Speculative Designs – Why they can do more harm than good


www.no-spec.comOver the years we have been asked many a time to create a few mock-up/speculative website designs to present during sale time (and pre sign-up). In the past (and previous positions) we were always made to do it, being told that it could be the deal clincher. I have always had a problem with these for reasons I will go into in a minute but first let me reinforce that when I say mock-ups I actually mean non-charged for/free work (an important point in my argument).

Before I begin my article in full let me also explain that by refusing to carry out speculative design we have never (as far we are aware!) lost out on the opportunity to tender. Potential clients have always reacted positively when we explain our reasons and I know other agencies who have had similar experiences.

Deal clincher…what about deal breaker?

Anyone who has ever gone through the design process be it for a website, business card or their own living room decoration will understand that a hugely important part of the process is the initial design meeting. It’s where the designer has the chance to get a feel for you and your business, find out what your looking to achieve, discover who’s the target market and generally start to understand your likes and dislikes.

By offering a mock-up without any kind of design meeting can be hit and miss. So many things could go wrong and you’re really relying on the first impression allowing you to have a second chance. If you have inadvertently designed a mock-up that’s red for someone who detests red then, rather than being a deal clincher it has more potential to be a deal breaker.

False negatives

By offering speculative design we felt we were short changing the client on the important design meeting stage. They could have been put off by something as simple as an irrelevant stock image, a wrong colour choice or us not getting in a call to action they wanted. That one design could give a client the impression that the design company was just not up for the job.


The design process is so much more than a pretty site and requires an understanding (on the designers half) of how the business runs and it’s objectives online. Any designer will need to know what these are before creating a mock-up. Without a design meeting, these objective could be missing from a speculative design and encourage the client to form a ‘falsely negative’ opinion.

Free stuff devalues stuff

Discounts are great aren’t they? Everyone loves to grab a bargain but the trouble with a discount or a freebie is that the value of that item is equated to the actual amont paid not what it is actually worth.

We had a chat in the office and this may be a bad example but it’s just to give the gist of the idea so…if you get a pair of shoes for £10 that should have cost £100 you’re more inclined to think of them as being ‘only a tenner’ rather than ‘worth £100’ and thus, devalue the shoes. The same can apply to mock-ups, if a designer ‘knocks up a speculative design’ prior to any contracts being signed then the value of that design is cheapened’.

We hate wastage

Leading on from that point is the wastage:

  • If the design isn’t accepted and you do win it then that’s hours that need to be re-spent thinking over the design.
  • If the design isn’t accepted and you don’t win then that’s hours that will have been spent needlessly on a non-client.

Either way it’s wasted time, effort and cost to the business.

What can you do other than speculative work?

Portfolios are great to show customers you can make a pretty site but what we find works better are straightforward testimonials. Client who are willing to talk to potential clients about their experiences are far more valuable to us as it demonstrates that not only have we made something they like but also, we have created a design that met their business objectives.We see this as being far more important to both parties than an ill-informed, non-briefed speculative design.

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  1. Pingback: dropjack.com

    • Jacqueline
    • 2nd May 2009

    David I agree, portfolios, references and gut feeling should all figure more highly in selecting a designer than a quick mock-up!

  2. I would take it as a sign that the person could be a P taker if they want a “mock-up”. Prospective website owners should base their choice on what company they think has the best portfolio.