Our office front doors use an electronic lock to enter and exit (but can also be opened using a key). To open the door from the inside, you need to press a giant unmarked red button to the right of the door frame, the type of button that's usually used as a kill switch on a factory floor. We also have 2 regular big flat light switches next to that giant button, one for the lights outside and one for all the lights on the first floor. The outside switch is marked "lights outside and garage" and the first floor switch is marked "general".

When our visiting customers first visit and leave, they see these 3 buttons and likely think "that red button is dangerous and I should not press that, that top switch seems to be for the light, that means that other switch is probably for the door". They press the switch, and all the lights on the first floor turn off. It doesn't mean we immediately go dark due to windows on both sides, but it usually means that someone needs to go turn the lights on again and tell the customer what the right button is.

The building is a rental so we cannot replace the button ourselves (the owners need to do it) or make the door function without the button. We have discussed it with the owners multiple times, but nothing seems to be done about it.

What steps can we undertake to clarify the intention of the button until it is replaced?

I'm seeing some mentions of etching a sign in the glass or otherwise altering the button itself. We're looking for something that we can do ourself and is reversible without residue in case the owner of the building (the landlord) does not like what we've done.

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    How about a giant red arrow pointing to the switch with white letters in it: "This red button opens the door" Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 8:59
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    Why not etch it onto the glass in a nice frosted effect? That would look quite stylish.
    – Adam Rifat
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 9:04
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    Mention it every time you say goodbye to them :-) "Thanks for your visit, have a nice day. Oh yeah, to open the door at the exit, please push the red button. Don't worry, nothing will explode. Good bye." Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 9:11
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    @NateKerkhofs: The colour change is the right UX answer. How you do it without leaving a residue or annoying the building owner is out of scope, that's a problem for implementation ;) Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 14:59
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    I would tell the owner that a confusing exit is a FIRE HAZARD and you need them to do something about it.
    – Max
    Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 1:49

4 Answers 4


Make it Green

I'm surprised no one has mentioned colour. The easiest solution is to change the button colour to Green. Green means "Go" in traffic lights.

the type of button that's usually used as a kill switch on a factory floor

If this is your reference, I know that in Factories, they have "Green" buttons that start machines.

This is likely the easiest way to clarify your meaning for the button, and is also universal. You don't need to attach explicit signs for this. People will know it by colour.

Source: Basic colour theory and a DH who builds in Custom Machinery

For the curious: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/437/who-decided-red-means-stop-and-green-means-go

Also you should probably relabel the "General" switch to be more "Specific".

  • Came to write this exact answer. The entry buttons around my previous office were all green.
    – Fractional
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 13:25
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    Making it green would effectively require replacement, which is again something the owner needs to do something about.
    – Nzall
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 13:53
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    You could stick a green circle on it? If it's large, this should work. What's the radius? Or you could just paint it? Sometimes you can take things into your own hands since he must replace it anyways.
    – Pdxd
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 14:03
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    Or green nail polish. Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 16:04
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    You could wrap an unblown green baloon around it
    – shea
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 7:24

Similar to a 'do not disturb' attachment that goes around the knob of a hotel room. You can create a version with your clear instruction of button on a material thats is suitable for the outdoors.

And as another person has commented. Change the other switch labels so that it is clear they do not open any doors.


Why don't you get a sticky label and label it 'Door release' or something similar? You could use one of those machines that stamps the letters into a bit of tough sticky backed plastic and stick it either on the button or above it.

There could be no confusion then, surely?

  • We tried it using one of those narrow plastic onces, but it became unglued about 2 weeks later.
    – Nzall
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 9:02
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    If it worked get some better glue :-)
    – Toni Leigh
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 11:04

Could you create a graphic that wraps around the area where the button connects to wall? This would suggest that the instructions/text refer to the button, as well as appearing to be one cohesive thought rather than a button and a sign as an afterthought. Could the graphic be the same height as the light switches for consistency? I realize attaching or adhering the graphic to the wall may be an issue.


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

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    This, but place the graphic on a panel/flap that covers the lightswitches. I assume whoever needs to flip the lights won't be deterred by a flap, and it hides the unnecessary controls. Even it if it's a red button, eliminating choice may solve the issue.
    – user95227
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 23:50

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