Doing speculative creative as part of a pitch has almost become an accepted practice within the advertising agency world. Within the industry, doing unpaid speculative creative is a controversial topic. Due to internal and external pressures, it quickly becomes a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Although we are not an advertising agency, the expectations of clients can sometimes be very similar. Often as part of a pitch, a potential client will ask for speculative creative as a sneak peak into what the app screens could look like. When that happens, we try to find some alternative options that can work to the benefit of both our potential client and Bottle Rocket.
First, it is important to help the client understand why speculative creative isn’t a good criteria in selecting a partner. Many of our reasons are similar to reasons cited in the past by others such as Function Fox and NO!SPEC. The primary reasons all relate to not yet completing a client discovery, it is unlikely speculative creative will correctly serve the strategic business, brand, and consumer objectives. In addition to those, there are a few reasons unique to mobile and app design.
The cinematic nature of apps
Nothing is static. The motion and timing of animations, transitions, screen morphing, and audio is all be part of a the brand experience. Those things can not be depicted in the usually static images done for speculative creative. It would be similar to pitching a movie based on the capture of a single frame from the movie.
Interactions and sensors
Gesture inputs and sensors built into the device for proximity, motion, light and a gyroscope can be used to affect the user experience. Static screen designs fall short of expressing the experience to the depth needed to judge the work.
Unlike most web sites, navigation within apps is less rarely based on a traditional menu and very hard to illustrate in the static images of speculative creative. Navigation through app content structures and functionality driven by gestures (multi finger swipes, taps and pinch zooms for example) often require prototypes to convey their magic and how they might work. Prototypes that require greater time and effort than static comps associated with speculative work.
We feel a more important criteria for selection than speculative creative, is to see how we work and how we will work together. For that reason, instead of speculative creative we often offer to do a mini discovery session. These sessions are usually about 3 hours. They do not replace the longer and more in-depth discovery session upon hiring Bottle Rocket but do give the client insight into our approach, our people, and how we will interact with them.
Another alternative to speculative creative is speculative ideation. Usually fresh ideas are more important than the visual execution of the ideas at this point in a potential project. In the time it takes to put one idea through the visual design, we could likely put three ideas though a white board session. Most client’s would actually prefer three big ideas at a concept level than one highly detailed idea at an executional level. This is a simple and fast way to demonstrate our thinking and does not tax as many resources (no Art Director needed to build comps, no Project Manager, etc.).
A third alternative to doing speculative creative is doing real research, and presenting the insights that would ultimately inform the creative. Rarely in pitch situations is there the time to do that level of research, so why not spend that time on the real and actionable research (vs. what is usually throw away creative).
In the end, the client is trying to figure out which potential partner is the smartest, most innovative, and creative. There are many other ways to demonstrate that than speculative creative.
Prepared by Michael Griffith