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January 31, 2006 12:03 AM

Broken: Hotel rooms sign

Hotel_rooms_signHarriet R. Goren submits a picture of a sign at a hotel:

If you were staying in this hotel, which direction would you go to get to room 1519?

If you said "right," you're wrong.

The absence of a dash caused me, and I'm sure many guests before me, to stumble confusingly down the wrong corridor until realizing we were supposed to read the sign across, not down.


reading it 1501-1516 to the left and 1515-1525 to the right (as you did) would cause a 2-room overlap, which is clearly wrong. so if you're capable of simple logical reasoning, its not really all that difficult to figure out what's going on.

could it be better? certainly.

but broken? not exactly.

Posted by: -_- hmmm at January 31, 2006 12:42 AM

I actually read it across the first time. Maybe it is you who is broken.

Posted by: john russell at January 31, 2006 12:53 AM

At first I thought, "yeah, wouldn't there be an obvious overlap?" but then I realized, if you're just looking for YOUR ROOM, you'd just tend to see the first grouping which seems to contain your room and not look to make sure that the other groupings are consistent with the grouping you just read.

I'd probably have gone right, too.

Posted by: fluffy at January 31, 2006 02:27 AM

Not broken?

When you are coming in from a days travel, you should not be expected to break down the logical possibilities.

The spatial layout of the text implies that 1. the left arrow, and 2. the rooms 1515 to 1525 all work together as a logical group. Even if I broke down the "logical" overlap, I would expect the overlap to be irrelevant.

Have we heard of "exceptions"? Of course we have since we are all conversing in English, with its good bit of rules, and a great many exceptions.

In fact, I often expect exceptions.

Posted by: Josephc4 at January 31, 2006 03:22 AM

Check out this post. It's the same concept.

Humans will tend to group things that are close together when reading, even if it isn't ltr.

Posted by: Josh Z. at January 31, 2006 08:28 AM

If I had a nickel for every hotel I've been to like this, I'd have built up two or three nickels by now. It doesn't matter because I'd have blown my nickels on fast cars and loose women.

The overlap wouldn't immediately be an indication of which direction was correct. I found out once that one direction in the hotel would take me to the odd-numbered rooms, the other direction was the even-numbered ones.

And how much would it cost to put a hyphen or something in there to show the proper grouping?

Posted by: Manni at January 31, 2006 08:46 AM

I teeter on the "broken", "not broken" decision.

My first thoughts were to group the left numbers and then the right numbers.

After about three seconds though, I figured out you read it across.

Not sure it's necessarily broken...not pleased that it should make someone have to stand there and pause for a few seconds to figure it out. Not entirely broken...but not entirely "not broken" either.

Posted by: Faolan at January 31, 2006 09:20 AM

I also read it across the first time. I can definitely see how it could be confusing after a long flight, so I've got to say broken. But just barely, because how much consumer dissatisfaction does it actually cause? If you get your panties in a wad over having to walk an extra ten or fifteen feet you should be on medication.

Posted by: Ron Mexico at January 31, 2006 12:38 PM

Broken. It's all about customer experience, not whether you "could" figure it out.

After a long flight my panties are already in a wad and yes the extra ten or fifteen feet are a real pain in the... well, you know.

Posted by: Pat at January 31, 2006 02:02 PM

My confusing hotel-room-sign story:

As I exited the elevator, I turned left. There, before me, was a sign (with dashes) indicating that rooms from 500-550 were to my left, and rooms 551-600 were to my right. My key read 501, so I turned left and began walking. And walking. And walking. Finally, when I reached my room, I found that room 501 was directly next to the elevators. The same elevators I had exited several minutes before. Had I turned right when exiting the elevators, I would have seen an identical sign.

The hotel was a giant circle with elevators in the middle.

I think that one of the signs should have had the numbers reversed (ie. 550-500 right) indicating that room 501 was a trek.

Did that make sense?

Posted by: dsynadinos at January 31, 2006 02:04 PM

dsynadinos, your story almost makes sense to me, except for two things: would room 600 be on the 5th floor? and if room 501 was directly to the right of the elevators and the sign said that rooms 550-600 were to the right were they in fact to the left?

As for the original post I believe that the sign itself may not be broken but that the thinking of the managers/engineers who put up the signs is broken. Anyone who works in the hospitality or service industry should know that you really have to bend over backwards to accomodate people's thinking. Just look at your local newspaper as evidence of this.

Most papers are written on a 3rd grade reading level because people are stupid. Therefore, signs in hotels should be designed so that stupid people who have a modicum of literacy can read them with ease. BROKEN.

To fix this I recommend two separate signs: one saying "Rooms 1501-1515 to Your Left" and the other "Rooms 1516-1525 to Your Other Left".

