Beginning Veterans Day, 2011, this blog will be hosted on my website at www.isisinform.com.
The first post at the new site will describe the Anthem Veterans Memorial which will be dedicated on 11/11/11.
The National September 11 Memorial opened today on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, expressing our grief and our memories of that horrible day. As in all memorials with names, the arrangement forms our perception of those who died.
Gathering similar concepts together is the goal of information arrangement, the one exception being random, a strategy that specifically lacks meaning. So I was appalled when random was chosen in 2004 as the organizing structure for the World Trade Center memorial. In what became the beginning of research into memorial name arrangement, I wrote to the commission suggesting location as a better organizing strategy and posted blogs complaining about random.
I was not alone. The families of those who died understood that random placed their friends and loved ones into a miscellaneous scattering of nearly 3,000 names. Unlike the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where chronology allows a soldier to see the names of his fallen friends in one place among the panels, random would make every visit a search exercise. Families protested loudly but the commission refused to budge. The impasse went on for years, ending only when these wealthy families threatened to withdraw their monetary contributions. Then, after hanging on to random for so long, the designers developed an arrangement strategy that grouped the names. And once they made that switch, they did an excellent job.
The new arrangement is called “meaningful adjacencies.” Of course, every arrangement structure, except random, can be termed a meaningful adjacency. The World Trade Center method is unique among memorials in that it allowed families to select placement. Names can be located within a group, often an employer, and they can be next to other specified names.
The strategy begins with location. Names are listed in the footprints of the two towers and placed within their associated tower. First responders and names from Pennsylvania and the Pentagon are on the south. Names from the 1993 bombing are on the north. Those on the planes are listed separately from building occupants.
Within these categories are complex meaningful adjacencies, illustrated by father and son firefighters Joseph Angelini, Sr. and Joseph John Angelini, Jr. Their names are together on the memorial and, at the same time, grouped within their separate firefighting units. This is accomplished by placing the two units on consecutive horizontal lines, allowing a vertical adjacency for the father and son. Surviving firefighters can remember them with their units. Their families can see the two names together.
Random said these people were miscellaneous. Visitors would have seen thouands of names, reflecting a massive loss of life but lacking personal context. With meaningful adjacencies, we see them among their friends. We see a father and son together. We know they are loved. They are loved by families who fought for them so we could share a small piece of their time on earth.
(During the CE Course on Strategic Information Arrangement that I teach at Simmons College, participants have the opportunity to write about a memorial in their local area for possible inclusion in my Memorial or Veterans Day blog post. Today we have a Revolutionary War theme, perhaps appropriate for a college located in Boston.)
The night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere saw two lights in the Old North Church and began his famous ride, alerting colonists in the Boston area that British troops were crossing the Charles River. Near midnight, he reached the town of Medford, where Dr. Martin Herrick joined the ride, heading toward Stoneham. Revere continued on to Lexington. The militia assembled at dawn on the Green and the first shots were fired. The British then retreated back toward Boston, reaching Menotomy (now Arlington) around 4pm. It was there the war really began. This brutal battle caused the most casualties of April 19 on both sides, including civilians. Two men from Medford, William Polly and Henry Putnam, were mortally injured.
Christina Anderson of ABT Associates, found a memorial to the Minute Men of Medford, located near the public library. It was erected for the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution. The 60 names are in alphabetical order, with the exception of Henry Putnam, who appears at the bottom described as “Aged 62 Killed in Action.” Why was Henry Putnam given this honor and not William Polly?
The Medford Historical Society has limited hours, but volunteers Jerry Hershkowitz and Mike Bradford were there when I needed them. So I called and asked about William Polly. The key to the mystery is the inscription at the top of the memorial which reads “Roster of the First Company of Minute Men Who Assembled in Medford at the Call of Paul Revere and Engaged in the Battle of April 19, 1775.” According to Hershkowitz, Putnam was exempted from the militia because he was too old, but he went to the battle anyway and got killed. On the memorial, there is no way of knowing that William Polly also died. I learned about it accidentally in my research.
If we think about this in terms of information arrangement, we have three facets: those on the roster (59), those not on the roster (1), and an intersection of those who died (2). Perhaps Putnam received extra information to explain his inclusion with the roster, but it creates confusion because someone else died and there is no acknowledgement.
