The intent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial app is three-fold: to increase the general public’s exposure to and understanding of contemporary designed landscapes; to raise awareness of the Memorial as a therapeutic landscape, and to tell compelling stories about the making of the Memorial, and its presence in many lives today. To achieve this we began with interviewing veterans, visited the site, studied the history of the Vietnam War era, and spoke with people instrumental in the development of the Wall. We learned to create an app that the public can use, with a specific focus on the 8th grade age group that often takes school trips to the National Mall. With over 100 separate screens nested within 5 thematic sections, the user is offered a high degree of variety in modes of presentation: images, text, audio, diagrams and choice of paths through the narratives. At the same time, attention was paid to consistent navigation modes, and clear, compelling imagery. Our team included 5 Landscape Architecture students and students from 15 other disciplines: Journalism, Marketing, Digital Storytelling, Advertising, History, Publishing/Graphics, Visual Communications, English Education, Photography, German, History, Ceramic Arts, Video Production, Digital Video Production, and Global Studies. This mix aided the development of interesting and well-researched stories from multiple points of view, and are achievements within the standards of our various professions. The experience has been filled with investigation and debate, field study and experimentation, and reviews and revisions, allowing the iterative nature of design to play out: every disciplinary perspectives has had substantial impact on the quality, structure, and content of the app.
We began this process with a phase of shared information acquisition and discussions. Establishing working teams for investigation and productivity, small groups were formed with representatives of each area of general expertise, while also maintaining disciplinary groups to give each person a home base of similar background. Teams presented to the larger group regularly, getting feedback and moving the project forward in an open way that was both fluid and structured. We learned much from each other: students from outside landscape architecture now understand the power of designed landscapes, students from outside journalism learned about telling stories in consistent and compelling ways, and students from outside telecommunications/digital storytelling appreciate the level of preparation necessary to create interview and site video footage.
The collaborative nature of our work extended into our community contacts. We visited and interviewed professionals at The Cultural Landscape Foundation, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the ASLA, and the National Park Service. We set up and directed interviews, and presented our work to get feedback midway through development. This helped move our work to a professional level, to gain insight about the app’s value, and to understand how digital media reaches the public.
The app’s graphic introductory screen presents the 5 major sections: the National Mall, American Culture in the Vietnam Era, the Names, Design, and Place of Connection. The timeline also appears on this page, illustrating the overlapping eras and timeframes important to communicating the Memorial’s story, organized by events and processes that began before its 1982 dedication, and those that occurred afterward, through present day. The app communicates through a range of media, including videos, audio soundtracks, maps, and animations. Images, text, quotes, and data maps are also used to bring the Memorial’s story to life, giving the user unique and meaningful perspectives, the social context of the Vietnam War era, and the powerful healing qualities of The Wall. Overviews of each section:
The National Mall – Presents the Mall at important points in its history: The Federal City, Civil War, Turn of the Century, World War II, the Bicentennial, and the New Millennium. Within each category, maps, images, and descriptions detail additions, subtractions and key events that shaped this landscape. With 29 screens, 22 monuments or events are presented.
American Culture in the Vietnam Era – Uses a timeline format to explore American culture from 1945 – 1982 (the Memorial’s dedication). With 109 entries subject matter in a range of categories is presented: General War Information, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Anti-War Efforts, Music, Pop Culture, and the Soldier’s Experience. On 34 of these entries, a tap takes the user to expanded text, videos, images, or audio recordings.
The Names – Traces the idea of the names from the earliest thoughts of the Memorial to Dedication in 1982, when the names could be touched. The Legacy of the Names has 5 sections, sequential in time: The Spark (the genesis of the idea),
The Competition (the announcement, program, and competition entries), The Winning Entry (Maya Lin, her drawings, her vision),
The Controversy (the design, the designer, the Three Soldiers, and Interviews: Looking Back), and The Dedication (dedication day, the powerful effect, and visuals illustrating the cost of the war). 21 different screens feature images, text and quotes, videos (including a video interview with Jan Scruggs, President and Founder, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund).
The Design section is organized into two subsections: Design (basic design terms aligned closely with the text of Maya Lin’s winning entry: ground plane, journey, connecting with history, shaping space, time, scale), and Construction (where the granite came from, how names were inscribed, the size and layout of The Memorial, how the rift was created, drainage). In addition to maps, text and images, 6 videos include animation to illustrate key concepts. Place of Connection –The powerful connection many experience at the Wall, organized into three categories: The Names, Offerings, and Traditions. In The Names section the user can learn how to find a name, how names are arranged, what the various symbols mean, how name rubbings are taken, and how names are added. The Offerings tells the history of items left at the wall, and how collection and storage are managed. . The Offerings category also provides information on the proposed Education Center at the Wall. The Traditions section has stories on the healing power of the wall, including video interviews, events and ceremonies, and school field trips.
Navigation of the app was addressed at two scales: macro and micro. Access to macro navigation (a button in the upper right-hand corner of each screen) allows the user to easily move from one major section to another, or back to the opening screen. User navigation is supported by color coding, access to legends, instruction on how to navigate the app, and the use of consistent symbols (plus signs to open or close screens, arrows to indicate swiping, etc.). Though the macro navigation provides ease of use, how information is displayed in each subsection varies. In the Design section for example, the majority of the screen is reserved for videos and animations, with a side listing for access to terms and definitions. By selecting an item in the list a different video/animation or map appears. Or, one can move between subsections by tapping titles at the bottom of the screen. In contrast, in the American Culture in the Vietnam Era section of the app, material is presented in timeline form. Here, users tap on entries with a plus symbol to read more, to view videos, or listen to songs.