by Derick Daily

Something to think about

I’ve never thought much about the usability of elevators until recently. I suppose this is because, in most cases, elevators do what they’re supposed to do. You press a button to call the elevator, the doors open. You press another button to choose the floor you want, the doors close. And voila, when the doors open back up you’re exactly where you wanted to be. Sounds simple right? Well, not always.

Upon moving into our new building on 150 Spear Street – a modern high-rise with 18 floors featuring glorious views of the San Francisco bay – I quickly realized what a hassle being on the 16th floor would be. As most good commuters are prone to do,  I arrive at approximately 9 am each day. The ritual starts with dozens of other folks, all of whom attempt to squeeze into the elevator at the same time and proceed to punch their buttons. 3, 6 , 7, 12, 15, and finally 16. Usually one or two poor schmoes has the unfortunate luck of being on the 17th or 18th floor. I chuckle at his misfortune, ultimately making myself feel better.  At this point, your coffee will be cold by the time you get to your desk.

Not thinking it through

6 elevators, going nowhere fast.

18 floors, 6 elevators. There seems to be an extremely logical way to handle this.  Split them up. One bank of elevators goes to floors 1-8, the other 3 elevators go 9-18. How hard is that???

It didn’t take long for myself and my fellow cohorts to develop new patterns of behavior. Wait for the next elevator, then get in, and immediately press door close – even before your floor selection. The key is keeping out other riders so that you can get to your floor promptly. I’ve seen others in the building do the same thing. In fact I’ve been on the receiving end of someone trying to block me out as I try to make it in. It reminds me of that SouthWest Airlines commercial from a few years back where the woman in the elevator is trying to block buttons so the rushing dude who just got into the elevator can’t choose his floor.

Not thinking at all

How many things can you find wrong with this picture?

Apparently elevators in this 18-story building were a complete afterthought. Otherwise how do you explain this set of button panels? Examine the picture closely – it usually takes a few trips in the elevator to realize just how crazy these buttons are.  Which begs the question: had the person designing these panels ever ridden in an elevator before? There are clear design patterns to follow from the millions of other elevators in the world. Why they chose to re-invent now is far beyond me. So you’re probably asking why this upsets me so much – and I’ll tell you. On more than one occasion riders will press the wrong button, thus making a stop at another floor… thus making my coffee even colder by the time I finally get to my desk.

The Other End of the Spectrum: Over Thinking

A game of Memory | Look Ma', No buttons!

Of course there is always an extreme opposite end of the spectrum. One which takes things too far in terms of trying to create a “new” and more “efficient” ways to do things. Case in point would be one of our very own esteemed clients whom we love dearly, but cannot stand the elevators in their building. Upon entering the security check point you must choose a bay of elevators, either floors 1 – 9 or 10-18. At least they got off to a good start! But that’s as far as they got. In an effort to simplify things (I can only assume) they decided to put the button panel on the wall outside of the bank of 4 elevators. Choose your floor and the digital display tells you that your elevator  will either be elevator E, F, H or G. It blinks this for approximately 5 seconds. Turn around, talk to your co-worker and you’ve already forgotten which elevator it was. Then the elevator comes, you get in – only to find there’s NO BUTTON panel in the elevator! None. But there are multiple riders, each going to different floors, and if you got in the right elevator you may get to your floor too!

It seems minor in the scheme of things, but buildings costs millions, sometimes hundreds of millions to construct. And if there are accepted design patterns to follow, then follow them! If there are potential improvements that can be made, discuss them with someone other than the engineer who has to build them.  After all, cold coffee is growing epidemic these days and we must all work together to build a better world where we never wait for anyone or anything. Time is of the essence… or was it time is money? Oh well, you get the point.