Dating from 1925, the Medford plaque is fairly early among memorials in listing names. That began in earnest with the First World War. In 1936, Medford’s Lawrence Light Guard erected a plaque in the lobby of their armory with the names of Guards who served in WWI. Hershkowitz took a short walk to the armory, now in commercial use. He noted some names have stars, which he believes indicates those who died, a simple solution fully honoring their sacrifice.
If Menotomy was the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Saratoga was the turning point in September and October, 1777. A major victory for the Americans, its hero was Benedict Arnold. Serving under Horatio Gates, he commanded the troops on September 19. The British won this first day, but suffered major casualties. After the battle, Arnold quarreled with Gates and was relieved of his command. Then in the second battle on October 7, Arnold disobeyed orders and entered the battlefield, taking command and leading the troops to a decisive victory. This win caused the French to enter the war in support of the Americans, an important factor contributing to the success of the Revolution.
Arnold was injured in the battle and unable to return to combat, which may have influenced his treason in 1780. He also felt a lack of acknowledgment for his military achievements and thought the Continental Congress was trying to cheat him financially. Then he married a Loyalist woman prior to the treason. Towards the end of the war, he fought again, this time for the British.
Julie Vittengl of GlobalSpec found the Boot Monument at Saratoga National Historical Park in New York. Erected by Civil War General and historian John Watts de Peyster, it honors Benedict Arnold as “the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army,” yet only shows his injured leg and does not name him. Saratoga’s victory obelisk has four places for the four generals involved. Arnold’s space is empty. Likewise at West Point, the site of his treason, Arnold’s place as a Revolutionary War General is empty showing only his rank and his birthday.
In the book, Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy, 2003, geographer Kenneth E. Foote identifies four responses to high profile painful events: sanctification, designation, rectification, and obliteration. Sanctification creates a sacred space, such as the Saratoga National Historical Park. Designation tends to be an onsite plaque or small memorial acknowledging the event. While the Medford war memorials are not sited where the actual events happened, they would be examples of designation. Rectification returns the site to productive use. The World Trade Center is undergoing rectification, with office space in new buildings available for lease. At the same time, the sites's National September 11 Memorial and Museum is sanctification. Obliteration removes the location from our memory. Buildings at crime scenes are sometimes torn down and the vacant lot neglected.
Our national feeling about Benedict Arnold wavers between designation and obliteration. He served his country in many battles, not just Saratoga. He commanded that decisive battle, setting the stage for our eventual victory. Then he turned against us. We cannot remove him from history, but we can remove his name from our places of honor. After all, thanks to men like William Polly and Henry Putnam, we won the war and we built our new nation.
(A note on resources not mentioned in the article. I discovered William Polly in The Minute Men: The First Fight by John Galvin, 1996, and in Paul Rever's Ride by David Hackett Fischer, 1994. An article by Thomas Fleming, 2010, “Battle of Menotomy: First Blood, 1775,” clearly described that event. Jerry Hershkowitz’ primary resource, other than the town itself, was Medford in the Revolution, by Helen Tilden Wild, 1903. I relied on Wikipedia for information about Benedict Arnold, specifically the pages for Arnold, the Battles of Saratoga, the Boot Monument, and Saratoga National Historical Park. Saratoga and Lexington & Concord are both described in the Encyclopedia of Battles in North America: 1517-1916 by L. Edward & Sarah J. Purcell, 2000. Photo Credits: Medford Minute Man Memorial by Christina Anderson, 2011; Arnold-Boot by Americasroof at Wikimedia Commons, 2006.)
Online CE Course at Simmons College in May, 2011
Instructor: Katherine Bertolucci
Fee: $250 (Simmons GSLIS Alumni price $200) for the four week online course.
According to futurist Ray Kurzweil, “the measure of order is the measure of how well the information fits the purpose.” Strategic Information Arrangement shows you how to fit purpose to your order with an entertaining look at basic information structures and their value as persuasive tools.
Communication persuades. Arranged information, as communication, provides a persuasive opportunity. When you understand this, you can use it to your advantage for building taxonomies, classifications, and structured lists. Lack of understanding may cause accidental persuasion in unintended directions.