Posted by: Confused Shopper at January 31, 2006 02:37 PM

I actually read it across the first time too, but I just assumed it meant I was broken!

Posted by: manogirl at January 31, 2006 02:47 PM

Rereading my post, I see that it, in fact, doesn't make much sense. Yes, there was no "room 600" on the 5th floor, and I think I screwed up some of the "left/right"s. However, you get the gist of it.

Posted by: dsynadinos at January 31, 2006 03:47 PM


in the english language, *excluding the use of clearly-defined columns* text is read from left to right. the combonation of no column dividing line & the test on the right hand not being vertically aligned makes it even harder to visualize this sign as columns.

I was able to read it quite fine the first time.

Also, notice that the arrows are NOT mounted in the vertical centre of the sign. To me, the arrow on the right CLEARLY defines the numbers on the top, and the one on the left signifies the range of numbers on the bottom it is aligned with.

readable with no problem, but i am surprized @ the cheapness of the hotel for not having a -

Posted by: freedomlinux at January 31, 2006 04:09 PM

"excluding the use of clearly-defined columns"

If separating the text into two neat blocks with a blank space almost as wide as the text on each side doesn't count as "clearly-define columns" then you must really have trouble reading your newspaper.

I'm with Manni - how much can pair of hyphens cost?


Posted by: David at January 31, 2006 07:10 PM

frankly when I saw the picture I thought that the room overlap was the brokeness. it's all good and well to say that you could figure it out using logic. but if you use logic to figure it out, it becomes an issue of which way do you think it's broken? is it broken because the numbers don't add up, or is it broken because the word's are spaced poorly? and that's assuming you even notice that the numbers don't add up.

Posted by: Banana Sam at January 31, 2006 08:15 PM

I would have gone left. Yes, we do tend to group things, but wording is arranged from top to bottom, left to right.

Therefore, the second line is 1501-1515. Yet, I am still able to understand why you thought right was the appropriate direction.

An addition of 2 dashes would have taken all doubt out of the sign.

Wouldn't say the sign is broken, just not "correct enough".

Posted by: nah at January 31, 2006 10:26 PM

maybe someone should explain the concept of 'other people' to freedomlinux. as in, whether you could immidiately figure it out has no bearing when at least half of tired users could not.

one of the guests should use a sharpie to add the dashes.

Posted by: gmangw at January 31, 2006 11:42 PM


Every hotel I have ever been in. IS ALWAYS LIKE THIS!

Who like

Reads this

text ????

Posted by: Kip HT at February 1, 2006 04:11 AM

you know, they didnt have to put a larger space going up and down, when they could have put a larger gap running left to right...

Posted by: daniel at February 1, 2006 06:57 AM

Not Broken

In America we read right to left not up to down

Posted by: jd at February 1, 2006 10:12 AM

I freid mye iballs tryign too raed it...

Posted by: Gator at February 1, 2006 11:42 AM

The only thing broken is your desire to bitch about something that any 4 year old can figure out at first glance.

Posted by: Idiot hater at February 1, 2006 02:08 PM

The only thing broken is your desire to bitch about something that any 4 year old can figure out at first glance.

Posted by: Idiot hater at February 1, 2006 02:08 PM

I find KipHT's comment amusing.

"Who like

Reads this

text ????"

It actually makes our point. If you read it the way the numbers on the sign are arranged, the comment says "Who like reads this text?"

Well, Kip, I don't know who reads this text, other than me. But in customer service, you have to appeal to the lowest common denominator- and I think a tired person far from home definitely classifies as "Low." Broken.

Posted by: =David at February 1, 2006 03:28 PM

Well idiot hater i guess i should go get an idiot because while it is true that english is read left to right, what if an international passenger had gotten off his/her flight and seen the sign? the logical thing to anyone tired from a flight is just to group things that are close together, not sit there and figure out what the hotel means.

Posted by: Levykid at February 1, 2006 06:42 PM

"Who like

Reads this

text ????"

Now I've got a question for you:




Still broken - and that "every hotel" does it doesn't make it any less so (and, no, "every hotel" doesn't do it this way - some actually post useful signs. Not many, I admit, but some..)

Posted by: David at February 1, 2006 07:13 PM

obviously, it reads properly. from left to right, proceeding down to the next line, and doing it again. I know I learned it at a very young age.

Posted by: slipkid at February 2, 2006 12:55 AM

I think what is broken is the incredibly rigid definition of "broken" people are using on this website.

These postings often refer to cases of vague or confusing signage in a service-related industry. Clarity is one of the most important tenets of serving your customer base. If it is not clear to even a statistical handful of people and can be clarified, CORRECT THE PROBLEM! It's your job.

