Only where I live

Avid readers of my blog will know that I dislike silly signs. The worst offenders I celebrate here and then do my best to ignore. However, this week the issue of silly signs was brought so close to home that it really must not be ignored. One lift in my apartment block now bears this sign inside and out:

Don't go it alone - this lift demands "3 Persons Only"

Don’t go it alone – this lift demands “3 Persons Only”

In the past, I have regularly travelled as sole occupant of that lift; a practice which the new sign seemingly outlaws. Thankfully, this morning I reached the lift at the same time as two other residents. The three of us descended to the ground floor together, safe in the knowledge that we were compliant with the “3 Persons Only” order. But why the order? Let me speculate:

  1. It’s a sociable new scheme to encourage standoffish London neighbours to interact
  2. It’s a way of reducing power consumption, since batching people into threes reduces the number of journeys the lift needs to make
  3. It’s an attempt to make sure you’ll never be trapped in the unreliable lift alone; you’ll always have two other ‘strandees’ to swap stories with
  4. It’s an attempt to make the unreliable lift more reliable, by reducing the advertised capacity from 4 persons max to 3 persons only
  5. It’s an attempt to ban all non-human users. Dogs, aliens: think again!

Whilst ideas #1, #2 and #3 may have real merit (not so much #5), I’m fairly sure that the intention was #4. I’m also fairly sure that there was no intention to prohibit individuals or couples from using the lift. So, again we find that pesky word “only” messing up the meaning and creating a silly sign. What to do instead?

  • Better would be a sign stating: 3 Persons Max.¹
  • Funnier would be some comedy weight limit guidance
  • Better still would be an upgraded lift that measured the weight of its occupants and refused to operate in cases when its safe limit was exceeded. That way there would be no need for a sign, because the only possible behaviour would be the desired behaviour.

Maybe I’ve been reading too much of Donald Norman’s writing on design, but I’m now on a mission to get this put right. I suspect the lift upgrade may be beyond reach, but rewording the sign seems a sensible target.

UPDATE 10/2/2013: I should clarify that the new sign within the lift has been fixed on top of and obscures the original plate showing the lift’s rated load (in kilograms) and passenger capacity. I’ve found that the Lift Regulations 1997 (summarised here) have very clear guidance on this matter:

“each carrier must bear an easily visible plate clearly showing the rated load in kilograms and the maximum number of passengers allowed”

The lift was previously compliant with that provision, but the modification of the rating plate has rendered the lift non-compliant. I suspect that whoever chose to install the new rating plate will wish to revisit their decision, because (reading further in the regulations) I note that:

“It is an offence to supply lifts or safety components which do not comply with the requirements of the Regulations. Any person committing an offence is liable, under summary conviction, to imprisonment, a fine or both.”

So, what started as a bit of ungrammatical amusement seems to have uncovered a serious safety issue which I feel duty bound to raise with the building manager. I suspect the “3 Persons Only” sign will not be long for this world.

UPDATE 10/4/2013: Success! The sign in the lift has been removed (so the original rating plate is visible again) and the sign outside the lift has been replaced with one saying “3 Persons Max”.


¹ Obviously, this wording might be problematic for people with the name “Max”, but I suspect they’ve learned to live with (and perhaps even relish) the ambiguity.

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