The UX (User Experience) of Elevators

There are a lot of things in this world that are often being used besides the function that they were actually made for. Say a paperclip. While it was primarily designed to keep stacks of paper from flying away, you may have also seen it been used to pick locks in spy movies before. This is generally true for most utility tools. After all, we have to remember that people are naturally innovative — or to better put it, people want to bend the rules. So when we talk about designing (or redesigning) products, we have to account for the countless ways they can be misused. Otherwise, you’ll end up overwhelmed and in a whim of endless feature production.

This is also why, when I practice designing for the UX of products, I try to use objects that can be isolated to be defined in its most basic function. As much as possible, I try to stray away from over-complicating analogies. For example, I like to practice designing the UX of an elevator.

Why Elevators?

Elevators are simple. They have only one function, and nothing else. Despite how creative a person can get, there can never be more than one intention when using the elevator. Go up x floors. go down x floors. Because of this, we can isolate features to respond to a specific need of the user. But while they are extremely straightforward in its function, the panel design of elevators can make or break the entire experience of users.

Take for example these two elevator control panels below:

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One obviously has a better UX design over the other. Easy to notice, the only difference between the two is the ordering of buttons. But while this looks to be a subtle adjustment, this also produces a fairly heavy consequence to the behavior of your users. Imagine making your users feel as if the floors were meant to go below the lobby, rather than the other way around. While this wouldn’t cause as much inconvenience, the last thing you’d want is to confuse users with how building floors are numbered and ordered.

Components, just like these buttons, ought to be designed in the same way that users already expect it to be. By organizing the buttons in a form that’s familiar, you reduce the effort it takes for users to accomplish the task, otherwise what designers refer to as cognitive load. One of the basic goals
of UX is to lessen frustrations of users, which can be done by ensuring familiarity in the way components are positioned in the interface. One
of it is in this way.

But UX isn’t just about designing to reduce pain points. It also means designing to improve issues that aren’t as straightforward. Say in this case:

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While you might say that the one on the left is conventionally efficient already, you will only see the big problem once you click on a button
and realize that you can’t confirm that you actually did the required work. This is where call-to-action components come into play. Notice the red light that illuminates on the right control panel instead. By clicking on the button and having that feedback, it now provides the user with the understanding that they have successfully accomplished the intended task.

Consequently too, the addition of such feature prevents misunderstanding between the user and the machine. Say, the user might have thought that the button was already pressed when the command wasn’t actually received by the system. In cases like this, two things can happen: (1) users struggle, and (2) the time it takes for the task to be done extends, delaying the work and reducing the elevator’s efficiency. This delay might not be as problematic in most applications of the machine, but just imagine how crucial elevators are for life and death situations in the hospital.

Now while the first two examples are experienced by the vast majority of elevator-riders, we also have to account for those that have different, possibly unnoticed by those that don’t feel it, but still highly valid frustrations. Say your user was blind. How would you design it then to cater to their needs? It would have to have something like this:

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Both control panels would probably yield the same experience for people who can see. In this instance, the addition of Braille code to the design would not contribute any significant bonus. But for people who can’t, this may just as well decide if they should even use the elevator or not. As UX designers, we have to be keen on the accessibility of our products’ design. This means that we cater not only to the fair majority, but also to the users that are often underrepresented.

The way that designers are able to achieve this is by exploring different personas and their distinct journey in using the product. This offer for us an opportunity to empathize the extremes and the minorities, making the design more inclusive. Ultimately, this would ensure that we create better and more engaging products to most of our users… if not all.

Why Practice Designing Everyday Objects?

While I was able to share three rather basic examples with which you can ideate on, there are countless more factors that influence the efficiency, effectiveness, and appropriateness of a elevator’s design. For the most part, the ones that I described serve merely as guides on how one can be critical on technical design elements that contribute to the entire user experience of the product. By constantly and regularly innovating on how to design a simple elevator—starting from the basics of research up to usability testing — you can enhance the way you tackle problems. The less obvious the features you come up with, the better.

When you’ve mastered your way in the UX design of elevators, you may also try experimenting on other products. It can be an electric fan, a backpack, or even a towel, but always employ design strategies that sharpen your design process and help you and your product grow. As a designer myself, I suggest that you practice different facets of product development besides your main medium of work. Personally, I work with tech products, so most of my designs revolve around online prototypes. However, I often practice with more tangible objects that I encounter day to day that sharpen the way that I tackle existing design problems.

Just remember to always be keen on who your designing it for and what their needs are as users.

By doing so, you harness your ability to think outside of the box while still ensuring the feasibility of your design. As I said before: people are naturally innovative. But when you start adding the right amount of empathy and practice into the mix, you’re bound to get a designer.