I acknowledge receipt of your call for help

Acknowledgement light notice inside an elevator at Bowrington Road Cook Food Market, Hong Kong

Acknowledgement light notice inside an elevator at Bowrington Road Cooked Food Market, Hong Kong

I found this notice inside an elevator at the Bowrington Road Cooked Food Market. As a typographer I was naturally appalled by the extra artificially condensed Univers Condensed type, but I was more intrigued by its content: what on earth is an ‘acknowledgement light’? The Chinese (知悉燈) is even more absurd. This design is flawed on many levels, but the most offensive of which isn’t its aesthetics.

Let’s consider a possible user scenario:

You are in the elevator. After a loud shudder, the compartment becomes pitch black and you find yourself in a panic fit – you are stuck. You manage to find the alarm button and frantically press it to call for help. After a long minute, a faint LED light comes on and starts blinking. What do you do now? What does that mean? There are some engraved words around the light, but the light is too dim and you can’t make out what the text is saying. You continue to panic and hope for the best.

This is not an unlikely scenario. Whoever designed this had good intentions, but I doubt that they had tested it under the conditions described above. Even when there is sufficient light, the message itself is too wordy and complicated to understand, especially when one is under stress. The word ‘acknowledgement’ is too difficult and abstract, and very indirect as to what one should do or how to respond. Does the light really have to be named? It is rather odd to refer to the signalling device itself. And, the light is supposed to blink. What if the light comes on but does not blink? What would it mean then, and what should one do? Most of the message is used to describe how the system works, but not directly speaking to the user at a moment of distress.

A quick fix would be have the message backlit, so that when the light comes on, the message is visible. And the message could be rewritten as: ‘Help is on the way, please be patient’. The Chinese could be rewritten as: ‘救援即將到達,請耐心等候’. A lot simpler to understand, and more personal. When you are in an emergency, reassurance is what you need. You want to know that help is on its way and you will be alright. But this is still a rather poor solution. Why not eliminate the light and message altogether and put in an intercom system? That way it would be a lot more reassuring for the person trapped in the elevator.

A seemingly small and trivial thing, but a lot of factors to consider. Isn’t this the job of a communication designer?

Categories information design
Tags ,