We examine 17 list structures and 6 forms of hierarchy, defining how each fits a purpose. Then we apply the seven persuasive technology strategies (plus 1) identified by Stanford’s B. J. Fogg in his book, Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. For example, the chronology of names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial builds community with six of Fogg’s seven strategies. Perhaps this explains why it is our most powerful memorial.
Architect Maya Lin was influenced by the WWI Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, in France. Yet, because of the differences in the two wars, that memorial uses another arrangement to achieve the same goal of building community. In a different context, the Memorial Temples at Nevada’s Burning Man art festivals (pictured) build community with a random arrangement. Each of these three memorials fits its purpose by understanding the community it honors.
Katherine's client Snoopy is on hand during the course to explain some of the concepts. The Rolling Stones and Joe Walsh from the Eagles also make appearances. You can explore memorials in your local area for possible inclusion in a Memorial or Veterans Day blog post. The course includes an optional exercise in building hierarchical structures, to be critiqued by Katherine, the only information strategist focused on persuasive arrangement.
Instructor: Katherine Bertolucci is an information management consultant and owner of Isis Information Services in Phoenix, AZ. She specializes in the development and arrangement of subject-based classifications, taxonomies, and other formats for persuasive information presentation. A pioneer in non-traditional classification, Katherine built her first taxonomy in 1978. Clients include poets and transnational corporations such as Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, Procter & Gamble, and Thomson Financial. Known for her work with Snoopy, Katherine's programs are entertaining and informative. She is former Chair of SLA's Library Management Division and Information Futurists Caucus. Katherine’s essays on information arrangement appear in IsisInBlog. Print publications include “The Future Still Awaits Us: Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity on Wall Street” (Searcher, July-August, 2009),"Beyond Findability: Organizing Information in the Age of the Miscellaneous" (Searcher, February, 2009), and "Happiness is Taxonomy: Four Structures for Snoopy" (Information Outlook, March, 2004). Contact her at email@example.com
Fogg’s Principle of Tailoring: Information provided by computing technology will be more persuasive if it is tailored to the individual’s needs, interests, personality, usage context, or other factors relevant to the individual.
We are all familiar with tailored technology. Every time you go to Amazon.com, you are presented with items selected for you based on your previous purchases. Facebook tailors the ads you see by mining your demographic profile. Then you have the opportunity to approve or disapprove the ad, further allowing Facebook to tailor what you see. B. J. Fogg in Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do, describes a site called Scorecard. Enter your zip code and it will tell you about the pollution in your neighborhood.
Tailoring is one of the reasons for the success of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The war lasted for about 18 years with military personnel cycling in and out of Vietnam. The names on the memorial are listed in chronological order by date of casualty, bringing together those in Vietnam at the same time. This gives surviving veterans an individual place on The Wall. They only have to remember one name to look up in the printed index. When they find that person’s panel, they find their own panel because that represents their time in Vietnam. That panel is where they see all the names of their friends who died.
When I build an organizational structure, I like to use the word perspective for tailoring. I build the structure from the perspective of the user. Developing a classification scheme for Trans-Pacific Geothermal, Inc. (TGI), I considered how the client would use the system. TGI is an exploration and development company. They’re looking for hot water in areas where they have drilling leases and they want to see all the available material about the areas they are exploring.
Geologic information tends to have the same parameters of scientific technique combined with location. A location is selected because it’s a great place to do the science or, as in the case of TGI, the scientist is interested in the location. TGI wanted to know everything about the areas where they had their leases or where they were considering the purchase of leases, so I organized their material by location:
Geothermal Resource Area
If TGI had been doing pure scientific research, rather than exploration, I would have designed the system differently, placing science at the top, with location categories as the subsets. This is an example of an ABBA construction. Location can be the primary field or science can be the primary field, with the contents of the categories remaining the same. There is no inherent hierarchy. The hierarchy evolves to suit the perspective of the user.
Traditional library classification is not tailored. Its goal is to classify all of human knowledge for everyone’s use. In a typical library, geologic material may be needed by a science researcher or by an energy developer. Catalogers can’t pick one over the other.
