It’s A Sign: Things We’ve Learned Meets St. Louis Design Week

It’s A Sign: Things We’ve Learned Meets St. Louis Design Week

Do you know what a swipe file is?

Some people call it a morgue, but that is a little morbid for me.

A swipe file is a folder where you hold all your good ideas for a future project. Mine is on my desktop, and is full of screenshots of amazing designs that I’ve stumbled across online.

There are also a lot of notes, links and photos of some of my design heroes.

You save stuff in a swipe file because you’ll never know when you’re going to need it—when the perfect project or opportunity arises and you can finally use that idea.

Or, if you’re just stuck on something and need inspiration—it’s good for that too.

Years ago, when I would chair St. Louis Design Week with my friend Tara, I had this idea of doing something using public art.

Meaning, we would have an experience where the general public and non-designers could make something, solve something or think differently about a problem.

We even went so far as trying to rent a storefront for the week where people could wander in and experience design… somehow. We had all kinds of ideas around that.

Now, that idea is still in the swipe file, and if you steal it, please at least invite me over to check it out.

Another idea that I’ve been holding onto for a bit is putting A-frame signs with positive messages about design and life throughout Midtown and Downtown St. Louis.

And so that’s what we did this week—but I wanted to tell you the story and some of the thinking behind it all.


The Community Comes Back

First, I want to give props to AIGA St. Louis for continuing St. Louis Design Week and the local chapter. It’s not easy, and Anna K continues to steer the organization forward into the post-Covid world.

I bring up the Covid thing, because I feel like 2020 destroyed the design scene. Or at least beat it to within an inch of its life. From no events to remote events to back to in-person events, it’s taken awhile for the community to come back—but it’s getting there.

And also, the wave of negativity about St. Louis, especially Downtown, with tons of empty office buildings and a negative reputation swelling bigger than I’ve ever seen it—it bums me out.

Some days, I don’t care. Let it all go remote, let the city crumble, let all the buildings become vacant—we’ll just all work from home anyway.

But that is just the attitude we don’t need. If design is about getting from where you are to where you want to be, and coming up with new solutions to big challenges, the least we can do is muster up the energy to try. Try something. Try to spread some random joy and mystery.


It’s A Sign

So, we took some of our favorite things we’ve learned about design and life over the years, and made a ton of bright, colorful signs. Then we left them around the City for people to discover.

Good art asks questions. We thought that maybe someone would pass by a sign, slow down, wonder about its meaning—and then maybe wonder who made them, why… and what they themselves could do to spread some joy, create community and make things better.

The project allowed us to take a quick break from client work, think about some of these situations, and get our brains and bodies moving in new directions again, hoping that the effort might spark somebody to do something inspirational, too. Even if it made someone simply wonder, “Who the heck would do this?”

Here’s to a little wonder. Happy Design Week.

Check out all the signs at


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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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