Lifting the Ambiguity

Lifts or Elevators are ubiquitous. And though they might seem to be the simplest of devices to operate and use; its not funny to see the kind of lack of understanding that is prevalent with respect to the two basic buttons - Arrow up (to go up), Arrow Down (to go down) - associated with its usage. I have seen the most high-profile of people getting their basics wrong over these; some being confident enough to even educate others in their erroneous method of usage. 

Actually to think of it, it’s fairly easy to get confused if you haven’t been ‘told’ what those buttons mean. Many people tend to think that they need to “call the lift to their floor”, for which they tend to press the incorrect button. They are unaware of the fact that the buttons are meant to indicate the direction in which one wants to go, and are not related to the momentary position of the elevator in any way. Some people are so confused with the system that they just blankly press both the buttons every time, or confirm with the people inside which way the elevator is going before entering. Thus the fact is, there is a disconnect; and it’s not the user’s fault. And this confusion results in unnecessary stoppages, and people getting on lifts in the incorrect directions; thus resulting in wastage of power and time.

So I thought of ideating on some alternative methods that could help avoid such a state of confusion over these buttons. Mentioned below are some simple ideas that attempt to help people call the elevators in an intuitively more informed and efficient manner:

1. The most straightforward method to tackle this issue would be to introduce such elements that cannot cause confusion or have the least probability to do so. One such solution would be to just put the same panel that exists inside the lift - to indicate the floor to go to - outside on every floor. All the user would have to do is press the particular floor button, and the lift would stop for the purpose when travelling in the particular direction. Simple enough. And maybe the panel inside the lift could be removed altogether if such panels exist outside on every floor. But this solution mandates additional cost, and hence has it’s own limitations.

2. Probably the biggest factor behind the confusion here are the graphics themselves - the arrow indicators. They just by themselves offer vague information of their purpose. One of ideas here could be to use text on the buttons instead. For example, having text such as ‘I want to go Up’ & ‘I want to go Down’ on the buttons could reduce ambiguity as it makes the actions more personal & identifiable. This solution though straightforward, is language-dependent, and hence is not that universal in nature as the icons. 

3. A quirky way to deal with this issue could be by taking away the information that causes this confusion - the floor indicator - it is what causes people to try and bring the lift up/down to their floor. But the floor indicator has a bit more relevance, as it also gives the user an idea of the amount of time the lift will take to reach his/her floor. So, another alternative could be to replace the floor indicator with a time indicator, which tells approx. how long will the lift take to reach one’s floor. At any point of time, the timer would show the amount of time it would take the lit to reach the floor considering the no. of intermediate stops other people have called out for. As the stops increase, the time increases. The user anyways can’t do much about these scenarios even now. This particular solution would be far more informative and contextual for the waiting user, though it has it’s own set of technical requirements.

All these alternatives meet the initial goal that was set-up, and have their own set of positive characteristics as well as technical requirements. And though the current system is fairly universal the world over, it’d be nice to see an interesting alternative in place somewhere that takes care of this ambiguity (for some) and offers a more intuitive system for people to use. 

Dig your Wallet?

Well I haven’t designed a Wallet ever, but I do always use one, and hence have bought quite a few of them in the past. And every time I’m at the stores having a look around, I’m kind of surprised upon seeing certain widely-prevalent elements in their designs which make very little sense. They appear to be predominantly designed for people with a certain kind of a lifestyle only, which is unfair and illogical. So I thought I’ll try to think of some basic pointers which in my opinion and as per my experience should be considered while designing men’s wallets. Here we go:

1. Yes, we do use coins!

I’m quite surprised to see the no. of wallets in the market that either don’t offer any provision for storing coins or are extremely ill-equipped for the purpose. Coins do fatten up the wallet but to discourage their storage through such measures is quite ridiculous. Loose change is needed for a no. of purposes here in India and hence should definitely be considered for. A well-designed enclosure that allows a decent no. of coins to be stored along with ensuring that they are uniformly spread across the surface of the wallet (keeping it thin), rather than sagging down to one-end, would be lovely. 

2. No, the male posterior isn’t flat.

Well that’s a well-known fact. So there is no point making a flat product if it’s not going stay flat. Wallets start warping awkwardly the moment we start using them, and eventually taken on some weird shapes depending on how the items inside are place for long. How about a more complimentary form though still ensuring that items like credit/visiting cards retain their flat shape? 

