This April saw TDL reach a big milestone, we are 10 years old! It might have sneaked by without much celebration due to COVID restrictions (the team will make up for that as soon as we can though), but it’s given me an opportunity to reflect on some of the highs, lows, and lessons learnt relating to the world of bid & tender design over the past decade.

TDL creative bid design

The beginnings

It’s actually difficult for me to comprehend that it was 10 years ago when I registered TDL as a limited company, then called ‘Tomlinson Designs Limited’; as it seems just like yesterday. I’d left my bid designer role at Amey to study an MA in Information Design at the University of Reading, and upon graduating was approached by Serco to help with some bid and tender design. With all the onboarding paperwork required I thought I’d better register at Companies House and open an official business bank account; no planning, no strategy and no idea where I was going, but it was exciting to tell my parents I now owned a company with my very own cheque book!

Creating the TDL team

I was lucky in that hard work paid off; my first clients, including Serco, Kier and Ferrovial provided repeat business, and referrals came from people moving to new companies. Having a great relationship with the bid consultant PCSG also helped build a healthy pipeline of work and made me feel part of a team, but all the work soon became a challenge for me to handle alone, so it was time to look for help.

TDL early design team

Through my network of friends I found Josh and Dave, and before long I tempted them away from freelancing to become TDLs first employees. Finding secondhand office furniture, an Earlsfield office with no windows, and planning our weekly trip to the local greasy spoon helped me forget the added stresses of being responsible for two people’s salary and their monthly bills.

Over the years the team has expanded, bringing news skills, new personalities and new favourite drinks and party tricks to the Christmas socials! All of our growth has been organic and outgrowing our studios has seen us move from Earlsfield to Clapham and now into Richmond, but what I’m most proud of is seeing the team members growing their skills within TDL, be it just as a short-term placement, or a long-term career plan. The team not only go above and beyond the call of duty in getting bids across the line, but they do so without losing their cool, quality, creativity and, most importantly, their sense of humour!

10 years of working with great clients

Looking at our client list it’s comforting to see all our initial clients are still on there; it just goes to prove we must be doing something right! Of course, we wouldn’t have survived very long during the global economic and pandemic events we’ve seen in the last 10 years if it weren’t for the work coming from our clients, so a huge ‘THANK YOU!’ to all of you who’ve trusted us to handle your bid design and graphic communication. From hundreds of ‘swimlane’ diagrams for highways bids, to the most complex organisational structures and method statements for the biggest civil engineering contracts in the country, we’ve enjoyed collaborating with you all on a vast array of diagrammatic challenges.

The relationships we have with our clients have not just been ‘key accounts’ or ‘BD targets’; many have evolved into trusted partnerships and (dare I say it without sounding too corny) actual friendships. I put this down to the nature of the design process involved in getting a bid diagram really hitting the spot; it takes a collaboration between author and designer which in turn revolves around conversations and a deep understanding of each other’s requirements. When you combine this approach with the stresses of a ‘must win’ bid and the decisions on what pizzas to order during the early hours, there is of course going to be a long-lasting sense of camaraderie.

As the years have gone by, we have adapted with our clients to the changing landscape of bids and tenders; but what are the changes we’ve noticed in bid design during this time?

oliver tomlinson on-site working

Changes we have seen in bid design

We’ve seen client’s approach to bids changing in a cyclical manner, from centralised bid teams to no bid teams at all, and outsourced bid resource to getting everything done in-house. There are probably many factors involved in making these decisions, but we do see them occur in cycles.

From those early days of everything going through the print shop, with bespoke folders, binders and packaging, sometimes filling a whole transit van as it gets delivered just before the deadline, we have seen the gentle shift to digital. The move to portal uploads and pasting stripped out tenders into cells online has brought its challenges. We have seen all the useful formatting in the text removed such as character styles, typesize and bullets; these are not just for making things pretty, they are often fundamental elements to enable readers (evaluators) to see a hierarchy in text and navigate it effectively. We’ve also seen the diagram positioning on a page shifted away from the text they relate to, to a place far away in an appendix with no ability to cross reference.

“Since joining TDL in 2013 I’ve enjoyed helping the agency grow, refining the way we work on bids and becoming an industry renowned leader in bid diagrams and design. I’m passionate about really pushing the creativity in the team and designing new diagram concepts in sectors we haven’t worked in before”

Tom Howse

Head of Bid Design, TDL-Creative

TDL creative team zoom call

But it’s not all doom and gloom! The shift to digital has enabled us to use the time previously assigned to the dreaded print run to polish concepts with our clients and push the boundaries on what we submit. We have been able to explore interactivity in bid diagrams and bidder presentations, designing solutions that are flexible, dynamic and multi-layered.

The way we work has also adapted with client requirements, especially around remote working and dispersed joint venture teams. Luckily the TDL team are all set up for this way of working. For some years, our clients have been working on bids with teams all over the country, if not across the world, so it was easy for us to adapt to the changes brought about in the last year of challenges.

The future

In one word, it’s EXCITING! The last ten years has seen TDL grow organically, but the next ten is going to see us being more strategic and proactive in our development.

We’ve been fine-tuning our approach and now it’s time to see where else we can showcase our skills and really help people with their communications challenges. We want to help more bid teams win work, using digital design and advances in information design theory, learning and sharing best practice across multiple sectors.

More and more of our clients are gaining the tools of the bid design trade, so we will help to create templates for them to utilise in-house. We will collaborate with our clients to develop excellent methods of working, so bid teams can get the most from their own teams whilst maximising the benefits of working with us as their specialist bid design partner.

We anticipate shifts in what we will be visualising within bid diagrams, with more emphasis on ‘why’ something is being done rather than ‘how’ it’s going to be achieved. New design requirements will involve growing our team to provide creative and innovative design solutions, matching new ways in which readers digest information. Our evolution to maximise our offering to our clients will see our team expand, but also our pool of specialist partners; developers, writers, cinematographers, service designers and user experience specialists to name a few.

As the world changes over the next ten years, be it political, economic, environmental or humanitarian, there will be challenges that need explaining, and concepts that need visualising. We look forward to working with clients to craft design solutions that inform, enable, instruct, and excite audiences, ensuring key messages are understood and remembered.

TDL creative group shots

“Opportunity is endless with the mission of making information understandable”

Oliver Tomlinson

CEO & Founder, TDL Creative