Broken Elevator Design
Originally uploaded by jzawodn.

A few months back, I ventured up to San Francisco to the offices of Stone Yamashita Partners for an all-day meeting. (Beware: their website seems to endlessly animate.)

After parking in the garage, I entered the elevator and was faced with the controls that you see in the photo at the right. I didn't think much of it, since it was early and my brain doesn't work well early in the day. I just pushed "1" and headed up.

But at the end of the day, I happened to have my camera handy and a bit more brain power to tap. I quickly realized what was wrong: there are too many buttons!

No matter which of the two floors I'm on when entering the elevator, there's only logical button to push. Why must I choose a floor at all?

I tried pushing the "close doors" button to see how smart it was. But the elevator remained there, waiting for me to push "G" as if there was another option.


Posted by jzawodn at February 24, 2006 10:01 AM

Reader Comments
# Josh Hallett said:

It's kinda like having turn signals on a subway train.

on February 24, 2006 10:45 AM
# Toby said:

Perhaps not quite so braindead. You get off and someone else arrives at that moment and gets in. They haven't indicated their presence to the elevator, so should it go down?

There are too many buttons (door open and door close should really go away), but that's just the result of a standard control panel with very few floors.

on February 24, 2006 11:03 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Toby: I don't follow.

It doesn't really matter when someone else gets on, they're obviously going to the elevator's next stop. They meerely need to hit "the" button (whether it's a "GO" button or simple the "close door" button that's arleady there).

The point is that we're being given a chioce where there really isn't one. All we really need is a means to signal the elevator "I'm ready."

on February 24, 2006 11:08 AM
# Keith Ivey said:

Doesn't the fact that you were able to work the elevator fine with your early-morning brain indicate that the design isn't broken? I'd think having two-floor elevators be different from all other elevators would be more confusing for people, not less. Sure, geeks might appreciate the logic, but the average elevator rider isn't a geek.

on February 24, 2006 11:14 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

There's one way to find out. :-)

on February 24, 2006 11:17 AM
# Doug G. said:

The door open and door closed buttons are for when the elevator is in manual operations, such as for firefighter use or for freight. In this mode, the elevator doors do not open or close automatically, the button must be pressed (and held, if I remember correctly) to open or close the doors. In manual mode it also gives the person inside the elevator control over where the elevator stops, rather than stopping on whichever floors it is called from.

on February 24, 2006 11:20 AM
# Satya said:

It's like Braille at drive-up ATMs. The elevator controllers may be standard systems that are configured at the install location with stuff like floor height and number of floors, or stops and distance between stops. Doing what you propose, while it makes sense for the user, means making custom control software for each elevator.

That could be a special case, I suppose, if there are only 2 floors. The standard argument is that special cases drive the cost up. You decide how far you want to believe that for this case.

on February 24, 2006 11:36 AM
# Mike R said:

I'm wondering why a two-floor building has an elevator....

on February 24, 2006 11:42 AM
# Doug G. said:

Well, there are people with strollers, wheelchairs, etc. that can't use stairs. What's annoying is a two-floor building where you are *required* to use an elevator, which was the case at one of my previous jobs. They put alarms on the doors to the stairs. Obnoxious!

on February 24, 2006 11:44 AM
# Chris said:

My favorite broken interface as of late is most of the credit card swipers at the grocery stores.

At the bottom, there would be a Green Yes button on the left, and a Red No button on the right. Good so far. They're using the stop and go colors.

Then that ask you all of the questions on the lcd screen...

"Yes" is on the right of the screen, and "No" is on the left....backwards from the main buttons.

I also hate my local ATM machine. It asks you to enter your PIN and press the button beside the "OK" on the screen, but you can't just hit the damn Enter key on the keypad. Broken.

on February 24, 2006 11:49 AM
# irina slutsky said:

oooh, grocery store atm check out. the LCD screen says, press "OK" but there are only the "Yes" and "No" buttons. i'm a relatively smart person, but every time i enounter this, my brain automatically thinks "keep looking for the OK button, Irina! keep looking!" and the clerk says despondently, "press YES." ah, ok. grrr.

on February 24, 2006 12:21 PM
# Mookie Kong said:

Hey Jeremy,

I think the buttons are there to make people feel comfortable. If there weren't any buttons, I bet that some people would walk into the elevator and freak out.

on February 24, 2006 12:51 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Sounds like we need a camera in the elevator to capture the moment when people freak out. :-)

on February 24, 2006 01:24 PM
# Keith Ivey said:

Chris, that's still better than a Windows dialog that asks "Do you want to cancel?" and has the standard options of "OK" and "Cancel".

on February 24, 2006 01:27 PM
# Toby said:

Ah, gotcha. I thought you were advocating for a 0-button system.

I have to admit, a big green button that said "Push Here" would rule.

on February 24, 2006 02:36 PM
# Sauron said:

No. Just a big red button. That would be the best.

on February 24, 2006 03:57 PM
# Drew McLellan said:

I'm firmly in the 'not broken' camp. Standard procedure for getting into an elevator (or 'lift' as we call them here) is to push the button for the floor you want to get to. Easy, established, widely understood.

