From spray-painted graffiti and colorful murals, there is absolutely no shortage of artwork on the streets of New York. Even lampposts and street signs are decorated with an abundance of curious stickers and odd posters. With so much to look at, it can be difficult to catch the attention of daily commuters and head-bent errand runners.
For Max Kolomatsky, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and graphic designer, the overwhelming amount of street art was a perfect opportunity to help amplify some voices in need of a boost. After wandering around his neighborhood, he took to reading the various flyers and posters tacked onto posts or storefront windows and realized that some of them could probably get more attention, with just a few design tweaks.
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Now known on Tiktok as @cool_lookin_bug, the artist has amassed over 3 million views for redesigning street posters he sees every day in a form of artistic community service. Whether it’s an ad for a local appliance store, a flyer promoting a local “MAN WITH VAN” service, or just a group looking for more players to join their Settlers of Catan board game group, Kolomatsky has taken it upon himself to offer his illustration skills to enhance random paper posters he comes across (regardless of their silliness or absurdity).
“The project is intended to help others whilst highlighting the importance of artists and designers in capturing public attention,” the illustrator explained to Hyperallergic.
Without removing the original poster, Kolomatsky uses his phone to take a reference photo, and then goes back to his apartment to draw up a new version. In his videos, Kolomatsky walks viewers through his redesign process in Photoshop, showing how he replaces colors and fonts, rearranges text, and incorporates other visual elements that teach people the value of good design.
He told Hyperallergic that he’s often interested in “genuine and wholesome” flyers for local residents and small businesses, adding that he tends to avoid “big businesses” that can afford to hire a graphic designer themselves.
“I’m especially inclined to redesign something when the design is confusing, crowded, or boring,” he continued.
“I’ll often call the number, or visit the website on a flyer to get a sense of who’s behind the message (without telling them what I’m doing, of course),” he said. He says in his videos that he wants his redesigns to be anonymous, and describes himself as an artist “lurking in the shadows.”
When he’s done, he sneakily posts up the reworked ad next to the original, because to him, taking down the first design “feels like vandalism.”
“These aren’t my signs and I have no idea whether or not the original creators will even like my redesign,” he explained.
In his most recent video posted in late June, he chose to renovate homemade street signage reminding dog owners to clean up after their pets, switching out the aggressive black lettering and plain cardboard for satisfying colors, clean text styles, and an amusing illustration that would better focus people’s attention.
When he began the work, he explained that he wasn’t entirely sure how the original creators of the flyers would react to his designs, and felt unsure when he posted his first redesign of a flyer for Jose’s Refrigerator & Stove in Bushwick.
“I was nervous to post this one because I taped my sign to the storefront of his business without his permission which felt invasive,” he admitted. “But after a few weeks, I came back to find that he had moved my redesign to the inside of the front window, photocopied it, and placed it on the front door as well. It’s still there! He also never removed his original sign, and I think it’s cool that you can see both versions on display.”
Since posting his work online, Kolomatsky has received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from fans and local New York residents alike. His videos even caught the attention of software company Adobe, who has hired him to create several design process videos for their own social media platforms.
“This project isn’t about replacing existing signs with better ones, or one-upping strangers by making something better,” he said. “It’s about showing how improving design can help grab people’s attention and make a message stronger.”