Awful elevator panel design


Robyn Miller took this photo of a poorly designed elevator control panel.



  1. Unfortunately, the most simple and logical design, a single column of buttons with a description next to each, can’t be used here. Having 11 buttons in a single column would make some of them out of reach of a person in a wheel chair.

  2. I dunno. It’s pretty clear. If you want to go to, say, Lilac or Teal, you know exactly what button to push.

  3. Pretty sure this is River Park Square in Spokane, WA.

    My favorite part is (and it’s harder to tell in the photo) how similar orange and gold are, and pink is similar to lilac and purple (which are nearly identical to each other).

    Seriously, lilac AND purple? This is a mnemonic?

  4. It threw me for a minute, but I see the problem now. The simplest solution (but by all means it’s only a start) would be to either a) swap the white plaque with the first column of buttons; or b) flip the surrounds on the first column of buttons so that the Braille is on the right and the buttons are on the left.

  5. I’ve actually been on this elevator (rode it everyday for almost a year)! If you’re in the building, the panel makes sense. Lefthand buttons is for the shopping center (which also have parking), righthand is for parking that extends far above the shopping.

  6. The plaque is clearly a retrofit. I’d love to see what all the original color selections were and how they looked before fading with age.

  7. Haha, pity Robyn doesn’t make adventure games anymore. This would have been the mother of all Myst puzzles.

  8. …not to mention that the paint on the yellow level is nearly identical to that on the gold, and difficult to distinguish from orange.

    If you’re colorblind, you’d better just ignore yellow/gold/orange and lilac/purple/pink, and just stick to the numbers.

  9. I really thought this was a joke at first.

    1 – The panel on the left looks like it’s an explanation for the colors on the right, since the right colors are embedded and the panel looks like instructions. But then you realize none of the colors match,

    2 – I assume the colors have some meaning, but what possible meaning could be easier to remember with colors like “purple” and “lilac” rather than numbers like 7 and 9?

    3 – The column on the left already has descriptions. Descriptions AND colors AND numbers is redundant and confusing.

    If you HAVE to have the color system, replace the buttons with the colors themselves. Having a label next to a label next to a button with a number is ridiculous. Make each color rectangle a button, and have the descriptions next to those.

    1. Oh god no. I’m (mildly) colorblind. And I’m not accusing anyone here of this as such, this is just my rant.

      I can’t stand it when people assume that just using colors to ID things is a good idea. Some other folks here have already touched on how some of their colors look pretty similar. Now imagine that colors you thing are pretty different start looking similar. Like, say, red and green.

      It’s worse than that. Thanks to that same color deficiency, I also have a very hard time distinguishing purple from blue, since all you added was red.

      Just use shapes if you need a visual aide. And then, if you’re really stuck on having colors (“they’re pretty!”), you can *also* color code those shapes. Red square, green circle, purple dodecahedron.

      More suggestions:
      * the “7” shape is pretty easily distinguished from the “9” shape >.>
      * the word “yellow” is readily distinguished from the word “gold” – make sure you label your colors if you’re gonna rely on them.


      sorry, pet peeve of mine

      1. Actually, I wasn’t ever suggesting getting rid of the written names for the colors, if you have to have the colors (which I think are ridiculous in the first place). When I was speaking of “descriptions” I was referring to the “Parking,” “Retail” etc.

        I had already bound the colors and semi-redundant written color names together as a necessary evil caused by the inane decision to use colors.

    2. “Descriptions AND colors AND numbers is redundant and confusing.”
      Yeah, I can just imagine the meeting that led to this inexplicable design:
      “We’ve color-coded every floor for easy identification.”
      “Hmm, some of the colors are hard to distinguish from each other.”
      “That’s ok, we’ll just label all the colors so you can tell what they are.”
      “Makes sense to me.”

  10. It is difficult to make navigation confusing in a vehicle that only traverses one spatial dimension . . . but whoever designed this Charlie Foxtrot has managed it.

  11. The best car park lift scheme I saw was in Perth, Western Australia. Each floor had a colour and a native animal associated with it. These were painted on the columns of that floor and there was a picture next to each lift button. I loved parking on green tree frog level.

    1. There is a municipal car park in Corso Italia (St. Clair/Dufferin) in Toronto that has each of its floors named after a pasta dish (with accompanying murals). I almost always park on fettuccine.