But you can definitely take sides when you know who your users are. Define your clients and develop an understanding of why they interact with the material. Then build your structure in a way that brings everything together for them. Maya Lin used a chronology that gave all Vietnam Vets their own individual place on The Wall. When I built a geothermal library, I used location to collect all the material my clients would want to see at the same time.
Your clients will have different needs and those needs may change as their projects proceed. When you tailor category arrangement, you put your clients one step ahead in their work. You can stay one step ahead of the client by including sorting capability and allowing users to do their own tailoring.
Illustration used with permission from Microsoft.
A lively Strategic Information Arrangement class continues this month in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science CE program at Simmons College. The four week class looks at arrangement strategies and persuasive uses of arrangement, including a one week section about names on memorials. For the May 2010 class, I wrote a Memorial Day blog describing memorials found by class members. In a new tradition, today’s post honors Veterans Day with memorials found by the current class.
HARVARD MEMORIAL HALL TRANSEPT
Harvard University provides an elegant memorial to its “associates” who died fighting for the Union in the Civil War. We learned of this memorial from Jennifer Beauregard, the university’s Assistant Director for Alumni Affairs and Development Library Services. Located in the Transept of Memorial Hall, the 136 names on 28 wall plaques are listed by school and by class, in alphabetical order within each class. There is one plaque out of order, but we do not know the reason for that.
The memorial’s donor specified the exclusion of names of Harvard Confederates. In 2006, artist Brian Tolle built his “Deep Wounds” installation on the floor of the Transept, calling attention to these Harvard soldiers who also died. As people walked across his lit floor, their footsteps created a “blister” of light behind them, revealing information about a Harvard Confederate, everything but his name. They were organized so Union and Confederate soldiers from the same class were near each other.
This got me wondering if there are Civil War memorials honoring both sides. Certainly other colleges and towns, especially in border states, would have Union and Confederate losses. I didn’t find anything in brief research. However, I did find a Wikipedia article about the Gettysburg “Great Reunion of 1913,”, which included all participants.
LONGMEADOW, MASSACHUSETS TOWN GREEN
Elizabeth Ryan, Director of Social Media at the start-up company, Textifer, found a war memorial on her Town Green in Longmeadow, MA. She says names are arranged by war and then in alphabetical order. Most of the names are from World War II. Photos on the town website, and a personal communication from a town employee, indicate a separate memorial for World War I.
Many towns in the United States and Britain have war memorials. There is even a British memorial honoring those who died from a single city block. I remember visiting the World War II memorial in San Francisco to look at the names of my mother’s friends. Before moving to Phoenix, I lived in Healdsburg in California’s wine country. Just like Longmeadow, they have a small memorial in the town square for those lost in wars.
SHUTTLE CHALLENGER MEMORIAL
Jeanne Goss of the Research Department at the industrial supply company Grainger told us about the Shuttle Challenger Memorial (pictured) at Arlington National Cemetery. This is a small memorial, a headstone really, marking the unidentified remains of the Challenger’s crew. Identified remains were returned to their families. This has a persuasive element in that the names are arranged in a circle, a geometric shape emphasizing equality. Yet the names are actually in a complex ordering.
According to a personal (and very fast) communication from NASA, there is only one crew leader, the Commander, and everyone else is equal. However, it is my observation that the Challenger crew names are frequently listed in the same order: Commander, Pilot, Mission Specialists in alphabetical order, and civilians in alphabetical order. This is how they are listed in the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, founded by families of the crew, and how they are listed in official NASA biographies.
However, that is not how they are arranged in the official photograph. The Commander is in the center first row, with the Pilot at his right hand. The first Mission Specialist sits at his left, with the remaining four in the second row but not in the above order.
The arrangement in the photograph is partially repeated on the memorial. Commander Dick Scobee is at the top with Challenger pointing at him like an arrow. At his right (our left) is the Pilot, Michael Smith. As in the photo, Mission Specialist Ron McNair is at Scobee’s left. Then below Smith, the remaining four crew members are listed counterclockwise as described above: Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist Judy Resnik, civilian engineer Gregory Jarvis, and civilian teacher Christa McAuliffe. The artist used several elements to select placement for each name, yet the circle creates a primary impression of equality, which is how NASA organizes its crews.
