Uplifting design

I’ve seen a few pictures of lift buttons recently. They often crop up in presentations on good design – usually as examples of bad design. It’s an every day interface and great to highlight why good interaction design makes such a difference.

I present the lift here at MRM which I think stands well amongst the worst of them.

It’s a touch sensitive panel with no moving parts – you just press the floor number you want to go to.

But there is no tactile feedback! – nothing moves to indicate you are pressing a button. When you press a button, something should move! (By default, web browsers will render a button with this behaviour – obviously you can’t feel it but you will see the button depress when you click – don’t change this, it is saying ‘button’)

You do get a beep and the floor number is displayed – I’m not saying it’s unusable, although what a minus sign and decimal point are doing there is a mystery.

However, it is very difficult for blind people to use. Each number does have corresponding brail underneath it (you might just be able to make them out in the picture), so that’s all OK then, however think about it for a second. There is no tactile feedback – and its touch sensitive. I’ve tried using it with my eyes closed and before you’ve even worked out the shape of the panel you’ve selected every floor and hit the alarm a few times.

A brief mention of the ‘lift call’ button on each floor. Touch sensitive, no sound and only a small, red light to indicate the lift knows to come and get you. There’s absolutely nothing else to indicate the lift is on its way and it’s a pain to use for everyone, impossible to use for some.

It doesn’t have to be like that, and for web design it’s our job to make sure it’s not like that.

Think about one of those dials above the lift entrance with an arrow pointing to the floor that the lift is on, a push button to call it and a ‘ding’ to say it’s on its way and another to say it has arrived. That would be better wouldn’t it?

We’ve all learnt to put up with the lift here and if it does anything well it’s to remind us of why good design is so important and how bad design sucks. We can’t change the lift buttons, but we can design good interaction with the things we do build – otherwise we’ll annoy all the people who use them every day.