To pitch or not to pitch? – how to find a design partner for life?

Decades ago, most manufacturers of good standing in medical technology still had their own design department. Meanwhile, this has changed fundamentally. Today, external design know-how is thus predominantly called in when it comes to launching a perfect product. At a time when many companies are rethinking radical outsourcing and want to position themselves properly for the challenges ahead, it is all the more important to approach the selection of a design partner carefully and with the necessary foresight and professionalism. Today, it is rather about gaining a long-term partner than buying an arbitrary service.

This article addresses both the purchasing department and the respective specialist department that needs design support in specific cases.

How do I find an ideal design partner?

A pitch is one of many ways to find partners for a project. Search engines, local proximity or the Verband Deutscher Industrie Designer e.V. (Association of German Industrial Designers) can be used to find an agency quickly – and it would be easy to commit yourself. Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as that, because similar to “tying the knot”, most of the important characteristics are not apparent at first glance. But if both parties put a lot of time and effort into the selection phase, it ideally turns into a partnership for life. And excellent design can only be created in a functioning partnership.

Compared to other processes, a pitch is the most differentiated and neutral option in order to find a design agency. Instead of a subjective opinion, the result is an objective confirmation that the selected agency is the right one. It is also important to be supported by your own company. Everyone who is involved in the project should be involved in the selection process. However, the initiator of the pitch is not always ideal for managing the process. The purchasing department often has a more objective view and is therefore well suited for being in charge.

Definition: Agency Pitch

Wikipedia says: In simple terms, an Agency Pitch is a presentation used to compete for a contract. It is one of the most commonly used methods by companies to select an agency. In this process, agencies seek a specific budget from a client. (translated from German)

In the field of industrial design, this usually means a small test task with tight conditions in terms of fees and deadlines, which is set for two or more providers in the same way – and which is objectively evaluated by the company at the end.

The first step: The Briefing

The first step is to define a clear task. To achieve comparable results, it is important that all agencies receive the same information. A briefing defines goal and purpose of the project, as well as the output that the agencies are expected to provide. What makes a good briefing can be read in another blog article of ours.

When pre-selecting from a longlist of about ten suitable agencies, the effort can be kept low. An agency presentation is quite sufficient. Then the selected agencies are briefed in detail. This is also the point at which an NDA is concluded, at the latest. Bringing the competitors together and conducting the discussions in a group makes little sense at this point. (Video) conferences in the form of a kick-off meeting are more efficient in the exchange between only two parties.

Fairness is the key

Agencies need to know about the pitch situation. Keeping the competitors secret from each other demonstrates professionalism. Even if a company has already gained experience with one of the participants, all potential partners should have equal opportunities.

The first phase is full of ideas but it does not yet produce a finished draft for the project. With a compact task, the designers show their skills in two to three weeks. In some cases, they already go beyond the required scope. This means that customers already get a lot of input and inspiration for comparatively low costs.

Spoilt for choice: the final decision

To evaluate the results, the company sets clearly defined factors. These include hard factors such as the used software programs, the number of employees, the locations, etc.. In case of the soft factors, points for sympathy can be gained and inventiveness rewarded. Of course, the design draft is also included in the evaluation, but it should be on a par with the hard and soft factors. Here it is important to remember that in this procedure, which is tight for all sides, a very quick draft is made, but for the time being it is only the basis for further work. Once the selection process has been successfully completed, the team usually starts all over again.

A final review with every participant is common courtesy. This way, the pitch was not in vain even for those who did not win, and they can take the feedback into account for their next attempt. However, the winner should not be announced in the feedback meeting. Professionalism here again means discretion.

To put it in a nutshell: It’s worth it. A well-done pitch includes a little more effort but also a great benefit.

What are your experiences with pitches? Even though we are clearly on the supplier side, we would be happy to advise you on the subject of pitches.

Practical tips from design consultant Markus Wild:

  • Involve all important stakeholders in the selection process.
  • Evaluate each key aspect which is relevant for the future collaboration. Hard and soft factors, general and task-related. This can easily turn into an Excel file with 30 rows, but it’s worth it.
  • Set concise parameters, both financially and timewise.
  • Enable a fair competition and treat no competitor in a special manner.
  • Maintain discretion among the competitors.

The effort should not be underestimated, but it pays off through an intensive, long-term partnership with the agency. Just give it a try!

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Lydia writes about design processes and our medical design projects.

Originally written by Lydia Münstermann, 07. June 2022. Last updated 05. July 2022


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