Form Follows Function – Looking Good!

Have you ever had a proposal rejected and wondered why? You know it was a great proposal.  you know you could do the work and make a brilliant job of it.  All the information the client needed was there.  But somehow they didn’t see it? Well – it probably isn’t your technical content.  You see, as in life itself – first impressions matter. It’s all about looking good!

Often I see great technical experts being let down by their proposals or documentation not looking good.

The attention to detail, layout and logical presentation are all important, maybe as important as the content.

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Think about it. Imagine you are reading the Sunday paper.  There is a very important article about a subject you are passionate.  When you start reading it you see a huge number of spelling mistakes, grammar, different font sizes, gaps, and a picture that doesn’t fit the theme of the article.  How do you feel about the article?  How do you feel about the author?  Do they look like an expert and authority in their field?  or is there now some doubt in your mind?

Whether you’re presenting a proposal document, submitting a report, or doing a talk or presentation or even a video. Each time you should be ensuring that all the details are correct and that it looks professional.

Have you added a contents page within the document?  If your logo on the front?  Is there a consistent look and feel?

When working with my clients on proposals I am keen to guard against their document looking like an amateur newsletter.

I have seen documents where the material looks like it’s been put together by six or seven unrelated people.  There looks to be no co-ordination. It inevitably ends up containing different fonts, different styles, different layouts and different colours and looks a bit of a mess!

If that document ended up in front of a client, what kind of impression are they going to derive from that? More than likely they’re going to conclude that the essence of this document you’ve presented reflects the usual standard of your work. However, most likely, this is not a true reflection of your skillset.  You are an expert, an absolute professional and any work you do is probably outstanding and of very high quality. However, because of the messy document you may unfortunately not receive the job you deserve.

So, with this in mind, you need to make sure that your documentation is looking good and reflects your work. Because people will judge you on the silliest of things.  they probably don’t understand what you actually do, so they will judge on the things that they do understand. Does it look good? Is the spelling correct? Does it make grammatical sense? These are the kind of things that they’ll be looking for in your presentation or document when they don’t understand the technical aspects of what you’re delivering.

A phrase that was coined by a gentleman called Lewis Sullivan in 1896 was “form follows function”.  But what does it mean?

Lewis Sullivan was principally an architect, and when he coined this phrase, he was talking about office blocks.  Specifically he was talkig about how the exterior of a building should reflect the interior.  And that the shape of a building or object should be based upon its intended function or purpose.  So that when people to come to a building, they understand the kind of occupants that are within, as well as what service or business is going on there.

This principle has been taken on by many others and I’ve heard it so much from within the design world and from marketers. However, I’ve also heard it turned around to “function follows form” sometimes and this makes no sense. If your work doesn’t reflect the kind of thing that you’re doing, then the reality is you’re not giving real value back to your client. Your expertise must come out from within those documents. The function of what you’re creating is critical, but how it looks, and its presentation must always be just as strong.

This focus of look and feel is important through all of commerce.  A prime example is Steve Jobs of Apple, who was probably one of the biggest proponents of providing the best-looking and most comfortable to use gadgets. One of the things he said was, he wanted his interface to be “lickable”.  Now that’s a fantastic thought. Likewise, that’s what you should be aiming for, that your work truly represents what you do, and how you do it.

So, are you going to make sure that your work truly represents all that you have to offer?  Will you spend that little bit extra time to make it look fabulous before you present it to your client?  Or are you going to give them a shoddy piece of work and just hope that the technical content will win the day?