citizenrod bad design lift buttons layout mapping
citizenrod bad design lift buttons layout mapping

No, of course it doesn’t…or does it?

Just imagine yourself walking into this elevator and needing to go to the 8th floor.

How long did it just take you to find the number 8?

Did your eyes scan all the numbers? Did you look up and down, left and right? Did you look around and around? Were you looking for a pattern?

We use numbers not only for counting, but also for ordering. Your brain knows this, so when we encounter a lift panel like this one, it gets confused, and rightly so. When we enter a lift there are a couple of patterns that we are looking for, patterns that we are expecting to find, and our brains are smart enough to sort those patterns into order of high probability to low probability.

The first pattern (high probability) we look for is what we refer to in the design space as “natural mapping”. This is where the physical placement of the buttons reflect the physical orientation of the floors within the building. In this building, as in most buildings, the floors go from bottom to top, ie. starting at the lowest and going up to the highest (sorry, it does not go sideways). So when our initial expectation of naturally mapped buttons fails, we encounter resistance, a roadblock. The initial pattern search has failed. You can also say the first UI and UX tests have failed as well. Bad design.

Since our brain has failed to find the expected pattern, it turns to the next probable pattern, the pattern of “sequence”. We see numbers on the buttons so we logically think there must be a numerical sequence here somewhere. But this second pattern is not as obvious as expected. It is there, but we need to do some work to find it. We actually need to decipher the code to do so.

Bet you never expected to be cracking codes in an elevator.

So after locating the number “1” you quickly scan looking for the number “2”, then “3”, working your way up. You do this until the pattern becomes recognisable. That is when you crack the code. That is when the pattern is revealed, and the rules understood.

The rules on this panel are (ignoring the parking levels), levels 1 to 4, left to right, then jump up to the next line, levels 5 to 9, left to right, then jump up to the next line, levels 10 to 14, left to right. Simple…right?

What is interesting in this elevator is that there are actually two panels of buttons. The first you already saw above. But here below is the second panel within the same elevator.

citizenrod bad design lift buttons layout


Not really. The layout may seem less congested, but the it is still a mess. And in fact, there is a totally different code that needs to be cracked on this panel. A different code!

So guess what happens when you enter this lift for the first time?


The door is closing soon, you don’t know how much time you have left, but it is imminent. The lift will go to who knows where if you don’t crack this code quickly. Oh the pressure, and oh the embarrassment, there are people in the lift and they are watching you sweat. Tick-tock tick-tock, it’s like being in a Die Hard movie. Hurry up and crack the code before you DIE!

So, obviously this is a terribly designed lift. Not only is there one badly designed panel which is bad enough, but there are two badly designed panels, adding to the user’s psychological and emotional stress. Bad design and bad user experience.

Hmm, I think I’ll take the stairs…

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