The other day I went to eat lunch with my wife. I got up that day grabbing the t-shirt at the top of the pile, which happened to be my favorite Walking Dead shirt. I’m a huge fan of the show, so just wearing the shirt makes me feel good. This shirt has a little bit of history in that whenever I wear the shirt I usually get a few compliments, so I subconsciously prepared myself to receive a few comments. That’s probably one of the reasons I like wearing the shirt.
Okay, so I go out to eat lunch with my wife. We have kids, so it’s rare that we get a chance to go out to lunch and just have time for ourselves. In the middle of enjoying lunch an older gentleman walks up and introduces himself, “Hello, my name is Frank.” I was taken a little by surprise, but his pleasant manner was very welcoming. I explained that my name is also Frank and he continued, “I saw your shirt and I figured you might be interested in learning about the REAL walking dead.” He handed me a styrofoam plate that he had written on and it had several details about a Marine Corps unit during Vietnam. He asked me “just look them up and you’ll find out about the real walking dead.” During these few moments I had a chance to recognize the USMC retired hat he was wearing and I immediately understood that he was sharing a part of his story with me…a total stranger. I managed to stammer out “I just wore the shirt, because I’m a fan of the show.” Hearing my awkward response, he smiled “I know -just look them up.” Still a little stricken by the weight of the moment I managed to blurt out “Thank you for your service” as he walked away.
Even just writing this is making me well up a little, because after having searched about the REAL Walking Dead I learned that this Marine infantry unit earned the name Walking Dead because they had the highest Killed in Action (KIA) rate in Vietman. This immediately makes me think of my uncle, a retired Marine who served in Vietman as well.
Since this brief exchange with Frank, I have shown the plate he had written on and the story of our meeting with several people. Every time I share the story the question in my mind is what did he recognize in me to motivate him to share his story? Even though I may never know the answer to that question, Frank managed to teach me something I will carry with me for a long time.
What I never told Frank was that I grew up in a military town and I work for a company that specifically focuses on military families, so it makes me think that Frank recognized my own affinity to the military in some subconscious way. I doubt he would have bothered to share with someone that he suspected was not open to his story.
As a designer, I focus on people including the stories they have to share. When I think about Frank’s story I ask myself how do I wear a Walking Dead shirt on purpose. I want to design experiences that people engage and share a little bit of themselves like Frank shared with me. Frank reminded me that design is about people. Thank you Frank for your service and Happy Veterans Day.