A better layout for elevator buttons and escalator symbols

The panel on the left is in the garage elevator at the airport in Oklahoma City. Users at the airport may be in a hurry and have a lot on their mind. That person, trying to catch a departing flight, does not want to have to think about button labels. Just make it clear. Most of the users in this elevator cab (if not all of them) will be heading down to the tunnel that connects to the terminal building. That's the T on the panel, although many people would not know that the T was for tunnel; some might not even know that they would be taking a tunnel. The T button should be ridiculously well marked so that the user enters the cab and, in a quick glance, sees to punch that button to get to the terminal. No thought, no deciphering, no explanatory plaques or signs - just an obvious label - large, clear, and demanding - that quickly communicates exactly what the user wants to know.
Placement of controls on a stove, car dashboard, and in elevators should allow some sense of intuition and common sense to determine the function and connection between the task and its control device.
The star next to a floor button conveys the level to exit the building, usually ground level. The other buttons should be arranged in a way that makes some rational sense to the rider and can be understood rapidly.
In the fotos above right, the button for floor 3 is lower than the one for floor 1 - intuitively, floor 3 should be above floor 1. This picture was shot in an academic research building at a university. Since these control panels are custom made for each installation, this panel could have easily have one column of the 5 floor buttons on the left side (closest to the elevator doors so entering patrons can access them easily with less disruption to the other riders). The other column could have the less-frequently-used buttons, alarms, and locks.

The better concept
Buttons on an elevator panel should be placed in a composition that is orderly, logical, and intuitive. Lower floors should be towards the bottom and the numbers should increase as their location rises on the panel. Rather than in horizontal rows (like pancakes with maple syrup stacked on a plate), buttons in vertical columns are more like the floors in a building. The user wants to travel up or down, not left or right.

Typically, button placement seems random and not very well thought out from the user's PoV (all design should be built from the user's PoV, always.) From the reference point (usually the Lobby), the user looks up to find their floor, or down if leaving the building. Intuitive, "I want to go up." On existing layouts, the user reads left to right rather than up.
The columns of buttons could even be staggered up to better convey the direction towards the top of the building:


Above left and middle: Existing.     Right: Better layout.
Below left: Existing elevator with buttons, L-9.     Middle: Existing elevator with 10 buttons, C-9.     Right: Better layout of 10 buttons.

These are two elevator panels in a condo building in NYC. The building has 9 floors and a basement. The elevator on the left services only the 9 residential floors. The one shown in the middle serves the 9 floors plus the basement. The basement is accessible only by building staff (to get to the trash compactor, maintenance room, etc.) However, the two panel arrangements do not jive. One has 9 floor buttons while the other has 10. Having each elevator panel different means that the user can't learn the arrangement and punch buttons consistently. It would have been easy to have both panels laid out the same (see far right foto above). The C or cellar button could be in one of the blank slots below the numbers. It does not need to be in a logical position since it is only staff that punch that button. There are already two blank slots; there's no need to add three slots above the panel to accommodate that 10th button. The proposed solution would have been cheaper (no additional button slots), more consistent and uniform, and more efficient and appropriate for the primary users - the building residents and visitors.

1. This building directory and map was posted in the elevator in the OSU Student Union. It shows the basement at the top and the top floor at the bottom. Plus, no visitor would think to look inside the elevator for the building directory. Update: the Union has been completely renovated and this directory map no longer exists.
2. Not a bad idea - to be consistent in ordinal numbering.
3. This panel is in a Manhattan parking garage - the buttons are color coded to match the color coded floors of the garage. Great idea. If one parks on the yellow floor, they don't even need to remember the floor number, just the color. Unfortunately, the layout is poor - zig-zagging up.

Here's an interesting idea - large toe-tapping buttons at the floor for residential buildings in which elevator riders may have arms full with packages or groceries. Of course, there is a limit on the number of buttons that could fit around the perimeter base. Still, a good idea to explore easier button pushing - maybe elevator controls will be voice activated soon?

Better Emergency & Information button placement

In this elevator cab, there is an additional set of intercom and alarm buttons down low to facilatate use and encourage passengers to get down to the floor if the cab fills with smoke.

Walking through an NYC subway station, I noticed this call box mounted on a column. The lettering was easy enough to read, but the buttons weren't quite right. It seemed there might be two options, but it wasn't very clear. Was it one button for Emergency Information or two buttons - one for Emergency and another for Information. As I studied it more closely, I saw the second button below the word Information. Two distinct options. There are 3 problems:
• The Info button does not stand out and can be easily overlooked, especially from a distance or if in panic mode.
• The info button is green. Blue is the standard color for Information on signage.
• The text word labels are not in proximity to their buttons (the red button is closer to Information than it is to Emergency).
On the right, above, is a revised version with a green info button and the labels moved closer to their respective buttons. Below: side by side comparisons:
Lesson: Proximity is an important design guideline - position related elements in close proximity to each other.

Better escalator markings

An escalator and moving sidewalk custom in many cultures is for people who want to just stand to keep to the right - those who want to keep climbing or walking use the open left side. Some cultures are still in the Education Mode - training users on the stand/walk etiquette.
Signs and symbols must first get our attention - they must be noticed. The examples below place the symbols and info in the user's sightline, not off to the side or overhead, but right where one has to look. The designers of these symbols considered the needs and habits of the target audience.
Lesson: Great design solves problems that make the solution more effective, useful, and beautiful.