Elevator control panels

by John J. BARTHOLDI, III

Designers of user interfaces: The elevator industry needs you! Behold the evidence.

Panel layout

As an untrained user of elevators, it seems to me that you want three basic things from an elevator control panel:

Is that so hard?

Here is what I have learned:

A note on terminology: The basic element of style here seems to be a “button”. Some buttons are switches and some are just tags; but for our purposes they are all “buttons”.

Click on any image to enlarge it.

elevator panel
Location
Elevator to parking decks of the Temasek Tower, Singapore.
General comments
A nicely designed panel. It is simple and obvious. The layout of the buttons suggest the relationship of the floors to each other. The open/close-door buttons are separated from the choose-floor buttons so they are easy to find. The rarely-used buttons for elevator administration have been hidden.
Door open/close
The open/close-door buttons improve on the standard icon by showing TWO vertical lines to represent two doors. Furthermore, these icons provide additional visual distinctions in that the distance between the vertical lines is different in the two and they are in different colors.
Floors below ground
B1 is the first below ground. Presumably deeper floors would be B2, B3, and so on.
elevator panel
Location
South parking deck of Piedmont Hospital, Atlanta, GA (USA)
General comments
A masterpiece of bad design. Most remarkably, each floor is associated with no fewer than four separate buttons, each of which provides just one of the essential functions. From left to right:
  • The label, painted in a color to be associated with the floor and giving the name of the color in both English and Braille
  • An inactive button colored to match the floor - but with the color missing for the brown, white, tan, and (possibly) black buttons

    These first two buttons do nothing but identify the choices of floor. Furthermore, it appears that the worded labels were added later, perhaps after it was realized that people might not be able to distinguish some colors or remember them or give accurate directions to others (was that tan or mocha or ecru?)

  • A white button that actually transmits your choice to the elevator mechanism;
  • A small strip of light that confirms your choice (you can see this glowing above the white button for the orange floor).

The column of white buttons on the far right are inactive. Among the active buttons, the floor levels increase diagonally upward, alternating to the right and left.

Door open/close
At the very bottom are the open door, alarm bell, and close door buttons identified by icons. Above the alarm bell is a button labelled “hold door open”—is this different from the “open” door button?
Floors below ground
This design gives no clue as to the outside world.
elevator panel
Location
Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore
General comments
This panel presents 13 button elements but the museum has only two floors! You are on one of them; push the OTHER button, if you can find it.
Door open/close
The buttons have the words “Door open” and “Door close”. Furthermore they are located next to the Alarm and Stop buttons, which would be easy to press by mistake.
Floors below ground
Not applicable
a panel of elevator buttons
Location
Fraser Suites, Singapore
General comments
The floor levels increase first up and then to the right. I was constantly fooled by the fact that the button for floor 16 is at the very bottom, well below that for floor 5.
Door open/close
Standard icons but distinguished by color to help cue the user
Floors below ground
Not applicable
a panel of elevator buttons
Location
Near the central library at the National University of Singapore
General comments
These buttons increase first to the right and then up (compare with Fraser Suites).
Door open/close
Standard icons but the placement, with Door Open on the right, is reversed from standard.
Floors below ground
Not applicable
elevator panel
Location
I found this photo in a communications project from Muhlenberg College; no author was identified.
General comments
The buttons increase in a single row from left to right. Is this an elevator or a train? What is BR?
Door open/close
Standard icons
Floors below ground
None, but the ground floor is marked with a star, which helpfully relates the panel layout to the outside world.
elevator panel
Location
Great World City, a shopping mall in Singapore
General comments
There are six buttons but actually only 4 levels: B1 is the same as floor 2; and B2 is the same as floor 1. The arrangement of buttons reflects the outside world: They show that the the parking garage stands beside the mall but the floors do not match exactly.
Door open/close
Interesting variations on the standard icons. The triangles here are fully depicted as arrows showing direction of movement. Notice the standing person in the door-open icon.
Floors below ground
Decreasing numerically with prefix “B”.
elevator panel
Location
Lobby of the Temasek Tower, Singapore
General comments
This panel is noteworthy for the unusual selection of floors it presents: B2, 1, 31, and 42-50.
Door open/close
Much more informative than standard icons. Easily distinguishable but the placement of the functions, with Door Open on the right, is reversed from standard.
Floors below ground
B2. Where is B1?
elevator panel
Location
Offices of the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR), Singapore (Thanks to Paul Goldsman for finding this.)
General comments
A clean, helpful layout
Door open/close
Similar to the standard icons except that the vertical lines, which represent the edges of the doors, have been omitted.
Floors below ground
As befitting an organization of scientists and engineers, the floor below 1 is -1. But where is 0?
elevator panel
Location
Delta Airlines terminal of Los Angeles International Airport
General comments
An opaque set of choices. I asked a Delta Airlines employee to interpret these for me. She said that everyone found it confusing and so she tapes interpretations to the panel, but the airport personnel remove them. How would a passenger know to choose from among these?
  • "M" for Mezzanine
  • "P" for Planes
  • "O" for Operations
  • "C" for Chunnel, which is actually a tunnel. No one could explain why the name.
Door open/close
Standard icons
Floors below ground
It is impossible to relate this panel to the outside world.
elevator panel
Location
North parking deck of Piedmont Hospital, Atlanta, GA
General comments
These buttons assume you understand the overall layout of the hospital complex and something about the history of its construction. (This parking deck was the first one built North of the original deck, hence the prefix N.) This labeling is inconsistent with the south parking deck, where floors are distinguished by color and are not prefixed with S.
Door open/close
Standard icons
Floors below ground
NB, for North Basement perhaps?
elevator panel
Location
Near the central library of the National University of Singapore
General comments
A clean layout, but the button labels are scarcely legible (they are 1, 2, 3).
Door open/close
DO and DC: These made sense to me only after I studied both of them, which, since they are separated, requires more than a glance. Furthermore, the C in DC looks very much like the O in DO. Finally the placement of the functions reverse the typical placement in which Door Open is on the left and Door Close on the right.
Floors below ground
Not applicable
elevator panel
Location
Concorde Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
General comments
Forcing buttons into one large, uniformly-spaced rectangular array makes this hard to read.
Door open/close
Standard icons
Floors below ground
Follows the European convention of labeling ground floor G; and numbering floors above; but adopts a different convention for floors below: LL, which is presumably Lower Lobby.
elevator panel
Location
Building 105 of the Piedmont Hospital complex in Atlanta, GA (USA)
General comments
Even though buttons are in rectangular array, subarrays help improve the readability.
Door open/close
Standard icon
Floors below ground
C and B: Do they stand for anything? Should there be an A? The ground floor is starred, which is helpful. In this case the ground floor is named 1, following the US convention.
elevator panel
Location
Parking garage of the Crawford Long Hospital complex in Atlanta, GA (USA)
General comments
Where is A? What are the colored buttons to the right and left?
Door open/close
Standard icon
Floors below ground
It is impossible to relate this to the outside world.
elevator panel
Location
Office Tower of the Emory Crawford Long Hospital complex in Atlanta, GA (USA)
General comments
Bowing to ignorant superstition, the hospital-a university hospital!-pretends there is no 13th floor.
Door open/close
Standard icon
Floors below ground
It is hard to tell: The floors are labeled G, L, 2, and so on. Is G the Ground floor? Or is it L, which is starred?


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