  12. It reminds me of the elevator pairing at the local train station. There are three levels, “Parking,” “Mezzanine,” and “Platform.” In order to ensure that you go past the check-in/ticket machines, one set of elevators goes from ‘Parking’ to ‘Mezzanine,’ and another past the machines goes from ‘Mezzanine’ to ‘Platform.’

    The buttons in all elevators are uniformly marked “M” and “P”, with no indication of what those initials mean. Given that I doubt half the riders know what the hell a “mezzanine” is, I’ve seen lots of new riders try to figure it out over the years.

    As a bicycle commuter, I’ve also been (mis)informed by security that I may not use those elevators. Elevators are reserved for the elderly and disabled, and a bicyclist is clearly neither. The stairs are my only option. I now carry a copy of the relevant Metro regulations with me at all times.

  13. Could someone explain, using little words that us non-design folks would understand, exactly what is broken here?

    Perhaps it just happens to match my own perception or processing style, but it seems pretty simple and straightforward.

    1. I think it’s over information and/or incomplete Why not just simplify?

      Example: just colour the parking levels and leave the retail levels without colour.

      The left side has information of the levels, while the right side has only colours. INCOMPLETE–what are those levels if you only know just the photo.

      Or just forget about the colours and just use R1, R2, R3… for retail floors; P1,P2,P3… for parking floors.

  14. rourin:

    The colors are labeled, in the elevator and in the parking garage. It’s pretty clear in the real world what floor you’ve parked on without the colors.

    I do have to say though, they exhausted the primary colors first…dipped a little into the secondary colors, and then just went FABULOUS!

    Currently their building an addition. The next floor of parking will be Raw Umber.

  15. The colors are also different than the actual painted colors on the garage parking floors. Confused me many-a time.

  16. I’m not sure whether the colors being completely unnecessary makes it better or worse than if they were necessary but still this confusing.

  17. I usually park on Sylvester, except when they close Lot S for a shoot and the structure gets so crowded I have to park on Daffy.

    Colors, letters, even numbers are all substandard parking mnemonics. You never forget when you’ve parked on Daffy.

  18. I do kind of enjoy that all the parking garages I’ve been in recently seem to have standardized on three codes for each level, usually a number/letter, a color, and a symbol — surely everyone can remember at least one of them. Plus it’s fun to say to myself “2 BLUE SPACENEEDLE” or “3 GREEN GIRAFFE” every time.

    This however is awful.

  19. Thanks, cservant, that helps, both in terms of what’s wrong (or could be better, rather), and why I’d miss it.

    For whatever reason, I assumed that the right side was all parking, so my internal data model had the same information on both sides.

    I was also thrown for a loop by one of the earlier commenters who said,

    My favorite part is (and it’s harder to tell in the photo) how similar orange and gold are

    which didn’t make any sense to me, since “orange” is a long mushy word and “gold” is all throat and teeth.

    For anyone who’s been there, do you know what’s under the white panel?

  20. This is the Riverpark Square Elevator in Spokane Wa. I can vouch for the above poster that it does sort of make sense when you know how the building and parking structure are put together. An additional key fact is that Spokane is nicknamed The Lilac City, thus having both lilac and purple. It’s a bit silly, but there is sort of a method to the madness

  21. I think all elevators should be Zork like puzzles.

    A) Because they are fun and
    B) Because people will get in better shape walking stairs…

    The number/colour combination could be improved by various musical tones… :)

    1. DarthVain said,

      The number/colour combination could be improved by various musical tones… :)


      This may have been tongue-in-cheek, but this is a fantastic idea. If each level had a distinct soundscape, you could do away with the buttons entirely, and just get off the elevator when you heard the level you wanted. (Okay, not so great for 11 floors, but maybe for a building with 3 or 4….)

      1. I forgot to quote just to drive the point on why this elevator panel is awful. I’d take most people that read the comments get why, but still to drive the point further…

        “Things designed for common use should not require that people have an above average intelligence and should not require them to expend a lot of mental energy or time learning, problem solving or reading instructions. These requirements are obstacles that dramatically decrease the number of potential users. If designers want their products to be widely used, they are well-advised to design them so that they are easy to use.” Darnell, M. J.,

      2. If each level had a distinct soundscape

        There is actually a parking garage in Helsinki that plays a different birdsong each month, but they just do it to create a pleasant atmosphere. As a musical person, I like the idea of playing a different genre of music (or maybe music featuring a different instrument) on each level. You’d never forget if you parked on polka/accordion!