Having no floor buttons would force the user into the thought process of "Oh, there's only one logical place I could be going, therefore I should use that weird 'close' button that I NEVER NORMALLY NEED and that'll do the trick!".

Yeah. I can see that working really well. :-)

on February 24, 2006 04:51 PM
# Todd Jordan said:

As silly as it seems, it is probably for the best.

I agree with a couple others that though I might prefer the 'GO' button, most folks would be at a loss upon entering.

Now if we started a trend of similar style interfaces...

on February 24, 2006 05:32 PM
# Tim Converse said:

Yah, it's a UI consistency issue. Numbered buttons are the conventional thing for multiple-floor elevators, so they're the easiest thing to understand even in the 2-floor case. In fact, they're so easy to understand that it took Jeremy a while to figure out there was even anything to criticize... and he got where you he was going even though mornings aren't his best time. This is excellent design.

You have two choices, Jeremy: 1) easy to use, 2) logical. Are you really arguing for 2?

on February 24, 2006 05:52 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

It's Friday. I'm just arguing. :-)

on February 24, 2006 05:58 PM
# Tim Converse said:

Well, whatever you're arguing -- I'm here to take the other side! :)

on February 24, 2006 06:23 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I'd expect no less of you.

on February 24, 2006 06:59 PM
# Ken C. said:

An elevator that goes to floors 0 to 49 only needs 49 buttons for those 50 floors: the button number would indicate the term to add, mod 50, to obtain the desired destination floor. In such a scheme, a zero button need not be included.

Clearly this would be an improvement over current elevator button protocols, due to its button parsimony, mathematical simplicity, and logical elegance.

By allowing "chording" of buttons, the binary representation of the desired additive term could be input, yielding even greater button parsimony. This would not allow the display of all currently selected destinations, but the tradeoff of some button-press redundancy for greatly increased button conservation is quite attractive.

The ultimate in button conservation, and also button-press minimization, has already been obtained: the Sabbath elevator, which stops at every floor. No buttons needed.

on February 24, 2006 08:29 PM
# Brent said:

Screw buttons--bring on the voice recognition.

on February 25, 2006 08:05 AM
# Michael Chastain said:

What's really needed is a single black button with the words "Don't Panic" written in large friendly letters on the front. And maybe a towel dispenser.

on February 25, 2006 11:26 AM
# sarchi said:

Everyone knows to push
a button [push again to cancel] maybe.. then there was the party planner?

on February 26, 2006 06:26 AM
# Jay Liew said:

I like my company's elevator.

Step 1: In the morning, I walk in (from ground floor) and push the 3 floor button once.

Step 2: The 3rd floor button lights up, elevator doesn't do anything. It stops to think if I really want to go up or not. After about 20 seconds, it decides that I really do want to go up, and it shuts the door and goes up.

However, it pays to be impatient. If I push the 3rd floor button repeatedly, and it senses my urgency (and that I have a short fuse in the morning) and shuts the door immediately without thinking and moves upwards.

So every morning, I walk in the elevator and hammer on button #3 repeatedly. (Sometimes, 2 consecutive pushes on the botton gets mistaken for 1. Hence the need for me to hammer on the button repeatedly until the elevator and I reach an understanding)

p.s. there is a "close" door button too, but the button is too far away from the 3rd floor button. The time it takes for my hand to travel from 3rd floor button and close door button is longer than for me to repeatedly push the 3rd floor button until the elevator responds to my annoyance. Plus, I feel good when I get to snap it to attention and get back to work.


on February 27, 2006 07:00 PM
# Mantislee said:

# Tim Converse said:
> Yah, it's a UI consistency issue. Numbered buttons are the >conventional thing for multiple-floor elevators, so they're
>the easiest thing to understand even in the 2-floor case.

Multiple-floor elevators? As opposed to single floor elevators.........

on February 28, 2006 09:58 AM
# z555 said:

Interesting design. That the life did not seem easy.

on March 1, 2006 12:23 PM
# Andrew S said:

If you ever happen to be in the Tokyo Apple Store (not the Mac store), try out the elevator there. It is so bare-bones that I could not figure out how to summon it!

on March 2, 2006 03:25 AM
# JB318 said:

Browsing history way late, just had to say something... I noticed that nobody mentioned emergency access: Firefighters are supposed to be able to hijack elevators for rescue ops (with a suitable key), and they require (the moral equivalent of) essentially low-level register access to the device:

Thus the existence of, e.g., "Close Door" buttons in elevators that ignore them--they're there for the firefighters, not for you.

on July 25, 2006 11:08 PM
# Michelle said:

I work for an elevator company in technical support. The door open and door close buttons do have a function - it is true the fire department does have complete control on phase II of fire service (in car operation). They have complete control of the elevator. Door open buttons do function...they just don't work as fast as most people would like, for safety reasons. They are usually defaulted to a preset time, and can be set for very long times or short times depending upon the use of the elevator. For nursing homes and hotels, the door times usually must be longer to allow for the speed of the passenger or loading/unloading of bags plus the family of five. In the absence of a car lockout, the door open button should function when safe to do so.

on November 28, 2006 12:08 PM
# Matthew said:

Really nice design!

on May 14, 2010 11:36 AM
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