What can an Escape Room teach us about User Experience?

You're locked in a room with only 60 minutes until a deadly virus is released. All that stands between you and certain doom is your wits...and a handful of helpful clues scattered about the floor.

This is just one of many exciting scenarios that you could step into at your local escape room.

For those who haven't experienced this before, the idea is pretty simple;

  1. You get locked in a room while a timer counts down
  2. A series of puzzles is put before you
  3. You solve the puzzles
  4. The door swings open and you escape to bask in the admiration of your friends and family
  5. (Alternatively, you fail to solve the puzzles, time runs out, you shamefully creep out the side entrance and hope no one notices)

To some this may sound more like the stuff of nightmares than a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. So, why are escape rooms so popular? And, more importantly;

What can an escape room teach us about user experience?

A great deal as it turns out.

Make it easy for people to get help

Let’s face it, if there really was a terrible virus about to be released it's more likely that we’d be scrambling for the exits and running for the hills rather than trying to concoct a makeshift cure from bits of duct tape and newspaper clippings.

Good escape room architects are adept at making the experience immersive enough that we want to join in the action, but with enough constraints to remind us that we’re not in any real danger.

For example, on a recent visit to an escape room we pretty much fell at the first hurdle, the task was to arrange a few elements from the periodic table in a particular order. I was baffled, when suddenly a clue popped up on the TV screen. I stared blankly. Another clue appeared. Still not getting it. Finally a third clue came. That did the trick, we were on our way.

This example illustrates an important point, the staff were on hand to make sure our experience was smooth. Had they presented the clues at the beginning we would have felt belittled. Had they not given any at all, we would have felt abandoned.

The point? At times users will need your help, they may have a question, or they may get stuck on something. When that happens a well planned user experience will give them the help they need to move forward. A word of caution, be careful not to micromanage your users, they may feel belittled and go elsewhere. Conversely be careful not to abandon them in the depths of an error page.

How does this work out practically? Make it easy for users to get in touch with you.

  • Have a live chat option ready on your site for people to call on you should they need you
  • Give users a phone number to ring, one that actually calls through to a real person
  • Make sure that your Google My Business Listing is up to date so that customers can find you

On occasion people do get lost. Rather than have them fall through the cracks in your website into an error page, or worse get frustrated and leave, give them a way to search your site quickly and easily. If you remove some content, point them to an alternative. 

Make the experience fun

People go to escape rooms primarily to be entertained. Feeling your pulse quicken as the clock ticks down, the thrill of solving a complex puzzle, knowing that you've beaten the room.  

In a similar way the user experience on your website can be entertaining. A website doesn't need to be all business. People enjoy being challenged so long as it doesn't get in the way of their goal. The secret is to provide enough fun to keep people interested while helping them progressively reach their goal.

How can you make your user experience fun?

  • Where appropriate inject a bit of humour
  • Use exciting images and video to give your website personality
  • Make a mascot (think Mailchimp or Comparethemeerkat.com) Simples!

Create multiple solutions

When it comes to solving puzzles everyone has their own method. Some like to dive straight in and start working things out, others like to stand back and assess the scene before tackling the problem.

In like manner, no two users are the same. A good user experience strategy will give them a variety of ways to reach their goal.

In practice this means having a good navigation structure on your website. It also means making important information clear and readily accessible.

What kind of experience?

Whether you like it or not your customers will have an experience when they come to you. Whether it's a good or a bad experience is largely up to you.

To increase the chances of your user having a good experience:

  • Give users the option to get help when they need it
  • When appropriate make the experience fun
  • Give users multiple ways to achieve their goal

A brand that is particularly good at this is the Glastonbury Festival. Check out 3 Spectacular Marketing Tips From the Glastonbury Festival to see how they do it.