Pushing Buttons in Odd Places

Few things command attention like the Big Red Button.

Throughout modern civilization, red buttons have generally communicated one of a few things, depending on who you ask. “Press in Case of Emergency”, “Press to Stop”, or “Don’t Press! (but if you do, you can be damn sure something’s going to happen)”.  But unless you work in a nuclear power plant, regularly operate heavy machinery, or are an elevator attendant, you probably don’t run into these very often.

Yet here’s one in the strangest of locations; a Citibank ATM, next to the door, actually controlling the door. Obviously (as I’m sure you guessed) it’s a trap… as this one seems to say “Press to Exit and Let us Record How Tall You Are”. Note the inconspicuous tape measure.

It’s a crafty yet unsettling ploy that seems out-of-place in Chicago’s uppity Gold Coast neighborhood. Was this ATM a frequent target for robberies because of all the big spenders in the area? Did something horrible happen here? Do I feel safer or less safe now? Are they recording my height to better target me as a potential new customer for a future ‘Join Citibank’ marketing campaign?

These are the questions I found myself pondering as I stood in front of that door, my wallet full of cash, eyeing that big red button.

The design lesson here — don’t mess with classic design conventions.

But the real lesson — as always — use your own bank’s ATMs.


2 Responses to Pushing Buttons in Odd Places

  1. Luke says:

    In the basement where my office is, there are double doors I have to go through to get upstairs. The doors have push-bars to open them. The door on the right has a pushbar that is bright red, (as opposed to the normal grey on the left door) and I never pushed it because I was sure some alarm would go off. I recently saw someone walk through it with no problem, no alarm, no swat team repelling down the stairwell. Why the hell did they make it red? Beats me. It seems to me that most “emergency” doors have long outlived their ’emergency’ status.

  2. Let’s start a movement to get the word ’emergency’ back. Our logo can have some red in it.

    I’d agree with you. A lot of things out there that were designed for the worst case scenario end up being a pain for those who use them in regularly in all those non-emergency situations. In some cases these designs result in previously unforseen and potentially disastrous scenarios from people using things improperly to make the tasks easier. Not necessarily the case for your door at work.

    Though using colors like red (and increasingly orange for the web: http://infiniteuser.com/2009/10/19/colors-of-ecommerce/) should be done sparingly, knowing how we’re all conditioned to react to red in our environment. So designers need to be careful in how they integrate conventions in their designs. But equally we have consider all the possible outcomes, the use cases. And weigh the tradeoffs of designing for worst case vs. most-common scenarios. Every case is different.

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