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.