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.