Correction: I originally wrote this on Veterans Day weekend, which impeded researching primary sources. However, on Veterans Day, after I posted, I received a response from Cheri Winkler of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. She had asked Dick Scobee's widow, June Scobee Rodgers, about the name arrangement. Here is Dr. Scobee's response:
"Fascinating question. Commander Scobee, then pilot Mike Smith is right. The three mission specialists are alphabetized, then the payload specialist Jarvis, the private citizen Christa. If it were based on position of job on crew, Judy Resnik would come first of the 3 mission specialists."
VENDOME FIREFIGHTERS MEMORIAL
A strategy emphasizing different characteristics is taken by Boston’s Vendome Firefighters Memorial, found by Andrea Goodman, Senior Information Specialist at the economics consulting firm Cornerstone Research. This semi-circular wall honors nine Boston firefighters who lost their lives fighting a 1972 fire in the Vendome Hotel. It is the largest number of Boston firefighters to have died in a single incident. The hotel can be seen above the memorial’s arc. At that point rests a realistic sculpture of a helmet and jacket, “lying as if left there by a firefighter on the day of the fire.”
On the memorial, the nine names are listed in alphabetical order, expressing equality. However, on the memorial’s website, the names seem to be listed in hierarchy of rank, with the two lieutenants first. Then in the PDF program for the dedication, they are in a chronology of service, by date of entry into the Boston Fire Department. There is honor in length of service, and there is honor in having a higher rank, just as it often appropriate to show equality. The developers of this memorial gave us all three.
GUILFORD NATIONAL MILITARY PARK
Lists of names are a relatively new development in memorials due to our increasing respect for enlisted personnel and our better record keeping. For many centuries, memorials were statues of great military leaders. That is the strategy of the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, NC, discovered by Mary Lane, a Library Manger in that city. The site of a Revolutionary War battle, its centerpiece is a massive statue of General Nathaniel Greene on his horse. Persuasive use of size and location convey the impression that this is an important man and an important place.
There are many other memorial structures in the park. The idea was to locate these on the sites of actual battle events. Organizing information by location, whether on the land itself or on a website, is a geographic arrangement, but there’s a hitch here. Like the Alamo, where they destroyed an historic building to make the area more beautiful, the Guilford Courthouse is a park not an accurate historic site. For one thing, early promoters were not able to acquire all the land, so they redesigned the battle to fit the land they did have. Current park policy is to relocate these errant memorials to their accurate locations, but some are too big for that.
IRISH HUNGER MEMORIAL
The Irish Hunger Memorial in New York City, discovered by Meghan Sullivan, a Knowledge Management Information Architect with the Kaplan education company, honors the millions who died in the Great Irish Famine of the 1840’s or who emigrated from Ireland, many to the United States. A low cantilevered roof on a half acre, it is landscaped to look like the Irish countryside, complete with an actual hut from that era. You enter or depart the hut though a hallway with streaming illuminated quotations about hunger, both during the Famine and in our modern times. Meghan’s observations, along with a New Yorker review, indicate these quotes appear at random.
The rooftop garden contains large stones engraved with names of Irish counties. There seems to be an arrangement here, but we have not determined what it is. A PDF brochure lists counties in alphabetical order and shows their locations with a numbering system. However the numbers do not relate to the alphabet nor are they contiguous on the map. They also don’t relate to the counties’ locations in Ireland. I found a map showing population changes during the Famine, and that doesn’t seem to be it.
Perhaps the arrangement is explained somewhere at the memorial, but the map would be a good place for this description. While there is a grand tradition of written reviews, we usually don’t explain art at the site of the art itself. We expect the viewer to create their own impression from the cues given by the artist. One’s interpretation of the piece may be quite different from what the artist intended and that’s acceptable and encouraged.
But arrangement is different from other artistic elements. If not articulated, a structured arrangement exists only in the artist’s mind. As part of artistic display, organizational choices contribute to our understanding. But if there are no cues, we have a guessing game, especially when choices are complex. (See my article about the Wittenbergplatz Holocaust Memorial for another example of an unexplained arrangement.)
