Elevator buttons suck

Elevator People make mistakes. To err is human, right? Most of the technology that we interact with was built with this concept in mind. Light switches go on and off, cars have accelerators and brake pedals, computers have the indispensable ‘undo’ command. So why is it that elevators require us to live with our first choice?

If – like me – you are a parent of small children, you have lived with this frustration more than a few times. Our children’s daycare can only be accessed by elevator, one of downtown living’s compromises. If you include the basement level, there are 5 floors in total. A round trip, starting at the top and stopping each floor and then coming back up can take 3-4 minutes. So when I’m already running late to pick up the kids and I rush into the elevator to see all the buttons lit up like Christmas tree, I tend to get a little crazy. Yes, I should probably just take a breath and count to ten or something, but like a lot of other daycares, ours charges late parents by the minute, which likely explains my state of mind.

I have, rarely, come across this problem in other buildings with a far greater number of floors. Apparently some people think it’s funny. The result is excruciating. If I’m the only one in the elevator the cursing goes unnoticed, but when others are aboard the combined seething is tangible.

Why is it that elevator buttons exist outside of the logic of nearly every other device? Once activated, a request to go to certain floor must be carried out. There is no second chance, no undo, no cancel feature. I figured there had to be a very good reason for this, especially considering the ubiquity of the, er, feature.

To find out, I pinged a friend who just happens to work for an elevator installation and maintenance company in Ottawa.

"I have never heard of this option when ordering a car operating panel. There is a call cancel button we have purchased for a client before. Works in a similar fashion but the button is separate and designated "call cancel". There are many manufacturing companies  that might offer this option but from the suppliers we use, it is not  an option.  My guess as to why they don’t do it.. probably because if  you can’t read a button, you shouldn’t be by yourself in an elevator or  because if a child realizes the button will flash on and off every time  he pushes it, it might be more of a toy for him/her? [I’ve had] lots of questions before…. this is a first.  and NO, you cannot get out of the safety hatch inside the elevator to  the roof!!!!  Only in the movies!!"

Yes, he insinuated that I can’t read.

Thus I remain unsatisfied. Frustrated by the seemingly obvious lack of thought that went into designing the controls of an essential form of transportation. Moreover, I’m surprised that after decades of development, no elevator company has ever included this – or patented it – for surely it would be a differentiator in the market.

Ok, it’s your turn. Am I missing the one glaringly evident reason why you can’t just push an elevator button again to cancel your choice and turn the thing off?

August 2, 2007: I’m not the only one. Steve Jobs hates elevator buttons too.


  1. Byrd

    While the chances of finding a "call cancel" button in most elevators is slim to none, there is SOME hope…most elevators will cancel all calls when they reach the ground floor. I know, I know – that doesn't help you with the late fees at the daycare!


  2. Carrie

    Sometimes people can not be early. And if you people had actually read the article the gentleman writing it said "Our children's daycare can only be accessed by elevator, one of downtown living's compromises." So he could not have taken the stairs. So read before you post. As well, the person that said just take the stairs, I am pretty sure you are either a) the person who lets their kids press all the buttons or b) the one who yells because all the buttons are pressed.


  3. Dingbat

    The 2nd and 3rd comments are completely pointless. I have no answer for the blog post. Thank you.


  4. angela

    I have been on an elevator before that if you push the wrong button, you just push it again and it cancels it. But that was in Japan. So it is possible.


  5. Tina

    Funny I read this article today, as I did make a mistake on my elevator this morning and wondered why you can't cancel them by pressing the button again… Obviously the 2 of the 3 people who sent replies before mine don't live in a highrise!! Byrd – What I don't think you realize is that it's not only errors that cause these buttons to be pushed, it's the children that love to see the pretty lights! Maybe people should learn to control their children; but that's a whole other article. Tarrah – I'd love to see you walk up 27 stories everyday after a full day's work in a dingy, un-airconditioned stairwell. Even down is quite a feat. If you're like the majority of the working community, you are required to dress up for work. The last thing I want to do in the morning before I get to the office is get dressed up and be covered in sweat by the time I arrive at the office – Not a great first impression in the boardroom.


  6. Kin

    When I lived oversea, the button in the elevators at my office toggles When it's hit, the light goes on and the elevator stops on that floor, hit it again and the light is off and the elevator keeps going. This is what you are looking for. The problem is when it is busy in the morning, people don't look and just push the button regardless whether the light is on, so it is cancelled and you missed the floor. Or some one, by mistake hit your floor and cancel the stop. That is, anyone can cancel the stop unless you insist on standing next to the buttons and monitor the buttons, but you will miss your floor as you pay so much attention to the button rather to the floor.
    So the option is there, but I still prefer the standard set up.


