You've been looking for projects as a freelance designer for the past few months, and you've finally found a good lead! Now, it's time for you to create a design proposal … 

It can be daunting if it's your first time to create one, or if you've written a design proposal in the past but had potential clients pass on it. Not all design proposals are created equal. Some proposals fall short of expectations and fail to impress clients while others stand out and get buy-in right away. 

What sets a great design proposal apart from an average one? It boils down to incorporating user research and testing into your proposal. 

This guide highlights the importance of user research in creating design proposals that truly stand out. You'll also learn how to create a design proposal that prioritizes user research. By doing so, you can position yourself as a valuable partner of would-be clients and increase your chances of winning more design projects in the future.

Before you learn about the ins and outs of prepping design proposals, let's take a quick look at what design proposals are and what they communicate. 

What is a design proposal?

A design proposal is a document that outlines the goals, scope, and approach of a design project. Think of it as a tool to communicate your ideas to clients and eventually gain their buy-in for a project. 

A good design proposal will help you win over clients by showing that you understand their needs and can help them accomplish their business goals. It will also give them confidence in your ability to do so. 

When you might be asked for a design proposal

Design proposals can be a part of the bidding process when you're competing with other designers for a client's business. They might also be used later in the process as part of a presentation or pitch to show how your approach will solve their problem.

How design proposals benefit you and your clients 

A well thought out design proposal can not only help you land a job but can also act as a framework for the entire design process. It can help protect you from a client's shifting expectations and goals halfway through the project.

Design proposals also help clients understand what to expect from you and the final deliverables. This helps manage expectations and avoid misunderstandings or surprises down the line. 

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How to create a winning design proposal 

Now, for the fun part. Let's walk through how to create a design proposal that your prospects can't say no to. 

Design proposal

Step 1: Talk to your potential client to understand the problem 

Before you create a design proposal, you need to understand the design problem you’re trying to solve.

You can better understand a client’s needs and challenges by talking with them. Whether it's a face-to-face chat or through a virtual meeting, ask relevant questions and actively listen to their responses.

Don't be afraid to ask as much as you need to fully grasp their goals. The more you understand their predicament, the better you can help. Remember, a client who sees you asking questions will be impressed by your willingness to understand their problem.

From this conversation, you can define the problem statement, which should describe the challenge or issue that needs addressing. 

Step 2: Perform user research and testing

Good design doesn't exist without thoughtful research. Whether it’s qualitative or quantitative, talking to the product or service’s target audience is important in creating a successful design proposal. 

Conducting user research before developing your design proposal has several benefits for both you and your would-be client. 

Design proposal

Benefits for designers

  • A better understanding of users: User research helps UX designers understand user needs, preferences, and pain points, as well as help identify any cognitive biases, which can all inform the design process and lead to better solutions.

  • Validation of design decisions: Asking the right user research interview questions can provide valuable feedback on a mock-up or low-fidelity design, allowing you to make necessary adjustments before you present the proposal to the client.

  • Improved design outcomes: By conducting a simple usability test and incorporating feedback into an early design concept, you can create a product or service that meets the users' needs and is more likely to be successful.

Benefits for clients

  • Better alignment with business goals: User research helps to ensure that the solution the designer is proposing aligns with business goals and addresses user needs, which will lead to a more successful outcome.

  • Reduced risk: User testing identifies potential problems early in the design process and reduces the risk of costly errors.

  • Higher ROI (return on investment): Higher returns can be achieved by designing a product or service that is truly helpful to users.

In summary, user research and testing are the foundation of a compelling, effective design proposal. It helps uncover user needs, justify design decisions, and find the best solution possible. 

Arturo Rios, a senior product designer at Crunchtime, explains it perfectly

"If the solution does not fit into the lives of the people it is meant to serve, if it does not consider the behaviors associated with the problem it's trying to solve, the design will be rendered obsolete."

Top tip: Before you start your design proposal, ask the client if you can review existing research findings like surveys, interviews, or usability data. 

If you need to perform user research and testing, here are some examples of the methods you can use to make your design proposal stand out:

  • Design surveys: Gather information from your client’s target users, including their preferences, habits, and opinions.

  • Interviews: Conduct one-on-one interviews with users to understand their needs, pain points, and aspirations.

  • Focus groups: Assemble a small group of people to take part in a moderated discussion about their opinions, behaviors, and preferences about a topic or product.

  • Observations: Observe people using similar products or services to gain insights into their behavior and identify areas where you can make improvements.

  • Analytics: Tools like Google Analytics can help gather quantitative data about your users’ online behavior and preferences.

  • First click testing: Ask users to perform a designated action on an initial design concept, enabling you to analyze user behavior.

