Posted on: 8 January 2015
Tedde van Gelderen
Founder & President
Elevated User Experiences
I’m sure we have all encountered new types of interactions in public and office spaces that made us react with a ‘that is odd’, ‘I don’t know what to do’, ‘this makes me feel uncomfortable’. This next one, the ‘smart elevator’, resulted in one of those reactions.
For me, this was the second time I’ve come across this type of interaction. It’s not really new, but still rarely seen in a typical office building. As you can see in the pictures, the elevator doesn’t have a panel inside the elevator, you select the floor you want to go to before you get on the elevator. The smarts come when the system figures out which elevator will get you there the fastest and combine your ride with possible other riders that entered their floor number too. So from a system perspective it makes a lot of sense to let the elevator plan the whole trip, not just send an elevator to only then find out which floor it needs to go. The numbers seem to support this, people get to their floors faster and elevator waiting times are lower. All good things, right?
Yes, absolutely, apart from a certain investment that I’m sure goes with this, these could be good reasons to install this system and I wouldn’t really argue with that.
So what made me pause and think for a moment of before I entered the elevator? I know I had a sense of discomfort with the whole thing, I was looking for a regular up/down arrowed elevator button panel. I didn’t see it, didn’t know what to do next so looked around a bit, then noticed the smaller button panel with the LCD screen and instruction. After thinking about it for a couple of seconds I remembered the last time I saw this and punched in the floor number. Then with some hesitation I entered the elevator and low and behold ended up on the right floor. It made for some cheerful small talk prior to my meeting there.
This scenario is not only a story of interaction design, but it crosses over to what is considered by most as an issue on a larger, organisational, scale. I just went through a, albeit brief, ‘change management’ process that included both the interaction design aspect and the changed mental model I needed to adopt of how elevators work now. And in the latter part is where things broke down.
At the interaction/UX side there weren’t that many things to pick on, the buttons where big, the height of the panel was ok, the contrast in the LCD was fine – I didn’t see big flaws. The breakdown was in how the change in thinking – what this new ‘smart’ elevator was all about – was communicated and supported for the user.
In typical change management programs you see one of the earlier phases being one of creating awareness of the change at hand. In this case a simple improvement would have been some clear signage (e.g. in the LCD screen or in a sticker on the wall) to tell the user of the change: what changed compared to the ‘old’ button panel (it’s no longer there in the elevator, but don’t worry!), how it benefits me as a user (you get where you need to go sooner) and why I need to do something different than before (i.e. pressing the floor button BEFORE entering the elevator will make the magic happen). The only two elements here were the 0-9 keypad and a brief message to ‘please enter destination floor’. Nothing more.
UX and Change Management
It made me realize again that in the user experience field we should go for not only excellent interaction design but also enough support and information to understand any mental model changes for the user. So add to your holistic Experience Thinking these design challenges (like just-in-time learning) to address the fact that often it’s not just the user interface that needs to be evident. What about the new mental models we throw at users, don’t they need a bit of change management attention too?
Tedde van Gelderen
Founder & President
Continually looking for ways to improve the experiences of others, Tedde has dedicated his professional life to experience design, research and strategy. He derives energy, motivation, and purpose from improving the experiences of others and believes that every organization — and every industry — can benefit from Experience Thinking.