UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 1094 September 23, 2013

Design for Experience: Promoting Empathy for Users

As a judge for the international Design for Experience awards, I must forewarn you: I will have a very critical eye on anyone nominating an elevator in the “Promoting Empathy for Users” category.

Why? I've traveled within four continents and have yet to see an elevator truly designed for the user.

For example, why not provide an “undo” button? That’s a standard control on nearly every electronic interface on the globe except for elevator control panels. Having been in an elevator in the tallest hotel in the Western Hemisphere when an exuberant youth pressed every button, I know how frustrating that simple omission can be.

If an undo button costs too much extra money, why not at least allow me to press those buttons again and untoggle the selections? Because I had no way to reverse the button-pushing of that kid, I had to hop off that over-illuminated elevator and wait for the next lift.

And then there’s the labeling of floors. This picture was taken at a mall just outside London and shows just two floors: “0” and “-2.”

I’ll grant you: the usage of negative floors is much more intuitive than the North American “B2,” where the user is never sure if that’s the upper of two basement floors or the lower basement level.

In this case, however, both floors were ABOVE ground so … huh? Why not make it “upper” and “lower” or “0” and “1?”

Or how about another lift I found elsewhere in Europe with handmade instructions to overcome a complete lack of empathy for the user: "Press 2 for platform 1."

If a hotel really wants to show empathy for me, their user, and anticipate my needs: I’ve got a keycard for room 836. Why not have an RFID tag in the card that can summon the elevator and preload the floor (with the option to “undo”). There could also be an RFID tag in my work badge with the ability to preload the elevator for the floor where it knows my next meeting is located based on communications between servers. Now that would show real empathy.

I will give the elevators of the world one concession: the close door button. I seem to remember a statistic that 85% of those buttons are disabled, but they’ve been provided for impatient passengers so we feel like we have some semblance of control over our lives. I appreciate that. Other than my Fantasy Football team, I have few avenues of empowerment, so I’ll take what I can get.

As Steve has poetically illustrated above, the DfE Promoting Empathy for Users award recognizes products, services, and companies that have clearly put the best interests of their users at the fore, making empathetic design decisions on their behalf. A prime example would be the elevator design that goes the extra mile to make life easier for it's guest, promoting empathy from the top (floor) down.

If you know of products, services, or companies that promote an empathetic vantage point of the end user, nominate them. If you think that your product, service, or company deserves DfE recognition, apply for this award right now!

 

Image of chihuahua and duck courtesy Shutterstock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Steve Tengler is UX Magazine's Automotive UX Master and is also User Experience Director at Altia, Inc., where he oversees a global team of engineers and designers in their application of Altia's User Interface Engineering software. Steve is a proven expert in the field of Human-Machine Interface design and deployment with over 20 years of experience on some of the country's top automotive teams.

Before joining Altia, Steve managed the global HMI development team at OnStar – GM's award-winning driver assistance system. His team pioneered innovative services like OnStar eNav and Injury Severity Predictor. In the past two decades, Steve has also put his expertise to work at Nissan, Ford, and Visteon. 

Steve is a member of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) and participates within the Human Factors and Safety Subcommittee within the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). To date, over 90 patent applications feature his work. Steve has a Masters in Industrial Engineering focusing on Human Factors and Ergonomics from The University of Michigan.  Steve is a contributing editor at UX Magazine and is also Adjunct Professor of User Experience at Wayne State University.

 

User Profile

The core mission of Design For Experience (DfE) is to fuel the growth, improvement, and maturation in the fields of user-centered design, technology, research, and strategy. We do this through a number of programs, but primarily through our sponsorship of UX Magazine, which connects an audience of approximately 100,000+ people to high-quality content, information, and opportunities for professional improvement.

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Comments

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Whoa there, Robert. No need to be a player hater. If you don't understand the difference between task completion and user satisfaction, then go read up on it. If you don't want to read the DFE Awards, then go do whatever it is that makes you happy. If you've never been in an elevator where someone has pushed the wrong button and everyone has to stand for five seconds of awkward silence at an empty floor, then you're one lucky bast**d who should just quietly enjoy your good fortune. No matter what, don't throw stones because you thirst negative attention. Just quietly move on and let us enjoy a whimsical article about an every day product.

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Our lift at work you simply double press the floor button again and it undo's the selection...