At the Irish Hunger Memorial, someone made a decision about placing stones and about assigning numbers unrelated to that placement. The reasons are not explained. Our understanding of the memorial, and our thoughts about hunger, would be enhanced if this artistic element was made visible.
For this article, I also made arrangement decisions. Following the example of the Shuttle Challenger Memorial, I created two categories – memorials with and without names. Since the unit is primarily about how names are arranged on memorials, I placed that category first. Within each category, the memorials are in alphabetical order.
It took me a paragraph to explain my strategy, one reason perhaps why artistic arrangements are not often explained. But that could easily be shortened, especially if we assume certain organizing structures, such as the alphabet, are obvious.
Arrangement: Memorials with names, Memorials without names
Thank you to those who served our country in war, in fighting fires, and in exploring new territory. Thank you to the immigrants who gave so many of us a place in this great country. Thank you to those serving us today who, with great sadness, will one day be memorialized.
Strategic Information Arrangement: Theory and Techniques
Online CE Course at Simmons College in November, 2010
Instructor: Katherine Bertolucci
Fee: $250 (Simmons GSLIS Alumni price $200) for the four week online course.
Registration: http://www.simmons.edu/gslis/careers/continuing-education/workshops/online.php#strategic (Click "Register," top of the page on the left)
"Strategic Information Arrangement" takes an entertaining look at the building blocks of order, especially arrangement styles for organized information. These are the skills you need to display information, whether in taxonomy, classification, or structured lists. Understanding these strategies helps you build ordered arrangements that persuade users. Lack of understanding can inadvertently send users in the opposite direction. Since all information has order, even if only random, each arrangement structure you build is an opportunity to persuade or to accidentally dissuade.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil believes "order is more profound than information" because it "fits a purpose." This course helps you develop profound order with fifteen list structures, six hierarchic methods, and five persuasive strategies. Katherine's client Snoopy is on hand to explain some of the concepts. Nevada’s Burning Man art festival and the Rolling Stones also make an appearance. You learn how each technique fits a unique purpose and how to persuasively exploit these techniques.
We also review the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme from World War I, each with similar information and goals, yet requiring different name arrangement strategies. Memorials reviewed by members of the May class are featured in Katherine’s blog post, “Names on a Memorial: Into the Earth (Memorials Discovered by the Strategic Arrangement Class).”
In the optional assignment, you design a hierarchic structure with provided material. Assignments are critiqued by Katherine, the only organizational expert focusing on persuasive arrangement. See her Arranging to Persuade series on persuasive technology tools in this blog and at Discover the Region.
Instructor: Katherine Bertolucci is an information management consultant and owner of Isis Information Services in Phoenix, AZ. She specializes in the development and arrangement of subject-based classifications, taxonomies, and other formats for persuasive information presentation. A pioneer in non-traditional classification, Katherine built her first taxonomy in 1978. Clients include poets and transnational corporations such as Procter & Gamble and Thomson Financial. Known for her work with Snoopy, Katherine's programs are entertaining and informative. She is former Chair of SLA's Library Management Division and Information Futurists Caucus. Katherine’s essays on information arrangement appear on IsisInBlog. Print publications include “The Future Still Awaits Us: Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity on Wall Street” (Searcher, July-August, 2009),"Beyond Findability: Organizing Information in the Age of the Miscellaneous" (Searcher, February, 2009), and "Happiness is Taxonomy: Four Structures for Snoopy" (Information Outlook, March, 2004). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fogg’s Principle of Tunneling: “Using computing technology to guide users through a process or experience provides opportunities to persuade along the way.”
This month we take a journey to tunneling in our series on B. J. Fogg’s seven tools of persuasion from his book Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. Fogg cites software installation as a tunnel. That frequently involves staying near the computer and answering questions every so often. You are a captive audience as the installation proceeds. As such, you may experience promotions for other products or about the benefits of your new purchase. You and the company share a journey of software installation, with the company selecting the sights along the route.
In his narrative, but not in his Principle, Fogg defines a tunnel as a committed journey, like an amusement park ride. Once you sit in that gondola (or begin software installation), you’re committed to the entire journey. In information arrangement, tunneling encompasses a wider definition. You are enticed along a journey that you may or may not complete. At any point you may decide what you are looking for is not worth the effort, or you may complete the journey, ending it only when you find what you are looking for.