  7. Jose

    The only comment i have about turning off/on elevator buttons is so that you "can not" turn off the 2nd floor button whenever it is pressed. (In the case where people are capable of taking the stairs and are not injured or handicaped). It drives me crazy when you are waiting for an elevator for at least 10 minutes, and the lobby is getting busier and when it finally arrives and you get on, someone presses the 2nd floor button. (Especially if this person waited the duration)


  8. Marek

    My sympathies…

    I don’t think it’s a fault of elevator makers and distributors. If it were considered a feature by those who order the equipment, we’d have the on-off capability everywhere for the on-off switch is not that complicated (consider: press once, it’s selected, press again, it’s deselected; and while moving no de-selections accepted for safety).

    There are probably couple of hard reasons this is rarely, if ever installed:
    1. small price increase – and I mean ridiculously small but enough for the “rich” spenders to draw the line.
    2. potential for abuse and resulting arguments or fights amongst passengers – on a crowded elevator a selection of a floor made by someone who is pushed to the back could easily be deselected by some jerk in a hurry; just think where that could lead…


  9. Biarrote

    To answer Bryan : Show me a building which does not have stairs. All building codes require stairs, in case of fire by example. If there is a blackout, nobody comes in and nobody comes out ???? If the elevator breaks down, explain to me how you get up or down the floors ??? Do you move out until the repairs are done ???? Not too bright Bryan !!!!


  10. Simon Cohen

    Great point Marek re: squabbles over selecting and deselecting and having to watch that your floor remains selected.


  11. Stair friendly

    Elevators are a quick easy option. All quick easy options come with some compromise.
    Its all but natural that different person needs to go to different floors. Cancel option on the elevator would be great, but another quick wasy option that will come with limitation.
    So take the stairs whenever possible, helps you, helps other people on the elevator ( Since you did not press any button) and above all gets you some FREE excersise.
    As for post by Brian, may be you never looked outside of an elevator, any building in any country on PLANET EARTH, MUST have a staircase. take a closer look Brian, you will find the stairs, good luck to you in finding the stairs.
    As for post my Simon, please do not crib, show up a minute earlier or pay the price, its the story of life. Enjoy it, you will like it.


  12. Colin

    I understand your frustrations with elevator buttons. One problem that I have noticed with office tower elevators happens a lot in the winter. Static electricity builds up on people as they walk across the carpets in their offices. Then they go to the elevator and try to press a button. While searching for the right button they wave their hand closely over the button pad. Their motives are quite pure as they are searching for only the button that they want to push. However, the static electricity charge from their hand often activates many of the buttons across the entire panel. This is not the work of little mischief makers, it is static electricity plain and simple. Its hard to believe unless you have seen static electricity work this way for yourself. Often the person who entered the elevator and inadvertently caused all of the buttons to be activated gets angry at themselves and gets off at the next floor (not at the floor that they wanted to go to) cursing the fact that their own inadvertent activations of the buttons can't be deselected by a second push.

    P.S. I live in Korea. My apartment building elevator buttons CAN be deselected by a second push. However, the buttons in the elevator at the office tower where I work CAN'T be deselected.


  13. Tenni

    Concerning the comment about the stairs, they could be locked. In my building the stairs are locked from the ground floor and they are only accessible on the 2nd floor and up. It is because of security.


  14. james

    I hate to break it to you but the technology exists for the cancel button. I know this because I live in South Korea and in the elevators if you press the wrong button, you can just press it again to cancel the the order. Now you know.


  15. Dave

    In response to Biarrote: I would think that a childcare facility would be on a secure floor with limited access points. Secure floors in buildings generally do not allow you to access via the stairs without a key or key card. They do however allow you to leave via the stairs when you are on a secure floor as per building code.


  16. ks

    i didnt not reall the comments posted by everyone…apologies for not the time to do that…that menas i may be saying something that someone else had already said…i used to live on the 22nd floor of a highrise building and used to spend, on a bad day, upto 15-20 min from the time i walk into the building in the evening after school or work till the time i reach my floor. it is really bad when you have only an hour of 'free time' or have to pee pretty bad. the only reaosn i can think of is that if you are in an elevator, and someone puts a knife in your throught, you want to get out as fast as you can. if tht person can undo the buttons as you press them, then you can be riding with this offender until the perosn finishes the job. the fact that the eleveaot will stop on all those floors will scare the offender into looking for safety rather than persisiting to kill you. in that regard, its good not to have undo uption in the elevator buttons.