      3. Music representing each level would be a good idea. I would hold stay in the lift for hours just to listen. A whole new meaning to “elevator music”!

        Now we have a lift accessible to the blind, colorblind, illiterate and deaf.

  22. @IsolatedGestalt
    It actually took me a good 10 minutes and this comments section to figure out what this panel was actually supposed to represent. The panel actually makes things more confusing, but the building itself and the buttons for the floors don’t help.

    First, you have a series of buttons labeled as star-S (street) and B1 up through B10. (Or is it F(loor)1? P1? R(etail)1?) Why it’s not just 1 up through 10 is anyone’s guess. The elevator scheme is already ridiculous before you add in any real design elements. The first four floors of shops are interleaved with three of parking garage, and I will give them the benefit of assuming those buttons can’t be remapped in hardware because it would be confusing for a person to go one floor up from “second floor” and not arrive on “third floor.” Of course, they _could_ have buttons embossed as 1, G1, 2, G2, etc., bypassing the issue.

    Once you look at designs, you have floors that are colored, which I assume are for people who can’t be bothered to remember numbers. And in this day and age, who is that, really? Is this common in some places? It may even just be because the owner didn’t know he could swap out the poor initial choice of buttons. Some colors are very close to others, making it a nightmare for the colorblind, vision impaired, or just easily confused. Gold and orange, lilac and purple, and lilac and pink, are all very close to each other. The fact that lilac\purple or blue\teal are, as far as many are concerned, different names for the same general color doesn’t help.

    This color scheme is probably why they _have_ to write the names of the colors where you would expect to find a description. Unfortunately, they also have to write the description for the items on the left so people don’t accidentally walk out into the parking garage. That gives you the convoluted “PARKING label – BLUE label – B1″ system at left.

    Also, you see the white page first (when reading left to right, or because it sticks out with the white background), which looks like instructions. I read “Parking – BLUE” and immediately looked over to the right column of color coding looking for the blue label. Once I realized none of those colors mapped over, I finally noticed the smaller, first column of buttons between the larger column and the sign. The fact that the color codes on the left look “tacked on” doesn’t make it immediately obvious that they go with the buttons right there to the right of the sign.

    Someone familiar with the building would probably have less trouble with this, but someone familiar with the building also wouldn’t be looking to the signs for a lot of guidance.

  23. The panel looks like the world’s worst Simon game.

    Come to think of it though, a Simon-themed elevator interface might be kind of fun.

    The penalty for flubbing up the sequence might be that the car would return you to the basement.

  24. Riverpark Square Mall, Spokane, WA. The parking and the mall are next to each other in the same downtown block, using a shared double door elevator core, hence the twin columns of numbers which correspond to the parking garage on one side and the mall on the other. The 450-set crayola colors are for parking levels, which are flower colors, because spokane is the ‘Lilac City’ for some reason. On the comment about intelligence, nobody in Spokane has ever heard of it.

    1. Thanks Anon #46,

      When i first looked at the photo, what struck me as odd was the sign on the left(which was added to the elevator cab at a later date than the elevator was originally installed)and its reference to alternating parking and retail spaces which, as a stand alone single building with a single access door elevator makes no sense.

      #46, are the doors on opposite sides of the cab and was the parking structure constructed at a later date than the “mall” (mid-rise)?

      In respect to disability issues, that would depend on when the addition of the parking structure was done. I am assuming that it was before 1990 at which time the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. If so, requirements for operable button heights, grab bars, auditory signals and brail requirements for the visually impaired were not yet in effect.

  25. I am assuming that it was before 1990 at which time the Americans with Disabilities Act had not yet been enacted.

    …is what i meant to say.

  26. @ drew: yes, there are doors on the side of the panel shown and behind the photographer. The picture shows only a small portion of the panel, which does follow ADA req’s. The mall was built closer to the year 2000, so all that ADA stuff is there.
    @Teapot: you don’t know the half of it.

  27. It’s almost like a post-usability artwork deconstruction meta-narrative of contemporary UX ideals, or something.

    What it needs is a proper brain f**k of mismatch of color-words colors, and replacing helpful words (like parking) with icons.

    My personal all time favourite: widely-spaced-grid-of-icons could also be used to make scanning for right option as slow and annoying as possible.

  28. ya i thought this was spokane river park square ya you think thats bad park in the parking garage and then find your care its splits the levels so there are 2 of each color fun stuff

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