  • Usability testing: Create a low-fidelity prototype of your design and test it with a few users to get quick feedback on usability, functionality, and design. You can test using realistic tasks and scenarios. Use the feedback you receive to refine your proposal's design strategy and concepts. 

Design proposal

There are plenty of tools that can help you conduct user research and testing. For example, Lyssna is the go-to remote user testing platform for design teams and freelance designers who want to develop user-centered solutions. 

Step 3: Create your design proposal 

Your next step is to create the design proposal. Your proposal should include three main sections: 

  • Section 1: Presenting the problem

  • Section 2: Presenting the solution

  • Section 3: Next steps for your client

Presenting the problem 

While it's tempting to talk about your brand or accomplishments in your proposal, remember that your potential client is primarily concerned with their business problem. Your proposal must convince them you’re the person they’ve been searching for.

To make a strong impression, start off by dedicating the first section of your proposal to the problem your client is facing. This should be easy to do if you've already had a conversation with them and have completed some initial user research.

Take the time to clearly outline the issue at hand and use relevant data. 

Presenting the solution

Now comes the exciting part – presenting your solution! You've made it this far, so it's time to seal the deal by offering the client a clear and effective solution to their problem. 

Think of this section as the most critical part of your entire proposal. It's where you can really sell your expertise and show how you can help solve the problem.

Your design solution should include the following elements to make it more persuasive:

  • A specific course of action that outlines the steps you'll take to achieve the solution.

  • Data and statistics that support your proposed course of action. Your user research findings should be able to support this.

  • Opportunities for your prospect to review the strategy at consistent and specific intervals. For example, you can propose design sprints as part of your design process. After each sprint, the client can review your results and provide feedback. 

Next steps for your client

Once a prospect has gone through the solution and decides to work with you, they'll probably be wondering what the next steps are. 

This is the section where you outline what the prospect has to do to finalize a working relationship with you. 

You can include your contact information, payment details, milestones, and the terms of the project. 

Design proposal format 

Here’s a suggested design proposal format to follow. 

  • Cover page: The cover page should be simple and professional. It should include the client's name, your name, and the project's title.

  • Table of contents: This is a breakdown of the proposal’s sections with page numbers to help the client find relevant information quickly.

  • Problem statement: Present the problem based on your conversations with the client and user research findings.

  • Proposed solution: This section highlights your proposed solutions. If the project has multiple solutions, make sure that you and the client agree on which takes priority.

  • A "why me?" section: This is where you convince the client that you're the best person for the job. If possible, include testimonials from previous clients and case studies of your previous projects.

  • Scope: This is the section of your proposal where you clearly define any limits based on the timeline and budget.

  • Timeline: Share a timeline that's realistic for you as well as the client.

  • Deliverables: Write a comprehensive list of what you'll deliver at each milestone. Add a note that anything extra will require adjustments to the budget and scope.

  • Payment information: Outline when and how you’d like to be paid for the project.

  • Terms and conditions: Outline the legal and commercial terms of the agreement. It's crucial to be thorough and clear to avoid misunderstandings later.

  • Contact information: Include your contact information so the client knows how to contact you.

Design proposal

Step 4: Share or present your design proposal 

When sharing your design proposal via email, video call, or in person, clarify that it’s for the specific project discussed, and mention anything important you want your client to notice. Thank them for their time and express your excitement in working with them on their project.

Here are some tips on how to effectively present your design proposal:

  • Use visuals: Charts, graphs, and other visual aids to help stakeholders better understand data. Visuals can break down complex information and make it easier to digest.

  • Highlight key insights: Identify the most important insights from your research and highlight them in your proposal. This will help to ensure that your client understands the key takeaways.

  • Tell stories: Use real-life examples and stories to illustrate your findings. This can bring your research to life and make it more relatable to prospects. 

  • Be objective: Present the data objectively, without bias. Avoid drawing conclusions or making recommendations at this stage. Simply present the facts.

  • Practice: If you’re presenting your proposal in person or via video call, practice ahead of time to ensure you’re comfortable with the material and can deliver it effectively.

  • Be sure to cover important sections first: This includes things like the problem, solution, past results, and pricing.

Design proposal

One last thing: always follow up a few days later to answer any questions. Keep in mind that proactive follow-up can help you earn more clients, especially if you show your prospects that you can meet (or even exceed!) their expectations. 

Make your design proposal stand out with user research findings

Whether you're a freelancer specializing in UI design or an independent UX designer, take the time to understand your client's needs through user research and testing before you share your design proposal. Being data-informed can make the difference between winning and losing a client. 

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Kai has been creating content for healthcare, design, and SaaS brands for over a decade. She also manages content (like a digital librarian of sorts). Hiking in nature, lap swimming, books, tea, and cats are some of her favorite things. Check out her digital nook or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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