And by the way, confused shopper, the stupid people are the ones with more than a modicum of literacy who assume they know better.


Posted by: bluesdog at February 2, 2006 02:53 AM

At first glance I thought you were going to say that the broken part is the weird sequence of rooms. Why are the higher numbered rooms to the left of the lower numbered rooms? Shouldn't you number them consistently from left (low) to right (high)?

Posted by: WillF at February 2, 2006 11:51 AM

You've just been on a long care ride, it is 1 in the morning, you are really tired. You are carrying around 3 baggages of luggage, all are heavy, and you just want to sleep. You take a quick look at the sign, see 1515-1525, so you immediately go that way. That is probably what happens a lot, not many people will actually stand and analyze that sign for a few minutes, it is meant to be a quick indication of where to go so you don't have to go spend a few minutes analyzing the direction that the door's are numbered.

All it needs are dashes, someone should just take a permenant marker and put them in.

Posted by: Role at February 2, 2006 10:27 PM

Someone needs to take a marker and insert a hyphen. I read across but my mind because of spacial relations does associate with the columns. No matter what your IQ is, after a long plane ride, looking for lost luggage, hailing a cab then trying to get thru the hotel and to your room, by the time you get to this sign your mind is mush.

Posted by: Poindexter T Quakenfuss at February 4, 2006 07:43 PM

um im abit late but i htink idiot hater ment 4 year old born on feb 29 or he was jus makeing stuff up

Posted by: comfused shoper at February 9, 2006 08:24 AM

If I were staying in this hotel, I would get out my Sharpie and do some urban assault on this broken sign and add some f--king hyphens !! I mean if I am at a wedding party downstairs, then my eyesight might not be great from alcohol intake. Who wants to walk the wrong direction and have me trying to get into the wrong room and wake someone else up who went to bed at a decent hour ???? Every hotel designer should have a few beers to test their hotel for readablity. (^:


Posted by: Jonathan at February 20, 2006 04:44 AM

Philips Inn, Kansas City, MO. Either that, or another Philips. I've seen this sign before.

Posted by: Some Guy at February 21, 2006 06:11 PM

Definitely broken. Numbers are grouped together in a close manner which is confusing. Despite the learned method of reading left to right (then top to bottom), the grouping makes us do otherwise.

Could have been so easy to make this sign clear. I probably would have wound up going the correct way, but only after looking at the sign for a while.

Posted by: Kat at February 21, 2006 06:29 PM

I don't think it is broken since the arrows (yes the arrows) are clearly on different levels, if you would group sides you would put both arrows more in the middle or at least at the same height on both sides. Not broken to me. Though I also admit some of "-" wouldn't hurt.

Posted by: Another Guy at February 21, 2006 10:03 PM

probarbly no interest whatsoever but my maths books are like that at school, and theres me thinking i get all my questions wrong! sorry but if i had a hotel or whatever it is i would at least put my numbers straight! not many hotels with that many rooms in anyway in England, or at least the ones i've been in!

Posted by: Del at February 25, 2006 12:28 PM

Something else just hit me, (not literally), whoever said that english read left to right is correct, but thats reading. When you do note taking or sums at school don't you go downwards?

Posted by: Del at February 25, 2006 12:34 PM


To me the sign appeared as two distinct columns on first reading. It seems like about half of the comments reflect one reading, and half reflect the other. If 50% of people will mis-parse a piece of text, then isn't it ambiguous? And wouldn't you say a sign is broken if it is ambiguous?

The argument following the lines of "I read it alright, therefore it is fine" is a specious one.

Posted by: grave at February 25, 2006 02:46 PM

I sat here and stared at the sign for the longest time trying to see the problem with it, it looked fine to me, it still does.

I don't think it's broken.

I think, that this is just a case brain not engaging properly.

Posted by: Cora at February 26, 2006 06:09 PM

I'm with grave in this one. Broken. It seems around half of the posters here would have read the sign "correctly" and the other half wouldn't. If this is representative of the population, then the sign's broken. What's the point of having a sign if 50% of the people are going to misread it and go the wrong direction anyway?

As my stunning statistical assumptions indicates, having the sign is not much better than not having a sign at all. There's only two directions you can go - left or right. You might as well remove the sign and just let people guess. 50% of people would guess right - about the same result as with the sign.

Fix the sign; add some hyphens.

Posted by: h2o at March 7, 2006 12:47 PM

All this proves is that 50% of the people are morons.

Posted by: Stogey at March 12, 2006 03:12 PM

I think I must have been confused by the exact same sign before.

Posted by: Wu Jie Yin at March 15, 2006 03:25 AM

This is not broken, your ability to figure out that 15 comes before 16 is broken.

Posted by: MB at March 22, 2006 12:38 AM

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