How A Sticker With A Positive Message Grew Into A Global Street Art Movement

At the outset of this series, The Mad Ones, we planned to talk to people about travel. People who were going places, doing big things, and changing, if nothing else, their own respective worldviews. We wanted to highlight people vagabonding around the globe in ways that were uniquely their own.

From that jumping off point, we expanded. We began to realize that a change in worldview can come from any particular genesis — as long as someone commits to a bold choice, wholly and genuinely. So we began interviewing people who made things, and had weird weird ideas. We started chasing people who cultivated the change they hoped to see in the world. Many of these people traveled, sure, but their creative outlets were often the cornerstones of their respective lives.

This installment checks all of those boxes at once. As a street artist and graphic designer, Matthew Hoffman decided to create something that would send good vibes percolating through his home of north Chicago. He wanted to share the simple message: “You Are Beautiful.” No more, no less. As the popularity of that message caught on, there was plenty of traveling done, but not by Hoffman. His “You Are Beautiful” stickers, in all of their metallic, rectangular, heart-warming, glory have been printed over three million times, in over one hundred languages. The message is the thing hitting the road.

As Hoffman’s message continues to grow and expand, we sat down to talk with him about how he got started, how the current political climate plays into his goals, and how none of this would have been possible without Oprah.

In the beginning of the project, did you wrestle with what the message was actually going to be?

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it was. I knew I wanted to interact with the community or the world at large and I spent a lot of time thinking about what it was and how it was and played around with a lot of messages but when I hit on that one it was like, “this is perfect.” So I ordered a couple stickers.

What were you doing at the time?

For eleven years I worked at a publication firm doing design.

Where were you from initially?

I was born in Ohio and we moved around every couple years. Then we moved to Indiana and I went to school for graphic design in Indiana. Then, in 2002, I moved to Chicago.

I wanted to pick your brain about the background of the project and how it got started.

For sure. The short of it is that basically, I moved to Chicago in 2002. When I moved here I was just from small towns and stuff and so the city was very exciting and overwhelming to see all the visual signs everywhere. I just wanted to add something to that that was comforting. There are a lot of things that are vying for your attention and everybody seemingly wants something and I just wanted to put something out there that said “you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to buy anything, you don’t have to be anyone other than yourself and—just be yourself, that’s enough.”