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UX Design; Elevator Controls

By Steve Ives, Posted on June 1, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Steve Ives

Those of you who attended the recent DevPartner conference in Philadelphia will no doubt remember the excellent presentation on UX Design that was given by guest speaker, Billy Hollis. During his presentation Billy cited photographs of a couple of elevator control panels. He used one as an example of bad design, the other an example of good.

I won’t show the actual photos that Billy used (sorry, you had to be there for that!) but in a nutshell the layout of the buttons and other information (floor numbers, etc.) on the first panel was at best confusing. There was clear physical evidence that users had been confused by the panel and frequently had not understood how to operate the elevator!

The second example was much a much better panel design. The designer had successfully used techniques such as visually grouping related things together in a way that made the correct operation of the elevator a much more obvious task … intuitive even.

Well, upon arriving at a customers office building in Toronto, Canada earlier today I encountered an elevator control panel that, for me at least, took the confusion to a whole new level.

I should make it clear that the elevator in question was one of a cluster if four in the lobby of a shared office building, and that I was arriving at the customer site at about the same time that everyone was arriving at work. The point is that the lobby was pretty busy at the time, it wasn’t as simple as just walking up and pressing an “I want to go up” button.

No problem I thought, it may be two or three elevator cars before I get to make the final step of my journey up to the 4th floor. I’m a few minutes early and all is good.

image1Finally my turn came, I waited while a few other people stepped on, then I took my place in the elevator car. Intuitively I spun around to determine whether one of my elevator buddies had already pressed the 4th floor button, and I was ready to press it myself if not. The panel opposite is what I encountered.

Now I like to think of myself as a reasonably bright guy, so I instantly figured it out; the buttons would be on the OTHER SIDE of the door. And I was correct … well … kind of. I glanced to the opposite side of the elevator door … and saw an identical panel on that side too!

Not wanting to appear totally inept I just waited quietly until the other people got off at their (somehow) chosen floors … and no, unfortunately nobody else was going to 4.

The doors swished closed and I was finally alone in the elevator. I don’t remember exactly what my out loud remark to myself was, but I believe it started something along the lines of “WHAT THE ….”. So, patiently I waited and sure enough after a little while the doors once again swished open and I was back where I started from in the lobby!

I’ll be honest with you, I was getting a little “pissed” at this point (excuse my language, but its true). But not wanting to appear like a total fool I stepped away as if I had intentionally returned to the lobby, and waited for the crowd to clear … all the time subtly (I thought) observing to see HOW THE HECK THESE FREAKING ELEVATORS WORKED!!! And then … I saw it … everything instantly became clear. The floor selector buttons were indeed on the other side of the elevator door … they were on the OUTSIDE!!!!

IMG_0957Yep … believe it or not in this building you need to indicate which floor you want to go to BEFORE you step on to the elevator. After you have stepped on it’s too late; way too late!

And further, having selected your intended destination on the small tough-screen display in the lobby you are then instructed WHICH of the four elevators (conveniently labeled A, B, C and D) you should step onto in order to reach your desired floor!

Actually this is a pretty clever system, but other than the fancy 6” touch screen display there was absolutely nothing to indicate that anything was different here. Brilliant system but totally unintuitive … and so very frustrating for first-time users. Which I guess was one of the points that Billy was making in the first place.


2 responses to “UX Design; Elevator Controls”

  1. […] New fangled elevators are very confusing for old dogs! […]

  2. Avatar Ebony Laby says:

    I am really enjoying reading your well written article. It looks like you spend a lot of effort and time on your blog. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work.

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