It's programming is terrible though and constantly by-passes floors seemingly at random

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I'm embarrassed to admit that after thousands of elevator trips and a distinct sense that the elevator UI leaves plenty of room for improvement, I never thought of an "undo" feature. What a great idea.

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I love software engineers; protecting the algorithm is more important than helping the user. Hilarious! Hence we have the interfaces we do, and I have job security. FYI: that mall's major entrance was at floor -2. and if you cannot rename floors (huh?) then why isn't there a floor #13 in most tall buildings and hotels? Try again, dude. I've been wrong 1001 times so I'm sure you can find something. :)

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Many lifts in Japan already have a simple 'press again to deselect' built into them. I have yet to fathom why lifts in Europe do not. I always try though, press to select, press to deselect. One day....

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undo button: not viable because people would misuse it and undo other people's selection. It also would get in the way of the algorithm calculating optimal routes in grouped elevators serving tall buildings.

0 vs -2 problem. The floors are numbered according to where the main entrance is. That is called floor 0, regardless of whether is above or below ground, as it should be. If there is a floor between 0 and -2 , but the elevator doesn't go there, it is sensible to leave the number of the floor alone, not renumber it according to each elevator stops. That would confuse everybody.

Press 2 for platform 1. Confusing, but not the elevator design's fault. Platform 1 IS probably on floor 2, the problem is numbering platform and floors with the same system. Again, you can't just rename floors at will, they do come in a physical order. In this case, they could just rename platform 1 as platform A or platform blue and it would not sound so strange that platform blue is on the second floor. Voila.

I am afraid I will not follow the DfE awards...

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Robert,
Your explanation exemplifies the problem not just with elevators, but with products and services that don't design their interfaces to take into account most people's knowledge or experience with that service. You make an interesting point about people deselecting others' choices, however, I think that would happen very rarely in comparison to the number of times someone accidentally pushes the wrong floor. More importantly, most people aren't familiar with the coding and numbering systems you mention above, and I am not sure that a "Voila" is appropriate because if you know anything about UX, you haven't solved the problem or provided a solution. People are in a building and they want to know if the button they are pushing is going to take them to the correct floor. That's it. If the design or interface of an elevator is not going to be blatantly obvious, then it is broken. If Apple just relied on designing for what it's developers and designers know and understand about coding and electronics, the devices would be useless and frustrating for most users. We don't need to constrain the labeling to what someone decided decades ago is best, nor does it make sense to confine ourselves to some archaic numbering philosophy to label floors and levels. Simple user testing and listening to the frustrations of users' experiences would help to solve this problem (i.e. bringing Empathy into the construction of a finished product). Until then, we will just ride up and down, apologizing for pushing too many buttons and wasting everyone's' time, as we wait for empathy to take hold in the design of these products.

There are many examples of the type of frustrating experience Steve Tengler mentions above. Fortunately, there are many examples of companies who have said, "this doesn't work and we are going to remove the frustration felt by those using this product and service because we care about how this product or service makes someone else feel." To those companies we say "Thank you". Thank you for caring about how your product makes me feel. These are the companies that UX Magazine wants to feature in the Promoting Empathy for Users category and we hope that this promotion can in turn teach other companies a thing or two about Empathy.

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Tiffany, I never meant to provide a solution for elevators' problems because it seems to me none of those raised are real problems.
I honestly don't know many people who can't operate an elevator, or exit one overwhelmed by frustration.
My point was, and remains, that the article raises mute problems with elevators and it suspiciously reads as if it's just an excuse to promote an event.

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I agree with Robert and I am a UX designer. The points raised in the article are so minor and are in no way a blocker to them completing the goal of getting to the desired floor. Saying that the RFID idea isn't bad.

I tell you what would be better, if someone designed some sort of noise cancellation for farts and better ventilation so people didn't have an awkward post guff experience.

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As a UX researcher who works with UX designers, it doesn't surprise me at all the Eli is a UX designer. Despite the article's excellent reasoning (and reference to near-universal experience explaining) that the elevator UX is bad, and a potentially serious time-waster (to the point of occasionally forcing people to just take the stairs rather than stop on every freaking floor needlessly), Eli keeps his head in the sand.

Unfortunately, being a UX designer doesn't mean someone understands UX, usability, or even basic empathy.

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Hi Robert,

Have you ever used a lift or is your high horse big enough to reach every floor?