  17. Dance In Shadows

    Sorry people… it is not always a prank problem. Sometimes it is just plain energy related. I happen to have a huge electrical energy that can light up the buttons on an elevator if I get within a foot of the panel. Believe me, it is difficult dealing with those who get on with me. And yes, I have tried grounding myself before entering the elevator. I would love to see a cancel button on elevators.


  18. Van

    Actually, the floors of the building I work in are only accessable by elevator. It does have a stairwell, but all doors are locked from the inside on every floor. Thus, you can go down the stairs, but you can't come up.


  19. Tom

    When you turn a computer on it boots up and you can't stop it without turning the machine off. You can change what boots but not until "you have reached your destination".
    But on point, it is likely the children problem again – too many play with the buttons because their parents do not control them. And you may have your floor properly pushed and some child unknown to you cancels your floor. (Korean children are MUCH better behaved than North American)
    Also it could be that someone in a REAL hurry cancels all the stops before his floor.
    As it is, it is a pain in the neck but people will start complaining that their floor was cancelled. Will not win!!!


  20. Mike

    I was living in Japan for a year and it's funny, because this is one of those interesting differences. There, if after you've pushed the button, you push it again two times quickly, it cancels. Unfortunately back here in the Western world, that just isn't one of life's little perks. Does it make sense? No, but neither do a lot of things.


  21. a guy

    i live in winnipeg manitoba canada and every elevator i have ever been in here if you push the button you can push it again to cancel it so maybe you are just retarded lol


  22. Jim

    Not a bad idea, though you may wind up being equally frustrated in crowded elevators where you get in and press 6, then later someone else gets in and presses 6, thereby cancelling the stop for both of you.

    Something else worthy of consideration in my opinion, would be standardizing the door open and door close buttons. Make the door open button Red and make the door close button Green. Reason ? When you try to stop an elevator door from closing to let someone else on, (it is more ecologically friendly to send one elevator with 2 people than to send two elevators with one person each), by the time you find which button to push it is almost always too late.


  23. Starry

    Everybody's making this big of a deal over ELEVATOR BUTTONS. Thats what gets me. Like everything else in this world, the elevators arent perfect. They have their flaws. Sometimes those flaws arent bad things.


  24. Christopher


    And what's to stop an A**H*** from getting on the elevator and just canceling all the floor selections so they can get to their floor first. I'd say your problem is the fact a daycare is in your building. The kids who are leaving before you go to get your kid are pushing all the buttons.

    It's not the elevators that need to change but the user.


  25. steve

    How do you know it's the kids pressing the buttons, maybe it the daycare trying to scam the parent in to some extra cash, using the elevator.


  26. L E TAYLOR



  27. Ryan

    As someone who programs industrial automated systems, I can vouch that almost any elevator system could be modified quite easily to add a cancel feature. In fact, because these programs are a template used over and over with minor modification (# of floors etc.), this would add almost no cost. They could easily have a standalone cancel button which must be held down while pressing the corresponding floor to cancel… thus preventing accidental missed floors.


  28. nick

    Not all elevators have lights on their buttons anyways LOL. And if the light goes out then you might not know if you pushed the button or not. Better to stop at an extra floor or two than miss your floor completely. Dork.


  29. Jamie

    Of course, it's not just kids that push all the buttons. There are people like me who knowing that others will get "a little crazy" and the "result is excruciating" for them. So with regard to, "apparently some people think it's funny," yes, yes they do!



  30. Don McBain

    as a further comment to add to the others if the daycare is only accessible from the elevator what do they do for fire escapes? buttons being pushed may be an inconvenience but what the heck maybe you would have to slow down and smell the roses and if you cant most doctors would say your stress level needs attention have a great day and go push some buttons of your own


  31. L E TAYLOR

    i want to ask Christopher why taking the elevator would make more money for the day care ?


  32. L E TAYLOR

    My question was meant for Steve I suppose.Try to work on those lines seperating each comment please .


