A winning proposal is the whole package – not just the content, but the layout and the cover. Yes, the cover! Because the cover of your proposal, like a well-designed book cover, will draw your reviewer’s interest and be the one they keep being drawn to. A well designed cover, like a good suit, leaves your client with a good first impression!

Here are the techniques I use to create a cover that is persuasive as well as compliant:

  • Design the cover to be the right balance to reflect your brand while still being client-focused.
    • Use your overall theme as the headline on the cover, as well as the RFP name and number
    • Use a blend of colors that match yours and your client’s branding
    • Use a good quality photo that reflects your message and the impression you want the client to have.
    • If you don’t have a good photo, use your main messaging graphic.
    • If you use a photo, make it of the actual project site. Or even better, a schematic of what the project will look like when you are complete
    • Engage your proposal graphic artist, if you have one, to help design the cover
  • Design a cover that passes the eye test.
    • Place the cover on a large table along with some other past proposal covers. (If you don’t have a large table, use the floor.)
    • Step back and close your eyes. Then quickly scan all the covers. Where does your eye stop?
    • Have a couple of peers not involved in the proposal do the same thing. Ask them which cover their eyes stop.
    • Keep redesigning until your cover is the one your test team picks.

A good cover design can be simple and incorporate lots of white space. Below an example of a simple design that worked. The client was a small firm submitting an unsolicited proposal to a large automotive client. We went for a very clean design with lots of white space. The bottom third of the page was filled with this graphic – which supported the proposed scope, and suggested forward movement and cutting edge design. The proposal was effective in getting my client to the negotiation table! They received complements on how professional the proposal was. That impression started with the cover.

Cover Element

I am not a graphic artist. I learned how to do this through lots of reading, attending APMP meetings and webinars, talking to lots of artists and noticing covers that I thought were really well designed. All contributed to my understanding of good document design. Here’s a great TED Talk that talks about good book cover design that I think has some great ideas in it!

Chip Kidd: The art of first impressions — in design and life

Now I know that the cover is never part of the scoring criteria. But just as readability increases your scoring, so can the cover. So let your cover be your company’s visual introduction and create a great first impression.