Icons that don’t work (at least for me)

September 30, 2009

Which button opens the elevator doors, and which closes them?

Elevator close doors

Elevator open doors

Many people (perhaps most) understand the triangles to be arrows, and see them pointing in to mean “close” and pointing out to mean “open”.  That makes sense in a literal sense.

But I look at the left image and feel a sense of openness, while the right one feels tight and closed up.  So the icons give me the wrong message.  Yes, I can learn that I need to reverse my conclusion, but it’s still a tedious process.  First I look at the buttons, then I when I want to open the doors seek out the one that feels most closed and tight.

What to make of this?  Many icons have problems when used in different cultural contexts.  Perhaps my unusual interpretation of these two buttons is like another cultural difference.

It is important to know that icons don’t always make things simpler, then they can give confusing and misleading messages, and that they need to be used with care.

I’ll be interested in your comments.

4 Responses to “Icons that don’t work (at least for me)”

  1. Gail Rodney said

    I completely agree! I thought it was just me who saw these symbols “differently.”

  2. I have the same problem with elevator icons. I’
    m glad I’m, not the only one.


  3. Krystal Harwick said

    You bring up a very interesting point in this post. A number of my professors have stressed the importance of researching different interpretations of symbols that we want to use for design projects. What we may think expresses openness may give negative connotations to a whole other group of people.

  4. Lee Karker said

    Your comment on these particular icons is timely. I have never been confused by them in the past but the last couple of times I have been in an elevator and needed to open it quickly for someone I have been temporarily paralyzed. I had to think too long to figure it out.

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