Varsha Kori
User Experience Professional

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Elevating an Elevator's Design

September 25th, 2018 marked the World Interaction Design Day. Interaction Design (IxD) can be defined as the design of how humans interact with the product, and the structure and behavior of such systems.- from computers, to mobile devices, to appliances and beyond. Interaction design has a great potential to improve the human condition. Thus, as an aspiring Interaction Designer, I wanted to put across the importance of creating an accessible and universal design through the example of the design of elevators.

How many times have you walked into an elevator and it took you a couple of seconds to understand the buttons and make a selection to get to the floor you want to? Or perhaps, maybe you never realized that the design was inconsistent or was bad? Hence, here are some real-world examples of poorly designed interaction between elevators and the users, that I have collected from my day-to-day experiences and have also put together some suggestions for their improvement. I hope you’d be able to relate with, if not all, but maybe some of them.

Problem

The image below is of an elevator in my building, and as you can see it is difficult to differentiate between the selection of the floor made by me (which is 4, as I stay on the fourth floor) and the unselected buttons. All the buttons are in the white light, irrespective of the fact that you have pressed or not pressed them. This is also confusing because often times, I am not able to tell if the button has been pressed hard enough to accept my selection or if I need to press it again since on both the occasions it stays white. I end up pressing the button multiple times just to make sure that I don’t miss my floor.

 
Image 1. This image is of the elevator at my apartment. I had pressed floor 4 and the picture has been taken while the elevator was still about to reach the fourth floor. Hence, as you can see, it is difficult to tell if the person has pressed floor 4 or not and whether the floor has arrived or not.

Image 1. This image is of the elevator at my apartment. I had pressed floor 4 and the picture has been taken while the elevator was still about to reach the fourth floor. Hence, as you can see, it is difficult to tell if the person has pressed floor 4 or not and whether the floor has arrived or not.

 

Design Suggestions

Visual Feedback

A visual feedback in the form of change in color, say the white color changing into the green on pressing it, would not only help the user in letting them know that the selection has been accepted and that they do not need to press it again. This would be helpful to individuals with hearing losses as well.

Voice Feedback

A visual feedback would be surely helpful, however, a voice feedback that would let me know that “You have selected Floor 4” or “You have arrived at Floor 4” would not only assure me about my selection but would also be helpful to a person with a loss of vision.

Imagine having to enter inside an elevator that is only 6ft x 3ft x 10ft in size and is poorly lit. It might not be a nightmare to you, but it would be to a person who is claustrophobic.

Better Lighting

Imagine having to enter inside an elevator that is only 6ft x 3ft x 10ft in size and is poorly lit. It might not be a nightmare to you, but it would be to a person who is claustrophobic. Not only should it be spacious enough but should also have proper lighting to make it convenient and comfortable for everyone. This would ensure that it is accessible to a wheelchair user.

Elevator Operator

A person who is not sufficiently educated would be afraid to enter inside the elevator and operate it. Hence, having a person who is trained to operate the lift and take immediate actions in times of urgency/hazard would not only help in saving the situation early but it would be less fearful for the person to be stranded in the elevator alone without the knowledge of how to operate it.

Braille Inscription

For people with a loss of vision, it would be helpful to have Braille inscription in the elevator buttons for their accessibility. I couldn’t find any elevator in the US without Braille inscription, however, in India, finding such elevators is prevalent. However, it has been about a year and a half since I have moved out of the country and I hope I am proven wrong and there are more elevators with Braille inscriptions.

According to Jakob Nielsen's first general principle for interaction design, “The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.”

Visibility of System Status

System status can be defined as the current status of the product or any system. According to Jakob Nielsen's first general principle for interaction design, “The system should always keep the users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.” Hence, having a poorly lit system (as shown in the image 5 below) to show the status does not aid in keeping the user informed and is also misleading. Additionally, not all the elevators have this.

Jakob Nielsen's third general principle for interaction design lays emphasis on “User control and freedom”, conveys that “Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.”

Providing Cancel Button

Jakob Nielsen's third general principle for interaction design lays emphasis on “User control and freedom”, conveys that “Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.” I have ended up pressing the wrong number on so many days and consequently landed on a wrong floor. Therefore, it is crucial to provide the user with an option to cancel their selection. This will save user’s time by not having to visit the unintended floors, especially when we are in a rush to get to the required floor.

“Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.” Jakob Nielsen’s fourth principle stresses on the importance of following platform conventions and consistent designs.

Consistency in Designs

Most importantly, it is necessary that the design stays consistent. “Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing”. Jakob Nielsen's fourth principles stresses on the importance of following platform conventions and consistent designs. As you can see from the images provided below, the designs (button designs, their organization, various menu items, and the way they provide feedback to the user) vary greatly across different regions. The North American scheme for numbering the floors is different from the schemes followed in other parts of the world. It is crucial to invest resources and thoughtfully design a platform that would be used by a diverse audience, while simultaneously making the floor numbering consistent. Although it largely depends on resources, building type, and various other factors, we can certainly make sure to keep the design constant as much as possible.

Elevator 1: The elevator shown in image 1 has no button selected. Image 2 shows how the elevator provides me feedback about my selection of floor 4. However, there is no provision for providing system status.

 
Image 2.

Image 2.

Image 3.

Image 3.

 

Elevator 2: In images 4 and 5 (given below), I had pressed floor 4 and the picture has been taken while the elevator was still about to reach the fourth floor. Hence, as you can see, it is difficult to tell if the person has pressed floor 4 or not and whether the floor has arrived or not.

By looking at image 5 one would think that the person is on the sixth floor and that they are going to a lower floor. However, I never went to the sixth floor. I was on the fourth floor when this picture was taken and the elevator was going to the bottom floor.

 
Image 4.

Image 4.

Image 5.

Image 5.

 

Elevator 3: In the elevator shown in image 6 and 7, there are two doors in this elevator- Front and Back. Can you tell which of the two buttons are used to close/open the front and the back door?

Image 7 is a good example of how the system should provide the status about the floor to the user. However, it can be improved to convey the information- “how many of the total floors in the elevator is left?”.

 
Image 6. Buttons in elevator 3

Image 6. Buttons in elevator 3

Image 7. The system status provided by elevator 3

Image 7. The system status provided by elevator 3

 

Elevator 4: Notice in image 8 (provided below), how the buttons have been organized and the visual feedback is provided through an outline of the blue light around the floor number. It is a good idea to provide the feedback this way. However, I was not sure which floor is “PH” and what it meant. Although, I ended up looking online for its meaning and it stands for Penthouse floor.

 
Image 8. Elevator 4

Image 8. Elevator 4

 

TL;DR

The interaction between users and an elevator can be improved by:

  • Providing appropriate visual and audio feedback to the user for their input.

  • Improving the lighting and the space inside the elevator to make it convenient and accessible for everyone.

  • Having a trained appointee to operate the elevator.

  • Having the buttons and the menus with Braille inscription.

  • Keeping the users informed about what’s going on through appropriate feedback.

  • Supporting the option to undo/cancel the selection made.

  • Following platform conventions and keeping the designs consistent.

Go look at your elevator again, and come back and tell me what you think about its design. I bet you’ll have something to say!