You Lift Me Up

The Marriott Marquis is one of the busiest hotels in New York, but it had a big problem. With so many visitors and guests, the wait for an elevator was painfully long.

To add more elevators would have been very expensive and messy, because the building itself would have to be ripped apart. So instead of adding elevators, Marriot made their elevators more intelligent by implementing a new elevator control system called destination dispatch.

Under this new system, instead of choosing your floor in the elevator, you enter your floor number outside the elevator using a keypad located in the elevator lobby. The display on the keypad then tells you which elevator to board, for example, Elevator A. As you step into the clearly labeled elevator, your destination floor number is displayed near the elevator to confirm your floor. You simply enter the elevator (which no longer needs its own floor buttons) and travel to your floor.

Before this system was introduced, the elevator control system did not know where people were going until after they boarded the elevator. Now, when passengers enter their floor number on the keypad before they board, the system uses totally different formulas to control which elevator should be used.

The system takes the information from each of the waiting passengers, and groups people together who are going to common destinations on the same car, minimizing the number of stops. This has reduced elevator travel times, and improved the capacity of the system by 30%.

The only downside to this system is that some people may feel they are losing control, because they are unable to select their floor once they have boarded the elevator. However, like with any new technology, it can take some getting used to, and the benefit of a faster ride clearly outweighs any old habits.

Destination dispatch is a marvelous example of using creative thinking to an age-old problem. However, it’s more than that – it’s actually an application of a basic information development principle to the physical world.

Before a user reaches their “final destination” in a document (the specific topic they are looking for), they will usually have been directed to it in one of three ways:

  • using a search function
  • using an index
  • using a table of contents

Each of these methods correspond to the destination keypad of the elevator system. The reader first enters or looks up where they want to go (the specific topic), and then actually go to that topic by following the resulting link.

A reader arriving at an incorrect topic is like the elevator user who enters an incorrect floor on the keypad. However, in the case of the keypad, it is user error. With the document, it is more likely the author’s error.

This is why it is absolutely critical that the indices and tables of contents you develop are explicitly clear, otherwise they will send users to the wrong topics.

Who knew indices and tables of contents could be such a ride?

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