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.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

14 Responses to Marriott Marquis Elevators Lack A Design Touch

  1. Dbkayanda says:

    Bruce – I’m not sure. In the Design of Everyday Things, as I know you know, Don Norman calls out this kind of sign you’re suggesting as a symptom of bad design. In this case, the thing that’s the problem is what we would call the user’s “system model” — the way they think of how elevators work.

    Wouldn’t a great user design make it impossible (or illogical, or just strange) to enter an elevator without selecting your floor first? What if guests accessed elevators by swiping their keys, and if they didn’t have one, or wanted to go somewhere else, they entered the floor number? What if there were luggage-friendly turnstiles that required a destination to go through? I don’t know, these are both probably bad ideas, but you get where I’m going.

    Make it clear that THIS elevator affords selecting the floor first, not after.

  2. Dennis Gershowitz says:

    Good blog. I am a lifetime Platinum with Marriott, having stayed with them as my primary hotel for over 30 years. Why? Because you know what to expect and they are consistent and reliable (builds loyalty). Having stayed at this hotel a number of times, I also know the old elevator situation.
    It is a shame that those involved have not recognized the need to unwind complexity and bring their upgrade closer to the customer. One has to wonder if they even involved some customers??? It reminds me of an old Delta story. A flight attendant once showed me on a new plane, how the galley had to be designed by someone who does not fly.
    Here is hoping to the day we have learned to involve the customer.
    By the way, keep on writing…you are right on and I so enjoy your blogs.

  3. I really enjoyed this. I can appreciate your idea of the sign (the first comment notwithstanding) but there are some instructions on the keypad. Anything new will throw us used to routine off guard, understandably, but I would argue that we’ve gotten a bit lazy thanks to technology. Consequently, we aren’t willing to take a moment to understand fully what’s going on. That said, maybe a quick friendly tip upon checkin would help.


    Parissa Behnia

  4. Good blog. I am a lifetime Platinum with Marriott, having stayed with them as my primary hotel for over 30 years

  5. Bruce Temkin says:

    Hi everyone, Thanks for the great discussion.

    I am a fan of Don Norman’s work, everything should be self-explanatory. But life is full of trade-offs. And one of the things that Marriott did with this elevator design was to trade-off a well understood paradigm for using elevators with a much more efficient elevator system. Overall, I’d say it was a very positive net improvement on customer experience.

    But the design challenge now (given the fact that there is a new elevator system paradigm) is to interrupt people before they get to an elevator — when they are not looking to be interrupted in the first place. The system isn’t too complicated, it just needs to be explained. But people don’t even know to look for elevator instructions.

    The idea of getting front desk staff to explain the elevators at check-in is a great idea. Although the Marriott Marquis’ check-in is on the 8th floor, so people need to use the elevator to get there in the first place. The biggest issue is on the 1st floor where there can be so many people lingering around the elevators that it’s hard to see anything that is below eye level — like the keypad that assigns elevators.

    I still think that the hotel can alleviate a great deal of the problem with some signage that grabs people’s attention.

    P.S. This isn’t the actual sign that I’d use; just a conceptual mock-up. I’d play around with the words and the design. I might even create a whimsical tone and create excitement around the differences…

  6. David Deal says:

    I have been in those elevators many times, and I just cannot get used to them. Being whooshed to the upper levels of the hotel without being able to push a button inside the elevator creates a feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability — not a good sensation when you’re standing in a confined space. More about the elevators here:

  7. Marla Erwin says:

    One of the defining characteristics of a hotel is that people from all over stay in it. Unless the hotel is prepared to post signs in every language their guests might speak, it is simply an absurd idea to change the way a familiar interface works. Gotta go now — I’m off to change our streetlights to diagonal blue, purple and orange lights.

  8. mgseeley says:

    If Marriot has to deal with a large number of guests inquiring how to use the elevator, why not return to the days of elevator operators and have a employee stationed at the elevators asking guests which floor they are going to and entering the number for them?

  9. Majid Rizvi says:

    When there is no other option then the user has no other choice but to adapt to the environment or take the harder path. This is consistent with B2B online shopping sites or may I say ‘Order Entry” systems which binds the user with contractual obligations or mandates from the procurement department.

    On a serious note, I have had the pleasure of using such elevators at then Bell South building in Atlanta and also in South Korea for some other client. I liked the idea of an algorithm hopefully expediting how quickly I get to my floor.

    Well….I always had the option of taking the stars…NAH….I can wait an extra 3-4 minutes.

  10. Amadi says:

    As a woman traveling alone, I would be quite upset to be confronted by a system that broadcast my destination floor to anyone who wanted to sit in the lobby and watch the elevators, and then didn’t allow me the ability to press a button for the next floor or to return to the lobby if I ended up riding with a stranger who was making me feel unsafe. In general, it would be annoying to be halfway down and realize that I forgot something in my room, and still have to descend all the way to the lobby and change elevators to go back up and get it. This might be a great system in office buildings, but in hotels, guest safety and control trump maximum elevator operational efficiency on the hierarchy of needs.

    • Common Sense says:

      Oh Amadi,

      If you look at the panel it doesn’t “broadcast” your floor number to anyone… it just gives you a letter that tell you what elevator to proceed too. It doesn’t make it any easier for the scary man in the trench coat to follow you into the elevator. This is a huge and busy hotel with many many people always coming and going… its not really an issue here. Due to the number of people using these elevators, operation efficiency IS rather high on the hierarchy of needs. You safety, isn’t changed much by this system. Walking around feeling like someone is always following you, probably attracts more trouble than you think.

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  12. Kathryn Korostoff says:

    I stayed at that hotel recently with my 11 y.o. My forgetful 11 y.o. who has a knack for realizing she left something she needs in the hotel room–once we were in the elevator. And so down we would go–30 odd floors, have to get out, punch in our floor #, all the way up again. Very silly.

    I also saw many elderly people truly confused. It was kind of sad.

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