One example of persuasive tunneling is the arrangement of a grocery store. Many people pop into the store just for a quart of milk. Milk sometimes goes bad suddenly so you pick it up on a quick errand. That’s why milk is always at the back of the store. If it was at the front, you would buy that one item and head on home. When it’s at the back, you travel through the store aisles, experiencing other products and perhaps buying something else.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) provides a more complex tunnel. Its 140 panels increase in height from 8 inches at the ends to over 10 feet in the center. Names are inscribed in chronological order by date of casualty and alphabetical order within each day. So it would seem that visitors take a journey from the beginning of the war to the end.
That is the case, but the journey actually begins in the center. Maya Lin wanted the VVM to symbolize a circle so the names begin and end at the tall center panels, indicated by the only two dates on the Memorial, 1959 and 1975. No other dates appear. Walking along the panels, the only indication of a new day is the beginning of a new set of names in alphabetical order. Even though this is the journey of the Vietnam War, it does not feel like a persuasive tunnel, since we only see a massive display of names.
Many visitors believe the chronology begins at the short left panel. That’s logical since we read from left to right, not from the center to the right to the left and back again to the center. When we experience the VVM from left to right, the shape of the memorial helps us feel the shape of war. A few deaths at the beginning, building to a crescendo at the center and winding down to just a few names at the end. In this case, because we know the names are in chronological order, the shape of the VVM creates a journey along the panels, persuading us to experience feelings about the progression of war.
Illustration used with permission from Microsoft.
Last month I introduced B J Fogg’s seven tools of persuasion as outlined in his book, Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. I showed how information arrangement exploits these tools with specific reference to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM). The VVM arranges its names in chronological order by date of casualty, grouping together soldiers who served at the same time. In so doing, the memorial demonstrates six of the Fogg's seven persuasive tools. This month, let’s take a deeper look at the first tool, Reduction or Persuading through Simplifying.
Reduction strategy is all about cost/benefit analysis. How much effort (cost) achieves the benefit? Fogg describes Amazon’s 1-click ordering method as pure reduction. Before this innovation, every click in the online sales process was a chance for customers to change their minds. Will they go on to the next buying step or will they give up and click over to another Website? At Amazon, one click seals the deal. If a mind changes later, there’s a new cost/benefit analysis for the effort involved in cancelling the order.
Many years ago, when Ma Bell stopped being our only telephone company, the new phone services battled mightily for customers. It became very easy to change your long distance company. One brief request and it was done. Sometimes you didn’t even have to bother with the request. Sign your name to some freebie promo and you might find out later that the small print was an agreement to change phone services. One step and it didn’t even involve thinking about phones.
Maya Lin’s VVM is a more honorable example of reduction, but her controversial proposal almost didn’t get approved. Among many complaints about Lin’s design was the chronology, which requires the use of an index to find an individual name. Critics wanted the names on the VVM in alphabetical order, making the memorial itself a giant index.
MIT’s John Maeda, in his book, The Laws of Simplicity, assigns organization as the second law. Organizing arranges similar items together and simplifies our efforts to use them. Alphabetical order on the VVM would have made it easier to find a single name, but much harder to find a group of names.
First, a vet would have to remember names from more than 30 years ago. Then he would have to look up each name individually, walking along the panels from A – Z. To prepare for the effort, he might alphabetize the names of his dead buddies, the ones he remembers, so he doesn’t have to move back and forth among the 144 panels. The names near each lost friend would have no meaning other than an alphabetic similarity, or even the same name in some cases. Names he can’t remember would remain forgotten. The primary memorial activity here is similar to using a print dictionary, an exercise in the alphabet rather than an emotional experience of memory.
Chronology reduces the effort and increases the depth of feeling. The vet only has to remember one name. He finds that name in the printed index and goes to a panel representing the time he spent in Vietnam. There are all his friends who died or went missing. If he can’t remember someone’s name, the memorial remembers for him. They are together again, the vet seeing his reflection in the polished marble among the names of those he lost. The next time he visits, he won’t need the index. He’ll know where to find his friends.
