St. Louis Design Week and the Amazing Poster Machine

St. Louis Design Week and the Amazing Poster Machine

This year marked the 8th Annual St. Louis Design Week, a series of events meant to inspire and promote creative work coming out of our city.

I (with the help of many, many great people) have been organizing the event for the last five years.

A few years ago, my friend Tara and I were obsessed with making design more accessible to everyday people – not just creative professionals. Our dream was to rent a retail storefront in St. Louis’ Central West End for Design Week, paint it with disturbingly bright colors, and create experiences where anyone who walked in could create art, laugh a little, and feel a sense of wonder. 

We wanted it to be about exploration. We wanted it to be weird. We wanted people to wonder what the hell was going on.

We made it pretty far in renting the space, but for some (probably practical) reason it didn’t happen.

I had (and still have, really) a bunch of ideas for the space – and since I didn’t want to wait until hell freezes over, this year we made one of them happen – The Amazing Poster Machine.


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The Amazing Poster Machine

The Amazing Poster Machine is a strangely low-rent kiosk where the user can create a poster design by manipulating a series of analog dials and switches. There are few instructions, no clarity about what the controls do, and a loose feeling of “is this thing broken?” the entire time you use it.

It’s wonderful!

I would like to say that this isn’t our original idea. It’s a homage to a Seventeen-day Studio project, a college design experiment created by Louis Ludwig and the Seventeen-day team. There is no money attached to this project, just the love of a weird, strange design experience. Check out the original here: 

When I shared the idea of public art and the poster machine with the Atomicdust team, Jeremy Schwartz, a Senior Web Developer, set off to create something similar. I didn’t ever expect that he would get so close to the original concept with only the video above, and no schematics or plan to guide him.

He showed up one day and told me, “You know that poster machine you were talking about? I still have a few loose ends, but it’s done.”

“I had no idea how to build it. I had a few loose ideas but just had to experiment a lot.

That’s my favorite thing about this project. It was built the same way it works. You have no idea how to complete the task. You just tinker and fiddle with it until you figure it out and have something that looks great.” – Jeremy


Make cool stuff with your friends. 

We released a video of The Amazing Poster Machine on our Instagram account, then we rolled it over to a big St. Louis Design Week event, PechaKucha Night, happening two doors down from our office in Midtown.

Then we waited.

People walked up to it, were nervous to touch it, were confused by the controls, didn’t want mess it up, and smiled and laughed the whole time. After the posters were created, we taped them up for an impromptu gallery show.


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Poster Machine designs!

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Throughout the week we wheeled the Poster Machine from location to location — laughing all the way — excited to share it with strangers.

And while we haven’t reached our retail location dream (yet), it felt like we captured a little bit of that spirit.

It was a really great week.


Mike Spakowski

Mike Spakowski

Mike Spakowski is Principal / Creative Director of Atomicdust and is involved with the day-to-day design strategy, art direction and studio management.

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