Cools Doer

I had thought suspected this for some time, but I’d never seen firm evidence.

In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early-nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works. (It does work if, say, a fireman needs to take control. But you need a key, and a fire, to do that.) Once you know this, it can be illuminating to watch people compulsively press the door-close button. That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power. It’s a little like prayer.

This from Nick Paumgarten’s article on elevators, in the April 21 New Yorker (yes, working my way through back-issues).

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8 Responses to Cools Doer

  1. Kevin Cox says:

    I can recommend the classic “The Design of Everyday things” by Donald Norman if you want some insights into such things as washing machine controls and gear shifts and bathroom taps as well as elevator buttons.

  2. Anthony says:

    “It’s like a little prayer”

    I recall some years ago reading a magazine profile of the Slovenian social theorist Slavoj Zizek where on stepping into an elevator he watched someone push the door-close button and quipped that the button serves the same purpose as general elections in capitalist democracies: it gives people the illusion of power without effecting any real change

  3. derrida derider says:

    Surely we need a randomised trial of lift pushbuttons before we can assert this.

  4. Bruce Bradbury says:

    One reason for disabling the door close button is because people often press it by mistake when they actually want to keep the door open. They do this because these buttons are a classic example of poor graphic design. If you look at the design for close (something like ><) the weight of the graphic is towards the edge, suggesting the image of an open door.

  5. Kirsten says:

    I am also reading through back issues of the New Yorker. And back issues of your blog!

    It won’t let me comment on your post “success has many parents…”, but I’ll segue here. I know you are also a fan of Malcolm Gladwell, so you’ll be pleased to know that when you get to the 12 May issue, he has an article on the rarity of big ideas and how history is full of multiple discoveries of the same innovation. I’m not sure how applicable this is in the age of the internet…

  6. Matt says:

    I remember reading somewhere that for lifts with painted buttons, the ‘close doors’ button was always the first to rub off. Now it all makes sense.

  7. LuckyPhil says:

    Philip Adams did a program on this with Nick as a guest. Also talking was James Fortune, worth listening to if the audio is still available.

    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/latenightlive/stories/2008/2227105.htm

  8. Andrew Leigh says:

    Kirsten, I love that Gladwell article. If only Gans hadn’t blogged on it before me, I might’ve written it up as an oped. Still, it’s had me thinking for weeks about whether we should change our research model in economics.

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