I discussed my thesis idea with my peers and they suggested I try to engage with strangers throughout the day and log what happens. So I decided to go ahead with that – just that I tried it with different t-shirts. It was simple to think of, but very hard to do. Also, I’m a shy guy… until I get talking!

This was a t-shirt I designed myself two years ago on madebymad.design. I wore it in my previous workplace and random employees and peers that I have never interacted with, stopped, smiled and they said “Hey! That’s a nice t-shirt!” or “Hey! That’s so cute!”. And then I tell them that I designed it myself, get into a conversation and then they realize how awesome I am. But that was in a friendly and known environment like a workplace.

So, on October 1st, 2018, I wore this t-shirt which was very animated, had a bright color, and the graphic was very visible. These were the reactions from random strangers across the sidewalk, subway, anywhere I went.

  • 2 people saw the graphic with a straight face
  • 1 person saw it and smiled to herself, without making eye contact me
  • 1 couple giggled at my face, and another couple laughed at me when I almost banged my face on a glass door while getting out of a grocery store.
  • 1 European couple (seemed like tourists with an EU accent) asked me for directions and they both smiled with me when I wasn’t sure. (Of course, this was not because of the t-shirt)

The next day, I wore a plain black tee and did the same. Note: in both the days, I did not make an effort to smile at other people myself. I kept a straight face.

  • A couple smiled while we waited at a crossing signal. They were with their dog, and I looked at their dog first.
  • While in the R train, a man had an argument with the MTA guy. Then he started a conversation with the other strangers in the train.
  • A man with his partner – stared at me for quite some time but without the slightest smile. Maybe he was thinking about something else? Weird.

So the takeaways in these two days are that the t-shirts did not influence much, except that a conversation starter like a dog or my blue t-shirt can help exchange smiles.

Then came New York Comic Con 2018 on Sunday, Oct 7th (the day I bought tickets for back in August 2018). I had no plans whatsoever to make this part of my research or experiments or anything of that sort. I just dressed up as Mario… I know! And set off to enjoy my single day ticket at NYCC.

Boom! The reactions from people exploded just like Mario growing up after eating a mushroom!

  • As I entered Starbucks, the entire store smiled at me, one by one, as I laid my eyes on them. Then when giving me my coffee, she shouted my name “Mario!” and literally everyone either giggled, laughed or definitely smiled, and they all had their eyes on me. They weren’t shy about it. So did the Starbucks guys!
  • Same reactions in the train – smiles from people, much more than usual.
  • The place where not many cared? Comic-Con! Coz there were cooler superheroes there!
  • At Comic-Con, the only people who gave me a shoutout are other Mario’s and Luigi’s and there was a cute princess too!
  • Back home, I had to walk through the busy Time Square.
  • Even if I did not look at people, they called on to me, said Hi, asked me “Hey! Are you Mario?”, “Is it Halloween already?”
  • The best one was – a lady sitting outside a restaurant on the sidewalk, gave me a shout out! “Hey, Mario! Where you walking away? Give me a smile! Come on!”
  • And then when I walked into Schnippers for some junk food, because I was starving after a tiring day with a lot of walking! I sat on my single table and began hogging. The lady next to me spoke to me for hours! Hours!
  • We spoke for more than two hours about Halloween, comic-con, super mario video games, Avengers, India, Diwali, buying gold, travel, vacation, the Taj Mahal, The 7 wonders and Parsons School of Design!

Wow! Whatta day! What an effect compared to the simple t-shirts. Why makes these strangers talk to me now, the same person, with a different costume.

Trust is there in abundance. It’s all about the interface. A Super Mario Costume, a dog or a funny graphic tee. What’s left to do, is to take another day, and make an attempt at smiling at strangers who make eye contact with me. This is going to be hard.