the first place, as this will dictate, for instance, the font colors and size. I have covered what elements a good proposal should contain on our blog before.
My tip: No document design can amount for the ever changing business landscape. Plan a way to extend the template especially where and how you will be able to add additional sections like tax info or comments.
2. The layout
Despite looking rather boring and downright retro, a table layout is usually the best way to go. Remember: functional first, flashy second. Tables provide a set of advantages:
- They are extremely readable
- They're easy to edit and add new rows/columns in any configuration
- It's quite easy to divide them into sub-sections
- The layout can be changed to non-standard by merging cells or making some empty
- Excel export is easy-peasy
- Tables are familiar to business folks
One thing you have to keep in mind though, is responsive design. Online versions of your documents will be opened in a browser, and the simplest HTML tables are not very mobile responsive in nature. Sure, there are a couple ways to make them fit properly on mobile, but they usually involve horizontal scrolling or collapsing columns to new lines. This is somewhat functional, but makes data reading and comparison quite hard on small screens and binds your customers to their laptops/desktops. See examples below:
Squish is obviously the best, but works only for tables with not a whole lot of data. Collapsing of any kind is good, but you must take readability into account and label all columns & rows in a way that produces something easy to understand on a phone or tablet. Some tools provide templates optimized for mobile by default. That's a great way of taking care of this issue easily, though some custom CSS can do the job just as well.
3. Make it readable
This sounds banal as all hell, but cannot be underlined enough: making a table readable is very hard and absolutely must happen.
- Don't use too many colors. Colored elements are great at catching attention, but how many things actually need this attention?
- Give some space to elements. Padding in all directions is amazing. Grid lines can be used, but don't make them jet black - a shade of grey will suffice. Try not using any lines, too!
- Left align texts (unless you're Arabic or Japanese) and right align numbers. Proposals are all about math, so don't forget this!
The result can be truly stunning. Just check our the example below:
4. Brand it
No matter if you use a tool or make your own document template, always remember to make it branded. Many companies are surprisingly lenient with branding: their websites and brochures are precisely designed, and sales proposals consist of an empty Excel table, at times sparkled with a logo in A1 (wow!).
At the very least, use font styles and colors consistent with your brand. If you have a design book or official brand guidelines, just find this document (I know you have buried it deep in your spam folder) and take a look. If not, your logo is usually a great place to start. At the very least it will give you 1 decorative font style and 1 or more colors to use.
The goal here is to show the customer that this is not an offer, but an offer from you. Making it stand out with layout is nigh impossible, so brand it properly. There is a good chance that the customer will remember not just the price, but at least a vague idea of who supplied it. Even if it's just "the green guys".
5. Give a way to proceed
One thing I constantly try to suggest for y'all is to not trap your customer inside a proposal. I know that many will reject your offers, but some will not - and you absolutely, positively, must plan for this scenario.
Give the customer a way to proceed - accept, discuss, call you, whatever your process may require. This should be factored into your proposal designs in a way similar to how modern websites & apps are created. You see, whenever a digital interface is born, the main action is clearly defined. The main action is exactly what you want the customer to do. To achieve this, a CTA (Call to Action) is defined. Usually it's a button or tab on the interface. Designers strive to answer some questions:
- How should the CTA look?
- What should it say?
- Where should it be positioned?
- 1 or more? How many, where?
CTAs should be easy to process, direct in their labeling and consistent. In terms of proposal design, the best place is definitely the very end of your table - the customer cannot accept or reject without getting the full picture, so the decision takes place only after reading through every row and column of data.
Further, for big (in financial terms) deals they will usually not click a button called "I ACCEPT NOW". This brings a legal liability and they probably have to go through a process to secure the funds, sign all the paperwork, inform their higher-ups, and so on. Something along the lines of "Give feedback" or "All fine?" would be better, as such labels give them a way to show their "okay" without being too binding and hasty.
Stay tuned for the next time 👋
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