I have a thing for elevators, an intellectual curiosity that seems to consume my thoughts when they’re free from their usual duties e.g. driving, walking places, and riding in elevators.
This all began in my first quarter of graduate school when I read an article about how elevator design has grown quite stagnant. Not in the scheme of faster movement, more cost effective, more sardines fit, better lighting and / or more ad space but in regards to providing a better user experience. The article listed ideas that a well-known elevator supplier had thought of to improve them and how they each had their drawbacks.
Users – riders – whathaveyou’s – have RFID badges and when they swipe the elevator button (I think a kiosk was provided nearby) the elevator would come and pick you up and take you where you needed to go, the floor you worked on. Problems: what if you needed to go to a different floor than usual? Having buttons in the elevator defeats the purpose of the badge.
Or perhaps there’s a desktop application (coming soon to iOS and Android) that you ping when you are preparing to take the elevator somewhere and it sends a car for you. How long does the car wait if you get snagged by a coworker and need to discuss betting pools or actual work?
Since this article though I’ve found two elevator systems that try overcome this issue. The first was the best, which doesn’t say much mind you. It had buttons on the inside which didn’t work. Each floor had a tablet sized device in the area before the elevator where the subject would indicate their desired floor. The tablet would tell the subject which elevator stall would service them. You’d get on and it would take you to your floor. I, personally, ran into an issue with this. No one was around to tell me how the system worked or even that there was a system, so I went up and down before realizing the tablet was the source of my salvation.
The second system I saw was similar to the first but the experience felt quite different. You pushed a button on a tablet, it told you which elevator would come and then nothing happened. It was not a busy time and the building wasn’t too big but it took a crazy amount of time for the car to arrive, so much time that I began to doubt that the button worked. Other people showed up, other people were whisked away, other people were expunged and yet I waited. There was a portion of the device that looked like price checkers at stores and I wondered if I needed to scan my nonexistent worker badge there in order to properly call my ride. But eventually, many minutes later, a car arrived.
On entering though, one always looks for the floor buttons. We are programmed this way, so says my cheap research (n=7).
Now, here comes the part where I suggest my solutions to this millennia’s old problem. I actually don’t have any, not full solutions anyways. I think it is just a fun thought problem. But I think some improvements can be made to be more responsive to users.
Have a timer show when the elevator will arrive. All things considered, the elevator has a general idea of where it needs to go before getting to the call. Add some time to compensate for stops that happen in the window and throw in a healthy amount of predictive analytics based on data from previous days/times.
But if you had to wait an extra 30 seconds for your elevator occasionally but it saved you 10 minutes over a week (made up numbers) would this be acceptable to users?
I like to finish these thoughts with opportunities for user research and ideas for the future.