Scully on memorials, and the impact of organizing information for humans

At the IA Summit this year, there was a lot of talk about whether or not individuals organizing information was still relevant (which is an absurd question on one level, but I suppose it’s important to work through this identity crisis together as a community).

There are some things that a designer’s understanding of context can do with information that a hive mind or a universal standard simply cannot.

It hit me with a thud as I read this interview: A Monumental Discussion with Vincent Scully | Metropolis Magazine.

Scully explains one of the design features of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC:

The other brilliant move was her determination that the names on the memorial reflect the chronology of their deaths. The authorities wanted very much to make it alphabetical. But I’ve heard people standing in front of that wall, pointing up to a cluster of names, and saying: ‘They were all killed by the same burst.’ The memorial is very close to the sequence of how people died. So it’s the whole story of the war. And in a way, symbolically, it starts out with the first casualty, and then it goes in the depths of the war, where the casualties were massive, and then it goes to the last.

There’s the human story. And there’s how stories get told and resonated with how we shape information. It happens every day, in many contexts much more mundane than this … but all of them are meaningful, all of them change us.

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  • eric scheid

    I’ve also read (elsewhere) that another reason for chronological arrangement of the names was to avoid the unfortunate problem of there being multiple people sharing the same name. Kinda sucks the meaningfulness of the individual sacrifice out of it when there are seven John Smith’s in a row.

    As contrast, consider the roll call of 9/11 victims. Bloody insensitive bureaucrats.