What Mike Monteiro Taught me About Feedback

So, you know this situation: You’re reading through a long email from a client or your boss, receiving tons and tons of feedback or instructions. An experience that can be very discouraging or even enraging – and so it was for me before I met Mike Monteiro.

Mike is an interesting character, calm, experienced, but also passionate and very direct at the same time. He swears a lot, his most famous talk is even called “Fuck you, pay me”. Designers love him for that. Mike is in a notorious fight with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, ironically mostly via Twitter. In his profile description, he calls his boss an asshole.

Mike is his own boss – he runs Mule Design in San Francisco, together with his business partner Erika Hall. They have worked with huge clients like the UN and Wikipedia but also been given a hard time by clients who didn’t like their style. In his Google Reviews, you can read things like “I’m fairly certain he was intoxicated” and “the man is an egotistical bully with severe god delusions”. Wow.

A few years ago, Mike came to Berlin to give a workshop on how to present your design work to clients. I learned a lot during this workshop, you can read the summary in his Medium article “13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations”.

A huge thing though is not on the list: How to handle these long emails full of valuable information. Usually, I would just read them, get anxious about them and try to do whatever is asked. Some designers I know will just ignore them and hope they go away. But there’s a better way.

How to Deal with Client Feedback

The first thing when you receive an email like that is that you read it. From top to bottom, before you get started on anything else. You just read the whole thing.

Then you read it again.

Then you take a walk, go outside. Do something else, have a coffee. Reflect on what you just read about. Maybe you’re overwhelmed, maybe you’re angry (because the client didn’t get “that thing”), that is fine. Just don’t answer immediately, let it rest for a bit.

When you feel ready, you get started:

You need to cluster the information you just received. Take a text document (or a blank page, if you’re the analog type) and create a table with 3 columns. Label them like that:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. I have a question

In the first column goes everything that makes total sense for you and that you directly act on. All the good suggestions, obvious improvements or minor things that you agree on. Note them down in this column.

The second column is for the things you do not agree on. That can be change requests that you discarded or tried already, things that technically not feasible, things that go beyond the budget or – plain and simple – stupid ideas. All of those go here, in the “No” column.

The third column is for things that need explanation. All the lines that you didn’t understand or where you have follow-up questions. Maybe something where you need further information, it goes here. The “please tell me more”s.

When you have completed this table, it is time to replay to the email. Take your time and put in your own structure. The order of things is quite important here:

  1. Say “thank you”. Don’t forget: You just received feedback, somebody took the time to go through your work and think about it. Be grateful for that!
  2. You list all the positive things from column one, and you mention that you will do them or agree with them.
  3. Then you list all the questions you still have – everything from column three goes in here. Get your questions detailed and in an understandable order so that you don’t create extra confusion here.
  4. Now for the last part, you mention all the thing that you disagree with – the collection from column two. List each thing and explain why you disagree. Don’t be rude about, but still clear. If you have, make a better suggestion.

That’s it – this structure will help you to better react to feedback and be able to own and run the feedback process. Your client will be thankful for that.

By the way, this does not only work for feedback, but also for instructions, questions, etc.

Oh, and if you want to know more about Mike Monteiro, check out list latest book “Ruined by Design”. You will love it – there’s a chapter called “Ayn Rand is a Dick”.

Johannes Ippen
About the Author

Johannes Ippen is a designer from Berlin, passionate about French punk rock, really strong espresso and writing about design. Follow him on Twitter for more of design-related essays. Full bio →