What Product Management Can Teach About the Biggest Room Escape Design Blunders

I have a tremendous advantage over most everyone involved with room escape design. Prior to Puzzle Break, I spent many years as a Product Manager. More importantly, I bore witness to some of the best and worst product management in software history, and have absorbed many lessons from both. Today, I’d like to share arguably the most important topic we can learn from the Product Management discipline.

You are not the customer.

This sounds simple. It isn’t, and let me back up a bit. Product Management is so tricky it’s actually non-trivial to explain the concept. The best description I’ve ever heard is that the Product Manager is the CEO of his/her product/feature. They are fully responsible for every aspect of their product, from all elements of design (UX, content, feature set, etc.), production, schedule, lifecycle, supportability, everything. Naturally, the Product Manager is going to be an expert in their field, and this is where many, many, many PMs fall into a deadly trap: They forget they are not the customer.

Although I loathe these nonsense business graphics, this one ain't too far off.

Although I loathe these nonsense business graphics, this one ain't too far off.

The best example of this failure I can think of is the Amazon Fire Phone. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had an extremely detailed vision of what he wanted the Fire Phone to be. Reportedly, he stepped in to the design process and never stepped out. He designed the phone he wanted, not the phone the market wanted. The result was an unmitigated commercial flop.

Jeff Bezos Crushing Your Head photo credit Mario Tama/Getty

Jeff Bezos Crushing Your Head photo credit Mario Tama/Getty

I see this time and again with room escape designs. Designers create the rooms they like with little/no thought to whether their preferences extend to their target market. Whenever you play a room that’s all over the place (design-wise), it’s a safe bet that either A. it was simply designed by someone with not much experience as a player or designer or B. It was designed by a veteran who failed to ask the tough questions of whether what they think is cool would work for their players. This is a common and understandable mistake, and one that non-product-manager-veterans might not even realize they are making.

This is a bit of an oversimplification, but “You are not the customer” is a universal mantra that I would recommend to anyone in any field that contains design elements.

ADMITTED EXCEPTION TO THE ABOVE: No Puzzle Break experience will ever contain a sliding puzzle. If they should ever become the rage, our team's dislike of this design transcends our desire to appeal to the marketplace.

Not even this one, and it has a *dinosaur*!

Not even this one, and it has a *dinosaur*!

- Nate

Nate Martin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Puzzle Break, the oldest contemporary escape room company based in the United States. Puzzle Break is headquartered in Seattle with locations in Long Island and on Royal Caribbean ships. Prior to Puzzle Break, he was a senior executive at Microsoft and Electronic Arts. He has shipped software used by billions of users as well as some of the most beloved video games of a generation. @GuyFromTomorrow on Twitter.

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