3. Make it thin.

Nothing feels worse than a fat wallet, no matter what the advantage. So features that add up to that thickness like additional folds (tri-fold wallets), thick material, loop buttons etc. should be avoided in my opinion. Intelligent distribution of space within the wallet, as well as more efficient ways to store items (such as coins) can also counter unnecessary addition of bulk. 

4. Allow customization.

The kind of items and their quantities that people carry in their wallets vary; some carry a lot many credit/debit cards, some prefer to carry a lot of coins for their own practical reasons, while many like to carry a lot of cash, and so on. So other than offering different variations of wallets for all these different people, it could be a good idea to allow people to customize their wallet e.g. the wallet could comprise of large open areas which people can customize using some of the accessories that come along at the time of buying. It could be an interesting experiment to see how people react to freedom of this sort.

5. Expandable Spaces

Certain items that we carry in our wallets like coins, cash tend to undergo quite a bit of variation, from a lot to none. Thus rather than permanently allocating certain volume to them, it would be good idea to offer a detailing that allows certain areas to expand when needed e.g. use of a flexible material at the edges that allows the space to expand when stuffed with more than normal quantities.

Thus to summarize, a well-designed wallet for standard usage should adhere to the following basic functional characteristics :

* gives an impression of being capable of storing all that the customer wants to in an adequate manner, at the time of buying. 

* is comfortable and convenient to use and carry.

* allows customization as per personal needs and under certain circumstances.

* looks good even when used over time.

What does your movie ticket say?

Movie Tickets are one of those items that no one really pays a lot of attention to. They have a fairly short life span if you think about it. But that doesn’t take away the practical need and timely relevance of the various details over them. And like any other product that has a certain purpose attached to it for common people, these need to be designed in accordance with the specific needs of these users.

Movie tickets have a variety of important information to present to different people under varying circumstances. These people primarily comprise of two groups only: the Customer and the Cinema Staff. And the relevant details to each vary under different circumstances. To better understand the various needs from this product by the users, let’s have a closer look at some of the key scenarios of use:

# Situation1: At the counter, customer buying the ticket. 


Is it the correct Movie? - Movie Name

Am I (or the Kids) eligible? - Viewership Rating

Is it for the correct day and time? - Show Date & Time

How much do I have to Pay? - Price

Cinema Staff:

None (since details are checked on the computer before printing the ticket).

# Situation 2: Customer has bought the tickets, but not entered the Cinema as yet.


When is my show? - Show Time (the Day/Date is usually the same or known)

# Situation 3: Customer entering the Cinema, getting the ticket checked.


Which way is my Screen? - Screen No.

Cinema Staff:

Is it the right time for him/her to enter? - Show Date & Time

Is this person eligible for this movie? - Viewership Rating

Which way is the Screen? - Screen No.

# Situation 4: Customer entering the particular Hall, to be seated.


Where do I sit? - Seat No.

Cinema Staff:

Is this person in the right screen? - Screen No./Movie Name

Where is he/she supposed to sit? - Seat No.


Now if we look carefully at these realizations, we can arrive at certain inferences here:


- Show Time, Screen No. and Seat No. are the most important details (repeatedly checked or critical).

- The Show Date, Movie Name and Viewership Rating come next (checked maybe just once or so and/or usually remembered).

- Price is of least importance among them (rarely seen once paid).

Time of Relevance

- From a Customer’s perspective: Movie Name, Viewership Rating, Show Date, Show Time and Price are important before entering the cinema, while Screen No. and Seat No. become key once inside.


- Details like Show Date & Show Time, as well as Screen No. & Seat No. being intuitively associated, should logically be placed together on the ticket.


Considering the above mentioned conclusions, shown below is a sample design that could potentially represent be a better way of presenting information on a Movie Ticket:

(Please note it represents a sample from a structure/layout perspective only; a lot of visual exploration can further be carried out). 


Mentioned below are a few merits of this arrangement of details from a design and usability perspective:

- A vertical and left-aligned display aids scanning and findability, as we naturally read from left to right and top to bottom.

- The most important details have been indicated using a bigger font size and made bold. They would naturally catch more attention than the rest. The font sizes used on the ticket are in accordance with this criterion.