Illustration used with permission from Microsoft.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) is arguably the most powerful memorial in the world. Maya Lin’s choice of chronological order for name arrangement may be the primary element of that power. In making that choice, she engaged six of the seven persuasive tools identified by B J Fogg, in his book, Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do.
Along with technology, Fogg’s tools explain the persuasive aspects of information arrangement. He defines a persuasive technology tool as one “designed to change attitudes or behaviors or both by making desired outcomes easier to achieve.” He further divides these into macrosuasion and microsuasion. The only purpose of a macrosausive tool is to persuade. For example, the museum exhibit and computer game HIV Roulette persuades players to practice safer sex.
Microsuasive tools are the persuasive components of technologies whose primary purpose is other than persuasive. The primary purpose of the VVM is to honor those who died or went missing during that war. The chronologic arrangement changes the attitude and behavior of visiting Vietnam vets by allowing them to experience their time of service as they stand in front of the names of their lost buddies.
Information arrangement is almost always microsuasive. Following are Fogg’s seven tools with an explanation of how the VVM uses them. This is an article about arrangement, so I will mention that the tools appear in the same order in which they appear in Fogg's book.
1) Reduction: Persuading through Simplifying
People are more likely to complete a simple task. Amazon offers “one-click” sales. Press the key once and the sale is complete. You can change your mind after that, but it’s a hassle. If the names on the VVM were in alphabetical order, each name would have to be remembered and found individually. But with chronology, a vet need only retrieve one name from his decades of memory. The printed index shows where that name is on The Wall, surrounded by others who died on the same day, in the same battle.
2) Tunneling: Guided Persuasion
In the journey of software installation, with a captive audience, the producer may demonstrate product features or try to sell more software. The VVM also takes us on a journey. Symbolized as a circle, the chronology begins and finishes in the center of the memorial. Panel sizes, small at the two exteriors and huge in the center, encourage the view of a journey into a war that started small and grew and eventually ended.
3) Tailoring: Persuasion through Customization
Shopping sites customize the buying experience by offering products based on previous purchases. The VVM’s chronology gives each surviving Vietnam vet a personal place of remembrance on the memorial. The names of his buddies will always be in that one location, a location he can return to again and again.
4) Suggestion: Intervening at the Right Time
Traffic trailers that give your speed as you drive by provide a suggestion at the appropriate moment, while you are driving. The appropriate moment at the VVM is the occasion of a visit. Any memorial’s purpose is to encourage thoughts about the memorialized event. Because the VVM names are in a chronology, vets easily find their friends in one place, eliciting more memories with deeper thoughts.
5) Self-Monitoring: Taking the Tedium Out of Tracking
Self-monitoring technologies include pedometers that record steps taken in a day. This persuasive tool is not included at the VVM. One information arrangement technique that does involve self-monitoring is the use of facets. Let’s say a clothing site offers selection by the attributes (facets) of its products. A user may first select gender, with the system only displaying products that meet the selection. The user then selects shirts, changing the display to only available shirts in that gender. Size may be selected next, etc. Users self-monitor by evaluating the results of their choices as they proceed.
6) Surveillance: Persuasion through Observation
We are all familiar with the announcement that our conversation with a call center may be monitored. Obviously the call center employee knows this too. I have not yet seen an information arrangement example of surveillance. However there is a form of surveillance at the VVM. Visitors leave items everyday at the base of the panels. These are gathered by the Park Service, cataloged and placed in storage. Knowledge that the offerings become part of the historic record encourages this tradition.
7) Conditioning: Reinforcing Target Behaviors
As positive reinforcement, an online game may award points or prizes to keep people playing the game. Chronological order at the VVM offers positive reinforcement by helping vets remember their time of service and their friends who died. These are intimate emotions the vet may want to have again, so the arrangement itself encourages him to continue visiting.
Conditioning, of course, can also be negative. With information arrangement, negative reinforcement may be inadvertent. If, for example, alphabetical order had been selected for the VVM, it would just be another list of names, with nowhere near the power of chronology. But in a different situation, it could be the alphabet that provides the persuasive element. Like all communication, persuasion changes with context.
Illustration used with permission from Microsoft.