Mike Monteiro on making great design happen

You should never hire anybody based on their portfolio. I then went home and figured out how to do [the job] before I started.” From there he started climbing the design studio career ladder. The   way I respond is: ‘Yes. There is much attention paid to the role of the portfolio in the design world, and it’s something Monteiro has to deal with himself when recruiting for Mule. “I was one of those misguided humans that went to art school to get a   worthless art degree. So, I started figuring out how. I thought, you know,   that’s a pretty good name for a design   company. Ask them why   they’re making the decisions they’re making, ask them to tie those decisions back to goals and problems that they set up. How should they go about drawing out the goals and restrictions from their new paymaster? Finally we discuss how clients should give feedback to their designer. I was also stupid enough to get a master’s degree in Fine Arts. “So, if you’re a rider and you   trust   your mule, you’re safe. It’s the same when I’m hiring a designer to work here. I tell the designer what I need to happen and they figure out how to make it happen.” The issue, Monteiro explains, is that designers don’t present themselves as the expert and clients don’t treat them as such. “A portfolio gets you through the door. They’re probably scared shitless… All the portfolio shows me is history. It was a terrible day. “I want to design something that is right and something that will last, ” he says. While I was doing that, I came across a part of the art building filled with Macintoshes.”
“I started playing with the Macintoshes and found them great fun, ” he continues. “‘Fuck’? I want to know what you were trying to solve, I want to know what constraints you were up against … budget, timeline, the number of client stakeholders in the room. “It’s a boring, big white concrete slab of an   office which we’ve had to fill with interesting things to keep us from crying,” says Monteiro.So how did it all begin? There was no middleman and you didn’t need anybody’s permission. Imagine you go to the doctor, and the doctor asks you how you want to be operated on or what kind of medicine you’d like.”
Continuing his medical analogy, Monteiro explains that a doctor will go through a process of discovery, asking the patient about their problems. “Looking at a portfolio shows me that design happened. Today, we pride ourselves on taking care of our clients.”
Monteiro is, however, quick to point out that taking care of a client isn’t the same as giving the client what they want. I was also dumb enough to think that I could avoid bureaucracy. “Did you know you can take mule rides to the bottom of the Grand Canyon?” he begins. Buy your early bird ticket to see Mike at Generate New York
When he’s not delivering expletive-ridden polemics such as ‘Fuck You. Rather, designers view themselves as a pair of hands that are willing to do whatever the client wants. He was clearly on to something. “They put you on a mule and take you down a little trail. I want designers to understand this [process of discovery] is part of their job. “Accidentally,” Monteiro says. They eventually realised that they could use mules because mules won’t do anything to harm themselves or their rider.”
Mules, Monteiro explains, have a reputation for being stubborn because they measure every step very carefully before finally deciding to take it, and if the step looks risky, they’ll stop. I went kind of crazy. This begs the question, how exactly do you define design and the role of the designer? “That’s how I stepped into design. Nothing has   ever been further from the truth.”
Four-legged friends
So, having decided to set up his own shop, Monteiro needed the right name. That sounds so boring, but that’s the job!”
Speaking up
Monteiro’s inflatable Jerry doll was a gift   from one of his first clients, Brian Credus.Our conversation moves to discussing how bad design makes it into the world. Here, again, Monteiro has some sharp opinions – based on bitter experience – about how to best demotivate your hired pixel-pusher. All of that stuff is going into the trash if you can’t sell it. “First there was AOL, but that was a walled garden. Thankfully, you’ve hired somebody who   knows a lot about design, so let’s put the two together’.”

I don’t want to say it’s like putting the client on the psychiatrist’s chair, but it is very similar. I say it to get people’s attention,” announces Mike Monteiro. Selling yourself
Putting all your trust in a designer means it’s especially important to ensure you’ve hired a good one. But you know way   more   about your business than I ever will. Anybody could do anything they wanted to do [on the web], as long as they could figure out how. There was this whole ethos of ‘we’re not sure how to do this, but let’s do it anyway … and we’ll figure out what’s good later’. I graduated with a minor in Design and that’s how I’ve earned my living since.”
The web came into Monteiro’s life some time later, mainly because it hadn’t broken the surface yet. From there I get a gut reaction and I talk to the designer.”
Rather than being seduced by the cleverness, beauty and the presentation of work, Monteiro is much more interested in the constraints foisted on the designer. Pay me’ at conferences, Monteiro also pens design books – including Design is a Job and, out soon, You’re My Favorite Client. But it’s easy to talk about the things clients do that make us bang our heads on the wall. Monteiro is unequivocal: fear is the father of bad design. “If I need something designed and I don’t have any expertise, I hire a designer. Being a mercenary soul, I ask Monteiro how a client can ensure they’re getting the best value for money from   their designer. I need to know all of that stuff and whether you went back in six months and checked if the initial project goals were met. Monteiro says he’s trying to get designers to act more like doctors as opposed to butlers, who simply do as they’re told. “You need to ask them as many questions as possible. Words:   Martin Cooper
This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 256. To, in effect, know exactly what the client knows, but first hand. Until I see all of this stuff, all I know is you can make pretty pictures.”
Tell me your problems
Monteiro is quick to point out that taking care of a client isn’t the same as giving the client what they want.So, how should a designer handle a client? Received wisdom is, sadly, second-rate wisdom. With that information, the doctor will use their knowledge and experience to diagnose the problem, and prescribe a cure. It was like discovering punk rock. For that reason, he says, he’s happy to argue with clients and even refuse to design something he knows will only work a sticking-plaster. I can see a good-looking thing but I don’t know if the designer’s solution [to the client’s problem] worked. The audience stopped typing and looked up. He will be talking about how to avoid screwing up client presentations. “My favourite question is. He explains that, in his experience, people’s reluctance to speak up leads to bad decisions, which in turn becomes bad products. Making things on the screen is maybe 10 per cent of being a designer. That’s great, because nobody is paying attention.”
Standing on stage and feeling the audience’s enveloping ambivalence, Monteiro one day let the f-bomb slip. The first time they tried it, they used horses. “Then, one day, I found myself thinking: ‘I can run a design studio better than this’, which was the dumbest thought that’s ever entered my head.

Updated: 19.11.2014 — 15:47