The Design of Elevator Buttons

In this fall’s first class of Thom’s IA/UX course, he pointed out the ridiculousness of one of the buttons in the local elevator: To get to the ground level, you have to press “PA.” What does PA stand for? Parking? No, “Plaza,” of course.

His dissatisfaction with the Capital Gallery elevator interface reminded me of the pair of elevators at my workplace. Our office is two buildings that are connected by bridges on certain floors. Each building has its own lobby and elevator bank, and each elevator bank has its own interface. Check ’em out:

Elevator buttons in the north building

Elevator buttons in the south building

Can you guess which interface I prefer? Which supports the human better when she wants to hold the door for another human?

In that moment when someone is running for the elevator, it is such a relief to have that giant pill-shaped “DOOR OPEN” button calling out to you in the south building elevators (second photo).

The north building’s elevator panel (first photo) also includes the handy “door open” translation for the universal “< | >” symbol. I have noticed, however, that I still attempt to decode door open and close symbols—which I find confusing, despite their universality—each time I try to hold the elevator. The silver-on-black labels are easier to read than the shiny white buttons, so I am drawn to decoding the confusing symbol rather than reading the handy text. And in that instant, I miss the opportunity to hold the elevator.

So, despite using the north elevator bank roughly four times a day, I often fail to hold the doors. When I occasionally visit the south building, however, I never miss the chance to help out to my fellow human.

About Veronica Erb

Designs, researches, illustrates, and writes code. Plays ukulele. Dances Balboa. Grew up in a geodesic dome, and hasn't gotten over it.
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