Twenty-four switches

Spotted outside a mySociety meeting room last year, in trendy Brighton:

Two panels of switches on a wall

Two panels of 24 completely unlabelled switches, four emergency switches, and eight empty spaces.

Have you ever seen so many switches in one place? What could they possibly all be for?1

The entrance room is about 10 metres square, with a simple smattering of recessed halogen lights. Even including the staircase and the meeting room next door, there surely can’t be enough lighting rings to necessitate 24 separate switches?

The designer in me can’t help but get up close – dig for meaning.

On one switch, a sticker proclaiming “OFF”. The switch it’s stuck to is on. Maybe this is the one master switch the office staff know to flick before they leave for the night? But, if so, I wonder why it’s labelled “OFF” and not “ON”?

Close up of one of the panels

On eight of the other switches, little round yellow stickers, some further annotated with a simple diagonal slash, others left blank. What secret code is this? Who left it? Why?

There’s evidence of previous stickers too—perhaps not deemed cryptic enough—having been peeled off. Have the switches changed function, or are we currently looking at a second iteration of what used to be an even more obscure labelling system?

Close up of the other panel

24 switches – what are your secrets? What cosmic meaning do you hide? TELL ME!!

  1. Those interested in the impenetrability of light switch configurations should make sure to check out UX design guru Don Norman’s take on improving the light switch, and—in fact—the rest of his book, The Design of Everyday Things.