Elevator Buttons

Stewart Tongue
In its simplest terms, being a webmaster presents only one challenge: Attract as many people as you can to your website and help them find their way from your landing page to the moment they become a paying customer. In most instances the decision by a potential customer to buy something from you site or to move on to another site happens in less than a minute. Fortunately there is an entire industry that has been servicing similar customers for more than a century and there is a lot we can learn from their work. The average elevator ride and website experience have much more in common than you might first believe.

If you have ever stepped foot into a nice elevator with a pair of youngsters, you've seen the bickering that goes on as they argue over who gets to push the button. Adults have more outward control of their behavior but the urge to push a fancy button on the elevator in a nice casino is similar, even if it doesn't result in the same amount of whining. That instinctual desire to see, understand and touch is the same psychological response that all webmasters should be trying to tap into when launching or updating their websites.

There is a visceral response to the light, the movement, the interaction, the environment… and a feeling of safety that no matter what you push you will be unharmed by the outcome. With adults sitting alone at their desk and viewing the world through an Internet browser, evoking those same sensations may be somewhat more complicated, but the goal and the keys to success are much the same.

The main fascination with button-pushing is a sense of interactive empowerment. It makes the user feel that the elevator is going to take them somewhere and that they have direct control over their destination. When you board an elevator and push "22" you expect to arrive at the 22nd Floor eventually; you also expect it to take only thirty seconds to get there and you expect never to stop anywhere other than floors "1" though "21" along your journey. Managing the expectations of customers quickly and seamlessly is a key component of good web design as well.

Mo of TranslationsXXX is in a business that focuses almost exclusively on helping consumers understand what 'floor' they are on, what each button does and why pushing it will get them where they want to go.

"Translating sites into a customer's native language will allow website owners to take foreign clients from the tour to the join page without anyone feeling lost along the way. Also, while many people do speak English, having the site available in their primary language adds a sense of comfort and familiarity that is helpful in the buying process," Mo told XBIZ. "Allowing customers to fully understand what they are signing up for gives them a feeling of control, resulting in more sales and less charge-backs. Best of all, it keeps them on your page long enough to find out what is going on and why they may want to buy something from you."

The environment has to be welcoming and well-targeted to the intended audience. A youngster in a dirty old service elevator with half the lights broken and several strangers standing nearby won't have the courage to step forward and use the buttons no matter how nice they might look. The same can be said for websites that feel unsafe due to numerous pop-ups, broken links, executable files or a poor layout.

Websites need to be created with a holistic approach according to Bruno Dickman of Dickmans Designs.

"Each aspect of a project needs attention to its own details and should be treated as its own element. Art is one thing, copy writing is another, information architecture is another, technology is another and content is another… but each of them should be planned out ahead of time as one complete whole," Dickman said. "If the results of each element are in sync, the site will exist in an immersive environment and will get much better results with consumers."

Architects, interior decorators, lighting consultants and mechanical designers spend a great deal of time refining every detail of your experience in an elevator. The button itself is only one part of the environment. The panel, the lighting, the carpeting, the music and the rest of the elevator experience are each carefully crafted. As a whole they are intended to impart a sense of comfort and empowerment. Small details like a satisfying light around the button number when you push the button indicates that the elevator 'heard your command,' a clear and distinct typeset for the button keys makes navigation easy, a pleasant tone counts floors for those with disabilities and music calms or invigorates customers in a way that ties the ride into the overall look and feel of the building you are visiting. Designers even go so far as to remove certain floor numbers like "13" to calm users with superstitious fears. Whether those fears are rational or not does not matter, only that the user feels them matters.

The exact same concepts can be applied to website design as well. Button images with mouse-over effects, print in an easily understandable font, complete title and alt tags as well as layouts arranged in ways that users find pleasant are far more likely to hold a user's attention. Coupled with inviting artwork, well written text and a clearly laid out site path from visit to conversion, any site can improve its click-through ratio and profitability simply by giving visitors a sense of comfort and control during the first few moments of their visit.

Making your website 'stickier' doesn't mean it has to become more expensive and it doesn't mean the site needs to fill every area of the viewer's monitor.

"Many times people are afraid of white space and try to fill-up every square inch with design work," said Alex K., Project Manager of "Usually that just makes the site cluttered looking, slow loading and distracts users from the site's main message."

It's sort of like being on an elevator at the same time as one of the hotel's bellmen and standing next to his luggage cart. It doesn't matter how nice the cart is, you still want some empty space around you during the ride.

AdultDesign's owner Stan F. also mentioned that a lot of the expense people put into design work can be reduced by choosing simpler and cleaner approaches which are often more effective.

"Paying thousands of dollars for a Flash-based web design that has no SEO value and entertains viewers more than it calls them to action can cost a bundle and return very little," Stan F. said. "Have a clear idea of what you want to say to your site's users and when your designer shows you a simple way to say it… don't always assume it needs more music or more visual motion to get your point across effectively."

Nobody buys anything in the elevator itself, so the design needs to be done in a way that leads people to their destination, not so entrancing that they want to just ride up and down all day.

You may not even remember the elevator ride you took at your favorite hotel, but every aspect of it was carefully crafted to get you where you wanted to be with a sense of comfort and control that carries over to the rest of your experience in the building. Your website users may not think your site's design is why they are reaching for their credit card but often it can be the primary reason they stick around long enough to buy something.