Wed 13 Jun
Among many modern innovations that we have at the new Times building , we’re using a fancy method of managing elevator ridership. Rather than having riders push a directional button (up or down) take the first elevator car that arrives — which is what practically every other elevator bank in the world does — ours takes a different, more ambitious tack.
At our building, a rider pushes a button on a keypad before getting on an elevator to tell the system what floor she’d like to go to. The system then directs her to a specific car which, in theory, will also carry other riders going to that same floor. The idea is to get riders to their floors faster by ‘batch processing’ them, so to speak, rather than serially processing them.
This is a potentially very useful rethinking of the traditional elevator usage model. In the old Times building, for instance, elevators would often makes stops on as many as ten of the fourteen floors, and you may work in an office building yourself where the elevator experience is similar. In terms of lost productivity alone, it’s a worthy goal to try defeat this inefficiency.
There are some usability problems, though. The interface for directing riders to their cars flashes its information too quickly, especially given that the idea of waiting to be told by a computer which elevator car to go to is an unfamiliar activity for most riders. As well, there are no buttons inside of the elevator cars (which also means you can’t change your mind once you’re on), only a digital read-out that indicates what floors the elevator will stop at — but with no indication of what floor the car might currently have its doors open to. As a result, lots of riders get off at the stop before their intended destinations, which isn’t fun.
Judging by most of the conversations that happen in and around the elevators, this new system is not exactly a popular hit. I must admit, I’m currently not a huge fan of it, but I tend to think that most complaints are owing to the not insurmountable usability problems I described above. Hopefully, those will get sorted in short order so that we can see if this batch processing method of elevator travel does indeed work.
However, it would have saved a lot of people a lot of trouble had there been a skilled interaction designer on the design team for this system from day one, which there clearly was not. Which is my point, really: it’s not advisable to try to reinvent universally understood user experiences like elevators without excellent, excellent design help.