Elevator open and close buttons are confusing.
Updated: Feb 5, 2020
Elevators have buttons. This is a commonly-known fact. They have many buttons; in fact, buttons are probably the primary feature of an elevator, outside of its vertical movement and passenger-carrying features. There are buttons on both the inside and the outside of an elevator — a feature exclusive to elevators. No other machines have both buttons on the inside and the outside.
The buttons on an elevator are standard and usually have the same font, color scheme, and designs. There are distinct buttons for each floor, a button to call the firefighters, and a keyhole, which I guess might be for the firefighters to turn on sprinklers (this feature shouldn’t be locked, so that the public may deal with elevator fires themselves). However, I have neglected to mention two buttons for both dramatic effect and to end the last sentence with the joke about the keyhole. These are buttons to open and close the elevator doors.
The buttons are simple. They comprise of a line surrounded by two menacing triangles, and therein lies the problem — the two buttons are the same, save for the orientation of the triangles. How can two buttons with completely opposite functions be so similar?
In order to understand these buttons, taking another step toward omniscience, I will dissect the design of the buttons. The first step to understanding an image is to look at it. To save the reader the time of driving down to the nearest hotel, I have provided a free image that I myself found on the internet for reference:
We’ll turn our attention first to the “DOOR OPEN” button, as it’s labeled in the above image. At first, it may seem like that line surrounded by the triangles is meant to represent the doors, but further analysis suggests that it is the gap between the doors. It cannot be the doors because there are two of them and only one line, so it must be the gap. It, then, follows that the negative space on either side of the thin line are the doors themselves.
So then, the arrows are the direction in which the doors move. This model can be applied to both the “DOOR OPEN” and the “DOOR CLOSE” button. While the analysis of the meaning of these buttons was both overly thorough and complex, it serves useful the critique of their design as well as providing humorous content.
It may seem that applying the same design principle to both the open and close buttons is a simple and elegant solution for these buttons. However, they are too similar. Triangles — especially these isosceles triangles — don’t different enough when they’ve been flipped around. This leads to the two buttons, with completely opposite functions, looking extremely similar. Many problems arise from this failure of design.
One of the most nerve-wracking and anxious moments of any typical day arises from the confusion between these two buttons. I’ll have just stepped into an elevator and selected my floor, when another patron-to-be of Otis and their elevators appears outside the door. They’re rushing towards the elevator; it’s clear that they’re in a rush. I know what I must do. A quick glance down at the panel allows me to locate the open and close button hidden among the others, but I cannot differentiate them. I am too panicked to think logically, but I must press the correct button to open the door and I must press it quickly. Often I do not press it in time.
There are many easy fixes to this dilemma on the side of the elevator button designers. A color change or a different shape would solve this problem. However, there is a much more simple solution to this problem. I have recently learned that the door close button actually does nothing. The door close button’s only purpose is be a filmmaking tool in order to show that one character dislikes another. It’s a common trope and like many tropes, not completely founded in reality. One can confidently press both buttons, knowing that the door close button will have no effect.