Lift signs and arrows
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European Sign Magazine
Last changes in content: December 2008
Dr. Leonard Verhoef,
applied cognitive psychologist.
For designing complex things.
Not a designer.
Leonard Verhoef, theoretical and practical background. From an experimental cognitive psychologist to a designer of simple and complex daily life systems in a technical future.
With click to: CV.
What is the meaning
Do not confuse toilet and lift
|Two pictograms that can easily be confused are toilet and lift, as both are represented by a rectangle with one or more human figures. Of course, this pictogram does not indicate a toilet. However, this confusion can have several causes. The viewer may be confused when the sign shows only a single person. The designer may be tempted to do so when the real lift can only accommodate one person.||However, a rectangle with just one person in it means, toilet. The designers of this sign on the Eiffel Tower did not make this mistake, although one can see that they were tempted to do so. In the middle of the first picture one sees yet another small direction sign to a lift, showing two figures. This increases similarity with the toilet pictogram but probably means that the lift is smaller. This is very relevant, of course for designers of the lift and not relevant for normal lift passengers.|
|What causes this confusion?||
More confusing is that the pictogram shows only one arrow. One arrow means It is there. So the interpretation can be The toilet is there. However, in this case one arrow means: This lift is going down. The same mistake is made for lift signs on the top and on the bottom floor. The one directional movement arrow is interpreted as It (the toilet) is there.|
To understand the meaning direction of the movement, two arrows are needed, even when movement only can be in one direction. In the case of several lifts, these are usually next to one another and a choice is made once one has arrived in front of the lifts. However, the situation on the Eiffel Tower is different, because the lifts are not next to one another.
If you want to , you do not make your choice when you are in front of the lifts, but the choice between the lift in the North-West leg and the one in the North-East leg must be made earlier, in the concourse. This pictogram is displayed on the concourse and it is intended that one reaches the conclusion: this lift goes down, so I do not want that one.|
How could this information be presented in a more logical manner? In view of the complexity of the Eiffel Tower situation, it is not surprising that the designers have not succeeded in presenting the information clearly. Yet, other solutions are possible.
An obvious solution is a text, such as up and down This is, in fact, done on the sign next to the pictogram of the first picture. But it is not clear whether one is at the first level, or whether one has to take that lift to get to the first level. However, on the Eiffel Tower it does not make much sense to base this on a level number. Visitors do not wish to go to a certain level, they want either to go up or down. An additional problem is that in various Western countries the numbering of floors is different.
Apart from these problems, words are not the best way to explain a given situation on a tourist attraction such as the Eiffel Tower. One would need a great many words to be understood by all French, English, German, Spanish and Japanese speakers. Consequently, words do not provide a realistic solution and hence we will have to solve the problem using pictures
The problem is that we have to show a direction without using arrows and words. One solution could be dashes or arrows at the bottom, to suggest that the lift goes up, or by establishing a link with the top and the bottom of the Eiffel Tower. Both solutions require complex pictograms and it is not sure whether visitors will notice and understand this direction information. But there is another solution.
Show both options|
When you look closely at the first picture, you can also see the sign to the lift in the other leg. Quite possibly you have overlooked that sign earlier. Visitors to the Eiffel Tower will probably also overlook that second sign. It is advisable to notice both signs and, particularly, their difference: either up or down. The designers can make this easier by showing this information in combination, so that the visitor can see the information of both lifts at a glance. In effect, presenting the information required to make one's decision clearly and at the place where the decision is made.
We wonder how many visitors to the Eiffel Tower were sent in the wrong direction. In spite of my expertise on sign posts, I went down instead of up.
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Leonard Verhoef, theoretical and practical background. From an experimental coginitive psychologist to a designer of simple and complex daily life systems in a technical future.
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