  33. Dave Balmer

    Wow! I have been in the elevator industry 50 years as of next year ,in all aspects. As a designer, mechanic, serviceman, installer, etc. I am amazed at the comments that are made here where people are "certain" that their thoughts on "how elevators work" are correct! Winnipeg says "Push a button once and it registers a call ….push it again and it resets and deregisters the call. Never happen! Cancelling a call registered will create problems. Once a call in the elevator has been pressed, the elevator knows to start up and where to travel to….which floor and which direction. If a call could be cancelled while the elevator is operating, that is traveling between floors, it would then not know where it is traveling to and would just stop….between floors! NOT GOOD! Too scary plus a great opportunity for muggers and other pervs! The only problem here is impatience in our "immediate gratification" society. Be patient. Using the DOOR CLOSE button available on most elevators will reduce the time in the car if a number of buttons have been pressed. All calls DO NOT CANCEL when the elevator goes to the bottom floor! I betya a number of the respondees to this article also believe that if an elevator is falling all you have to do is just time it right and JUMP in the air just before the elevator hits the bottom and you will be OK! For those people I have some Marshland in Florida for sale..please call!
    It amazes me that so many people are misinformed about elevators! Perhaps I should write a regular column and answer questions!! HHHMMMM…business opportunity? Best regards to all!


  34. Dan

    LE Taylor: According to Simon's article, his daycare charges late parents by the minute. This is how they would get more money by making the elevator slow down.


  35. jmarshall

    Here's an idea: Keep a parent at home to raise the children. You'll feel less stressed, and raise better children.

    Unless you're a single parent, don't tell me it isn't possible. It just take a desire to go without other luxuries. and your kids should be the highest priority


  36. Iv

    How much fuss about one article! First of all, NO – you cannot always use stairs as it is case in my building where only every fifth floor can be accessed from outside (and they do not start from first floor on – want to go in and start guessing which door can you actually open – if any?). Some witty comments people wrote here are indeed not that witty. Also, for the people talking about childred and parents who should control them… Obviously you guys who wrote this do not have kids. Well, neither do I. But I do have wery well behaved nephews. However, sometimes, their quick hands go and press buttons before you even have a chance to react. Kids are kids, why to blame parents for that? A few lit buttons are not that harmful, even though that can be quite annoying. There are worse things in life – keep your nerves strong.


  37. Teacher

    I'm teaching English in South Korea and thankfully, many of the elevators here do have a cancel option. You simply press the button again and it will de-select that floor. I would like to think such a simple "option" would be found worldwide.


  38. Trent Troy

    In my old office tower I worked at if you hit ALL the buttons it would clear them ALL and start fresh…never was in the elevator when we actually had someone that needed to get off on every floor. But maybe give it a try .. I have noticed it works in a few other vad'ers…. but if it doesn't work enjoy the ride.


  39. Byrd

    This one is for Dave "50 years in the elevator biz" Balmer: Are you really so arrogant to assume that you have learned – and know – everything there is to know about elevators, or anything else for that matter? The only person who stops learning is the one who dies…and even then they are going to learn about AT LEAST one more thing: Death, not to mention what comes afterwards, if anything. While the internet can be a sketchy source of information at best, all of these people might not be wrong Dave. As an example, I've noticed quite a few of these posters have experience in what are chiefly Asian countries (Japan, Korea); how many of your 50 years experience did you spend working there?


  40. Abby

    Actually, I just got back from a trip to South Korea. Every elevator I used had the option to cancel your request. If you hit the buttom once, it would light up and go to the floor, if you hit it again, it would cancel the request and go to the next chosen floor. The only time this became a problem was when someone else wanting the same floor absent mindedly presses an already pressed button, thus cancelling thier own, and other's request.


  41. Byrd

    LOL!!! This is too much fun. More elevator manufacturer's with PASSENGER OPERATED cancel buttons. Dave, Dave, Dave. And while I'm here, were you aware that some elevators are intelligent enough to know when the weight inside doesn't logically co-relate to the amount of calls pressed inside the elevator causing them to – you guessed it! – cancel all the calls. LOL!!! I hope Dave never applied his expertise to any of the elevators in MY office building!


  42. Byrd

    LOL!!! This is too much fun. More elevator manufacturer's with PASSENGER OPERATED cancel buttons can be found here: http://www.fslcn.com/cp/html/?14.html Dave, Dave, Dave. And while I'm here, were you aware that some elevators are intelligent enough to know when the weight inside doesn't logically co-relate to the amount of calls pressed inside the elevator causing them to – you guessed it! – cancel all the calls. LOL!!! I hope Dave never applied his expertise to any of the elevators in MY office building!


  43. MARINE1964

    Hang in there Dave. You have put alot of years into a job with more ups and downs than I could ever handle.Your a good man .


  44. Maria

    I'd rather there be stairs built than adding this to elevators… then we'd save electricity and be more fit… but if there's no choice just hold your kids' hands so they don't press them??