The elevator at my doctor’s office has a clear user interface problem.

The building in which the office is located has three floors above ground and one below ground. The buttons in the elevator are laid out in the following fashion:<pre> []2 []3 []LL []1</pre> The most common destination is floor 1, the lobby. However, something like three out of four patients using the elevator get in and press “LL” when they want to leave the building. After a moment of thought, they invariably then reach out and press the “1” button.

The root of the problem is that instead of calling the below ground floor a “basement” like nearly every other building the world, this elevator terms the basement the “lower level.” While I’m sure this does wonders for the psychology of the workers who occupy the basement…err..lower level, it really hoses everyone else.

When patients enter the elevator, they see “L,” and because they are invariably thinking about their recently ended appointment, their Brain shortcuts to “L = Lobby. We want the lobby to leave the building. You, Hand. Press the button on the lower left.”

About this time, the Eye gets through to the Brain on the backup circuit and says, “Hey, dummy. That’s ‘LL,’ not ‘L’. Chances are that doesn’t mean lobby.” You can usually see people refocusing their attention on the buttons and the sign above them about at this instant. The Brain asks the Eye for a second or third glance at the whole mess as it processes the facts. Then, the Brain tells the Hand to press the “1” button while it instructs the rest of the Body to look slightly sheepish for the benefit of the other elevator passengers.

If the clinic could just get over its “Lower Level” obsession and get with that hip modern term “Basement” it could then rid the elevator of the confusing “LL” button label. Almost nobody gets into an elevator and presses a button labeled “B” to get back to the building lobby.