Search this site:


May 5, 2004 12:01 AM

Broken: Elevator button labels

Terry Jones writes:

The elevator doors at the Delta terminal at La Guardia opened but the woman in the elevator didn't get off. As I entered, she was speaking on the intercom to the security department trying to figure out which button to push to go down.

As we were on the second floor and wanting to go down I just pushed the lower one and off we went.

Then I looked for the source of her confusion. The buttons were labeled. DP (the top button) and AR (the bottom button). Checking my usability decoder ring I translated them to "Departures" and 'Arrivals'. I suppose they could have even been more bizarre and used TK (ticketing) and BG..( baggage.).

What ever happened to 1 and 2?


I've been noticing elevator buttons more recently for some reason. Why do engineers insist on putting labels next to buttons instead of directly on them? It doesn't sound bad, but try looking at 4 x 6 grid of buttons with labels spaced equally between them. Then quickly the button for the right floor.

Posted by: Michael Spina at May 5, 2004 12:06 PM

I suspect it has to do with button life -- labels on buttons wear off a lot faster than those beside.

Posted by: mendel at May 5, 2004 04:42 PM

At the Wilshire Grand the parking garage has city names for each level. You have to look up your city on a chart on the back wall of the elevator, and then press the button on the opposite wall on the front of the elevator.

I got off on the wrong floor and had to ask an attendant. "Oh, the hotel, that's in Sydney!" Of course, why wouldn't downtown LA street level by label "Sydney"?

Posted by: Bradley Dean at May 5, 2004 05:08 PM

Here's what I don't understand about elevator buttons;

Why can't you press the button once to "choose" the floor you want and then press it again it you want to abort that (wrong) choice and go to a different floor???

I realize there would have to be some sort of lock-out so you couldn't do this while rocketing to the 89th floor -- but for the life of me I don't get it...


Posted by: Ron at May 11, 2004 07:09 PM

The Metro (subway) system in DC shares a similar problem. Their elevators use odd labels that don't seem to be consistent between stations. After some practice I figured out that M did not equal Metro, but Mezzanine; P = platform; T = train and S = street.

You only have two options in any of these elevators, up or down. There is no third level. I don't understand why they don't simply use up and down arrows, particularly since many Metro users are tourists, some from countries where English is not the primary language.

Posted by: Lisa Goldberg at May 13, 2004 02:03 PM

Perhaps the best elevator labeling system would involve simple numbers for the floors, with additional information nearby listing additional information:

1 - Arrivals, Baggage Claim (or Train Platform, etc)

2 - Departures, Ticketing (or Street, etc)

Sometimes the best elevators are in large department stores where a lighted chart of the departments on each level are listed.

Additional information can be useful, but I agree that obscure abbreviations can be confusing. (To get to the building exit, do I go to "1", "L", or "LL"???)

Posted by: Heather F at May 13, 2004 02:56 PM

I think that this airport hopes to eliminate their crowding problems by keeping people stuck in elevators

Posted by: Ruff at June 20, 2004 06:39 PM

About the DC metro, when there's an elevator (like at the DC metro) between two floors, how about just having a single button, "Go", that closes the doors and goes to the other floor? Of course, the elevator should detect when there's someone on it, wait a bit, and then just go without being asked to do so. An "Open Doors" button with the appropriate international symbol would, as always, allow overrides.

Posted by: Mark Johnson at December 2, 2004 01:13 PM

Wow. Mark Johnson brings us one of the most intelligent comments I've seen here in a while, and earns a prestigious "Why didn't I think of that??" award.

That's a darn good question. In an elevator that has only two "states," i.e. places it can be, why does it need two buttons? If I'm ever in the elevator business, and I install an elevator that only has two stops, I'm going to give it just one button, and name it the "Mark Johnson Ultra-Usable Elevator." Or something like that.

Posted by: Brian at March 18, 2005 03:53 PM

There's actually a not-so-good reason for this. In cases where the elevator is manufactured without the knowledge of which floor is up and which is down, the 'intuitive' letter scheme is used instead. It's a lousy excuse, but it should shed some light on this.

Posted by: RossM at October 16, 2005 08:35 PM

Comments on this entry are closed

Previous Posts: