Make Elevator Indicators Unambiguous

Posted by bob korbus on 7th November 2009

ITA Elevators DOWNEver stand by a bank of elevators waiting for your elevator, hear a bell ring and look around for your elevator? What do you want to see?

You want to see 2 things:
1) Which elevator has arrived and
2) Which way it is going

Elevator Indicators perform this function for you. OK, glance at this elevator and see if the indicator tells you what you want to know:
Elevators, ITA DOWN

Is your 1st impression that it’s going up or down? White is up, Red is down (or, at least, it should be). Think heaven and hell.  In this case, the elevators going down. How did you determine that? You looked at the white light, thought “up”, then noticed that the white light is above another unlit light so changed your mind and decided that the elevator is, in fact, going down.  Either that or you took the scenic route to your destination.

You just experienced cognitive friction (see terminology page). Next is the same elevator going up:

Elevators, ITA UP

Looks familiar, huh? But it’s going the other way!  You can’t tell, at 1st glance.

Now look a these elevators in another building:

Elevators, Thoughtworks DOWNElevators, Thoughtworks UP

In this case, the down light is not only on the bottom, it’s red instead of white creating a further distinction between the two directions indicated.  And because they are more distinct, people will spend less mental energy determining which elevator to get on and more on important things.  This is a better way to do elevator indicators.

Who cares?  This type of usability analysis is not critical to traveling in elevators but understanding the core issue can be beneficial in, for example, designing indicator lights on a 787 cockpit panel.

What do you think?

Update 11/18/2009:

One commentor said the indicators should be arrows.  I wholeheartedly agree!  In fact, the next day I was in a building and came across these: (continued below)
W Jackson 004 W Jackson 002

W Jackson 005 W Jackson 003

They even use white for up, red for down. So what’s wrong with them? I think they should have put the up arrow above the down arrow, not side-by-side. Also, it’s good that they did arrows but there might be better arrows shaped more like this: Elevator Indicator Arrow that would be unambiguous if someone was standing a ways back or didn’t have their glasses on.  Neither does it help that the arrows are mounted on a reflective surface which tends to distort the shape of the arrows.

Whoa!, how ’bout this? A light above the elevator door for an elevator going up and a light at the threshold of the elevator door for an elevator going down. That would be unambiguous (and really cool!)

While we’re on the subject, the ding of the bell should be a high note for “UP” and a low note for “DOWN”.  (for everyone, not just the blind)

What other good ideas are out there?

Categories: in Buildings
11Nov

One Response to “Make Elevator Indicators Unambiguous”

  1. Wayne Korbus says:

    Why can’t the shape be that of a big arrow pointed up or down, in addition to the color?