Marriott Marquis Elevators Lack A Design Touch

I’m staying at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square; a hotel that I’ve been going to for many years; before, during, and after it spent $11 million to renovate its elevator system. The hotel had very, very long waits for its elevators until the new system went live in 2006.

The new elevators have a considerably different user interface. Rather than having people jump into the first open elevator they find heading in the right direction (up or down), this system requires people to input their destination on a keypad outside of the elevator and it identifies which elevator to use. Once in an elevator, there’s nothing to do except wait for it to stop at your floor; there are no buttons to push.

When the system works well, it’s slick. The elevators are quick, spacious, and many of them even have great open views of the hotel’s enormous Atrium.

But there is one major problem. Many people have no idea how to use the elevators. During my last few days in the hotel, I have run into dozens of guests who were completely confused about what to do. It’s difficult to undo a lifetime of experiences that have trained people to get on an elevator before selecting a floor.

While there are some instructions on the keypad, they are too subtle and people very often don’t see them before heading to an elevator.

Does this make the elevator a poor system? Is every new user interface a bad idea? No.

Overall, I think just about anyone would trade-off long lines for this new approach. But the Marriott missed out on some design elements to make this easier on guests. A simple sign would help a lot; something that catches people’s eyes as they enter the elevator banks. The experience would be better for many people if the hotel just added a sign like this:

If Marriott had mastered the competence that we call Customer Connectedness, then it would have understood the magnitude of this problem and used some simple design elements like the one above to alleviate the issue.

The bottom line: One key design element can go a long way.

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