The Rules of Engagement

The best RFPs have clear instructions, pertinent questions and realistic goals, but still leave room for vendors to display initiative.


Use a bullet list of criteria whenever possible. This makes it easier for respondents to match their comments to your needs.

Be clear about the time frame. A redesign should take about 8 weeks to do well, but could be accomplished in as little as 4 weeks. It isn’t unusual for one to drag on for months, however. Setting a launch date for the new design helps keep the process on schedule.

Ask for a laundry list of non-inclusive charges, without being specific. Travel, photo research or shoots, scans, FedEx and font creation are a few of the extra elements that can add significantly to the cost of a job. If you want to specify how many face-to-face meetings should be built into the fee, be explicit what they are for.

Encourage alternative suggestions for scope, deliverables and workflow in your RFP. Using the experience of your respondents to improve your selection process can give you valuable insight for your final choice. Just be certain to alert all the respondents about changes or extensions to the original RFP so that you are always evaluating apples to apples.

Debrief your final candidates. A simple conference call can put to rest any lingering doubts or confirm your gut choice.


Never assume a deliverable to be part of the project fee. It’s better to be overspecific than vague, and better still to encourage respondents to be specific about their products.

Avoid asking for spec work. Not only does it go against the established ethical guidelines from respected trade associations such as the AIGA, it simply isn’t the best basis for making a decision. Even critiques of your current book and suggestions for the direction of the redesign are uninformed by realities of politics, budget and history. But critiques provide insight into the thought process of the respondent and are a guide to how articulate and clear future communications could be.

Try not to use the prototype as a “live” issue. Your staff needs time to learn the new template, and the degree of finesse that a real publication demands is often missing from a final prototype. Besides, creating live content is out of the scope of most redesign rfps. If you want to use the firm doing the redesign to produce the initial issues, it should be a separate contract.

Don’t let the fee influence your decision — too much. The work and communication skills of the respondents, the enthusiasm of the referrals and the match to your needs can mean a lot more than the fees, and the dirty little industry secret is that there are no “standard” fees. By the same token, the low bid is not always the best choice, and if you amortize the cost over the life of the redesign, the actual difference between high and low bids is less significant than getting the work done correctly from the start.


RFP Makes a Great Redesign
Simple as 1-2-3

To get the best firm, you need to ask for the right stuff.


The skills for designing a magazine template are different than those for issue-by-issue design, so when you add the extra workload on top of the already difficult job of getting each issue out the door, hiring an outside firm to handle the redesign makes a lot of sense. The Request for Proposal (RFP) is a critical component in finding the right vendor.

Like in any RFP, capabilities, scope and deliverables should be the main elements of the document. Potential designers should establish their credentials and unique skills for tackling your job, whether it’s familiarity with your market segment and content or a compatible working style. It’s a lot easier to establish that when the scope is clearly explained. The rfp should also contain a clear list of deliverables, both for the process of evaluation and for the final product.

Here are simple categories that should be in every Redesign RFP:


A responding firm needs the opportunity to present itself for evaluation.

CompetencE. The history of the firm and extent of its business capabilities.

Relevant Skill. Specific background that qualifies the firm’s suitability for the project.

Work Process. How the firm will staff, interact with the client and proceed with the job.

Similar Contracts. Case studies of projects that have relevance to the current RFP.

References. Contacts that verify the work experience, preferably in conjunction with the case studies or samples provided.


Your RFP should be very clear about your rationale for redesign and your expectations.

Mission and Demographic Data. To help define your audience and purpose.

Reason for Redesign. The political, economic and practical reasons for the change.

Extent of Redesign. What exactly will be changed: branding, structure, navigation, grids, fonts, editorial issue map?

Goals of Redesign. The aesthetic, business and editorial expectations of the final product.

Timeline. When the final materials are needed and interim deadlines.


These should always be spelled out, since the fee structure is tied to the work.

For Evaluation

SAMPLES. Magazines similar in budget and editorial scope with before-and-after examples.

CRITIQUE. Short, open-ended essay allowing respondents to demonstrate their grasp of the project and unique insight into possible directions. This should be used for evaluation, not as a locked-in blueprint.

FEE SCHEDULE. A grid tied to deliverables can be helpful, but allowing the firm to delineate its own fee schedule reveals a lot about its sense of responsibility.

During the Design Process

Comp Sets. Number of iterations and of what parts of the book define work scope and when additional fees are acceptable.

Templates. Specific qualifications of application, fonts and auxiliary files.

Style Guide. Complete guide to using the templates that demonstrate style sheets, techniques and aesthetic theory of the redesign.

Post-Delivery Consulting. Duration of project support, including critique, evaluation of in-house work or even tweaking of files. “Live” design work should always be considered a separate job.

Ownership. Who maintains rights to the application files, fonts and art.

Each of these items helps each respondent deliver an accurate quote for the project and establish the scope and contract of the working relationship. The detail should be sufficient to cover the expectations of the project so that later disputes over going outside the scope won’t occur. Providing flexibility within the RFP to anticipate problems and how they will be resolved helps start a big project on the right footing. In addition, it’s important for the RFP to set the standards for the work. Responders who balk at parts of the deliverables are going to challenge other parts of the project when things get difficult.

It’s tempting to ask for spec work in the evaluation deliverables, the design of a feature or a nameplate, but there are a lot of reasons to avoid this. Spec work is performed with only limited knowledge of the parameters of the project, is not representative of the process necessary to achieve the best results, and can bias consideration of later comprehensives. If work from a competing proposal is compelling but the respondent isn’t selected, the work might stymie the efforts at a later, more critical stage of the process, or worse, might be integrated into the design.

It isn’t unfair to ask for a short critique based on the redesign scope and some suggestions of how the designers might proceed. In fact, their critical appraisal can be the best indication of who will do the best job on your redesign.

A redesign is an opportunity to freshen the approach to your editorial mission. But making maximum use of your outside design team requires accepting the challenge of seeing your publication from someone else’s perspective. Setting a collaborative tone and clearly describing the scope and deliverables will go far in keeping the working relationship on course and — dare we say it? — fun.

This article originally ran in the Winter, 2008 issue of FPO.