- There is a clear distinction between information that holds relevance for customers before and after entering the cinema (top and bottom). Also, the details that need to be read inside the cinema –extremely dark and low on light, have been shown on white background for better contrast and ease of reading.

- Viewership Rating has been emphasized through red colour - as an alert. It is a detail that should catch attention only when needed (adults only), and could be less conspicuous otherwise.


Shown below are some of the currently available tickets of cinemas in Mumbai:


Though none of the needed information is missing, it is fairly apparent that the required emphasis on the important details as well a relevant structure is missing here (even if we ignore the clutter around).

Going out for a movie is supposed to be an enjoyable and relaxing experience, and though not a make-or-break criteria, a better and unique ticket design can add its own small qualitative layer of positivity on the overall experience by helping people find information easily, waste less time and make fewer mistakes. Here’s hoping for a sensible and more user-friendly change soon.

One Home, too many Home Screens

Multiple Homescreens are nowadays commonly found in high-end portable digital devices like the smartphones and tablets. They are considered amongst the attractive features of a device with new gadgets increasingly having more no. of screens. The new iPhone/iPad is supposed to have 11 home screens.

The rational for having multiple homepages is pretty straightforward: with increasingly sophisticated devices allowing people to install a lot many applications and games, more amount of real estate is required for the user to place the icons for regular access.

But whether multiple homescreens are the right solution for the purpose is debatable in my opinion, especially with respect to the issue of ‘Findability’. Let’s envision a scenario: If i’m using an iPhone, with 11 screens, and I suddenly feel like playing a particular game or opening a particular document saved on one of the screens, it would require me to flip through the various screens (maybe 10 swipes), scanning each one of them individually, till I find the particular icon/file. Simple enough, but not the best method always I’d say.

People do try to remember and organize stuff to help themselves out (though many don’t). Even if we assume that people have taken the pain of categorizing icons & files across the screens as per certain themes (e.g. office/multimedia/networking), it still doesn’t take away the fundamental issue with the pattern itself: lack of user’s understanding of the relative orientation of these screens. If I’m having one screen in front of me, which way do I start swiping to quickly find the item that I’m searching for? Especially if one is in a hurry, this can be quite bugging, as it makes you ‘think’ everytime. The indicator dots at the bottom don’t help much. 

If we look at the ways the issue of ‘findability’ has been addressed at other platforms, there are a no. of examples that can be pointed out:

- Location of certain important/popular items tend to be fixed e.g. On the desktop, certain key items like My Computer, My Documents etc. tend to have a fixed location, under the Start Menu or as icons on the desktop.


- On e-commerce websites, there is the option to view items in ‘Grid’ (focused on images) or ‘List’ view (focused on text/name). We also use the same variation while searching for files on our computer; grid view is helpful while looking out visually, while List/Detail view becomes relevant when the name or certain file detail is the reference.

- On email clients (gmail, yahoo), the items are listed by default as per date/time; always showing the latest ones first.

- While searching for files on the desktop; we tend to sort items as per ‘Type’ (Folders, Word, PDFs etc.) which shortens the scope/list for the user to look into.

Thus taking inspiration from these examples, there can certainly be few design alternatives that can be tried out to help the users quickly find they’re looking for on their phone/tablet without necessitating any forced methods of organization. It is important to remember that the attempt here is to help the user avoid 7-10 swipes (between multiple screens), avoid the dilemma of thinking everytime, and save time.

- Allowing the users to fix the location for certain icons (e.g. a desired portion of the screens - 1/2 rows), which doesn’t change when the screens are flipped through, and could contain the most important/popular items of the user.

- Allowing the user to switch to List view, with items across all screens listed out collectively (using a scroll). The files could be sorted as per their ‘type’ (games/applications/documents) to help shorten the search. This could be specifically beneficial when the files becomes a lot in number. Probably, rather than having multiple home screens, one could even choose to retain this as the default view. 

- Allow user to allocate names (as per their personal organization methodology) to the different home screens, and further provide short-cuts to them from the default home screen. Showing a couple of most popular icons from each screen alongside could further help in quick identification and recall.

Just a few quick ideas which probably could be worked upon considering that we’re moving towards more amount of content on our portable devices, with increasingly bigger screen sizes, and hence more complicated scenarios.