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NYC ‘Design Ninja’ Secretly Redesigns Street Flyers for Free!

Every now and then I come across a design-related story that has nothing to do with sports but is so great that I have to share it on Uni Watch. The Baltimore salt box story was one of those, and this is another one.

So: My friend and fellow Brooklynite Anne Kadet writes a really great weekly Substack column called Café Anne, in which she explores unusual topics and storylines around New York City. This week she interviewed a 25-year-old freelance graphic designer named Max Kolomatsky, who’s been doing something completely awesome: When he sees a particularly poorly designed flyer taped to a street pole or wall or wherever (there are a lot of flyers here in Fun City), he takes it upon himself to create a better design for the flyer, complete with all of the original information, and then replaces the original flyers with his own — all for free, and without even telling the original flyer-er.

Here some videos about the project that Kolomatsky has made:


I am the unemployed friend #art #design

♬ original sound – MAX KOLO



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A post shared by Max Kolo (@cool_lookin_bug)

You probably have a lot of questions about this (I certainly did!), but trust me — Anne is an excellent reporter and did a great job of covering all the bases in her interview with Kolomatsky. I strongly urge everyone to check it out here.

There’s one part of the interview I want to excerpt here, though. It comes at the end, as Anne is preparing to wrap things up:

Anne Kadet: I love your story. You did something just because it was fun, and it’s turned into something much bigger than you imagined. Any advice for others?

Max Kolomatsky: I think there’s something to be said for artists making things unpaid. I know it is a struggle for a lot of designers. There’s a lot of designers and artists who complain on social media because they get a lot of bullshit offers — they get people wanting to just pay them in exposure. It’s kind of offensive in the designer community. But I think to keep your spirit alive as an artist, there is something to say about doing things just for kicks.

I’m not an expert in the world of professional arts, but in a few years, I’ve made the transition of doing art for fun to doing art as my job. And it can really kill your spirit to focus so much the next job. I think there is something really valuable about doing something for fun or for free. Just to put a smile on someone’s face.

Kadet: Why does that help?

Kolomatsky: It brings you back to why you do it in the first place. A lot of people who are designers, they went into graphic design because they were kids that loved to draw, and now that they design every day for other people, they probably don’t do that anymore.

I think there’s something kind of childlike about that, and it takes you back to that original creativity, where you get good ideas and tap into that freedom. I think it’s important.

I love that. As a longtime freelance professional myself, I’ve often confronted that tension between creating and selling. Sounds to me like the only thing bigger than Kolomatsky’s spirit of creativity is his spirit of generosity. I’m pretty sure the latter bodes well for the former, which is probably a lesson for all of us, myself included. One more time: Read the interview with him here.


Comments (10)

    I have to draw; it’s part of my DNA. I’ve never had much luck making money, so I do it for the fun. Once a friend asked for a flier for his band, but he wouldn’t relinquish any control over the content. He insisted I learn how to draw the players with their instruments and– get this– his golden retriever had to be in the picture. These are what are known as “bad clients”. I love the generous vibe of the artist being profiled. He totally gets it.

    Fun idea, but one question I have that wasn’t really addressed in the interview is…what if the original advertiser doesn’t like the change? Specifically using the lede poster as an example, I could imagine a handyman *wanting* a basic, hardscrabble design versus a design that looks like it could be for a hipster bike shop.

    I was thinking similarly. I’m not saying he is not talented, or he is not helping most of them. I’m sure most appreciate the professional quality work for free. However…
    What if the original person was pleased with what they created? Then some unknown person comes along taking it upon themselves to change it or makes “improvements”. They may be insulted.
    I notice he didn’t remove or cover the original, so no real harm in it. Just another approach to the designs or like a large company would have more than one marketing campaign for the same service/product to reach different consumers.

    I remember seeing some of his work on YouTube and reposted on Twitter. It is very entertaining. I love the poster/video he made about the dog-walking business.

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