An Elevated Commute

Cameron Chaleff
Sep 11, 2019 · 3 min read

Every day, I use the elevators in my dorm and many other Brown buildings. Now, I’ve lived in the same building since my sophomore year, and I’m now a senior. And somehow, I still consistently hit the wrong buttons.

The layout of the buttons is as below:

A standard elevator button layout

This building has 8 floors, and the buttons are arranged in three rows, one with the even numbers, another with the odd numbers. Because the floor numbers increase left-to-right, it’s natural to assume as an English reader that the sequence would be top-to-bottom. But instead, the numbers increase as you go up, diverging from the expected order. While this mirrors the actual numbering of the floors, I think that the dissonance between these two aspects creates confusion.

Additionally, the button placement can create a momentary ambiguity. Because the odd number buttons are between both button rows, it takes a moment to recognize that the label to the left of each button indicates its floor.

The numbers are separated from lesser-used emergency functions, which I think is a good thing. Those are rarely pressed by accident, in fact, I’ve never seen someone do that.

It’s my assumption that the buttons are designed this way largely because of standardized components. I imagine that it’s much easier and cheaper to buy standard buttons and labels and arrange them for a specific building than it is to print individual buttons for floors. Labels are easier to manufacture custom than buttons. Additionally, electronics powering the elevator might put constrains on the button arrangement and design. Perhaps the external buttons mirror the internal structure, limiting their arrangement.

In exploring a redesign, I considered a few different layouts. I considered trying a simple left-to-right layout, with the floor numbers starting at one and increasing, fixing the confusion of the two rows. I in the end, decided to go with a different layout that better mirrored the actual layout of the building.

My redesigned elevator button layout

In my layout, the buttons are wider, to evoke the shape of a building floorplan, and they have their corresponding number imprinted on them.

The highest floor is on top, just as in real life. I would also consider having a color difference between buttons, adding another layer of distinction, which will decrease errors.

The basement floor, which is only accessible if unlocked by key (so most users are unable to access it) is set below and apart from the rest of the buttons. Below that is the emergency buttons, which are also infrequently used.

Other ideas for improving the button interface that I have include adding an option to unselect a floor that you’ve pressed by accident, perhaps by pressing it a second time or pressing and holding it.

I think that the feedback provided by the buttons in the original interface lighting up when pressed is very good, and I would maintain that in my new interface.

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