lock that is presented out of tiny nodes representing the internet of things
lock that is presented out of tiny nodes representing the internet of things

The Project: MeQ:ino

After having finished my Psychology Master, I found my first position as a research and project assistant at a private university in Berlin/Germany. The topic we were working on was how to make it easier for technologically-far employees to embrace technology and become more knowledgable less fearful in their interaction with online media - to introduce employees to digital learning in a playful way. One of my responsibilities was to design an escape room for exactly that purpose.

The Goal: Escape Room For Safe & Playful Exploration

The escape room was supposed to offer a protected space for playful exploration and trial and error in order to reduce possible reservations and fears about online media use. The goal was to initially get employees excited about digital learning to motivate them to take further steps in their digital learning journey during later stages of the project (where we were offering playful learning modules and a toolbox of open-source online tools for content creation).

The Design Challenge: Mobile, Motivating & Insightful
Storytelling Phase

In order to make the escape room an engaging and coherent experience, I was looking for a storyline that would give the employees a logical reason why they were being locked into a room to engage with online media - a mix of a futuristic and inspiring scenario that still would feel real enough to be relatable.

In the end, I opted for a storyline in which the participants travel into the future upon entering the escape room - into a time in which digital media is basic functionality of everyday and professional life. As they're not ready to survive such an environment with their current skills on their own, they are taken to a quarantine room to learn the basic survival skills.

They are ready to enter the world outside as soon as they have managed to solve a given set of tasks.

The Concept Phase

With the escape room being the first of a three-part online media learning journey, the first step in its creation was to research competencies that are important when dealing with online media and navigating the IoT. That way, the employees would already have had a positive experience with the topics introduced in the escape room and would be more motivated to deepen their knowledge in these areas.

Knowing the desired competencies, the next step was gathering apps, gadgets and platforms - common and useful to inspirational and eye-opening ones - that would require the employees to engage with them in a way that would show them a glimpse of the underlying practices leading to those desired online media competencies - learning by doing style.

The challenge at hand was to

  1. build a mobile escape room that would be easy to transport, quick to set-up and reset.

  2. create tasks that slowly become more difficult and can be solved by a medium-sized group in a certain amount of time.

  3. provide learning content that is complex enough, but not costly to produce.

  4. keep participants motivated for as long as possible, but do not neglect the learning content in the process.

  5. offer fun, but also convey learning content.

a woman infront of a technology pad with different holographic options in front of her
a woman infront of a technology pad with different holographic options in front of her
App Integration

In order to build a mobile escape room that would be cheap to produce, easy to transport and quick to set-up in any given company, I opted for a mixture of tasks that would be merely performed online (e.g. using Google Maps or engaging with social platforms) and tasks that would introduce inspiring technology gadgets (e.g. digital key finder, flying a drone),

All tasks should only be solved with the help of digital media. Clues leading to the solution could be found partly in the room, but also in the tablets or smartphones provided by us. Additionally, there would also be an assistant in the room at all times to cater for the varying technical and media experience of the participants, as well as have an eye on the time frame and actively help slow groups move along.​

a map of the escape room with description of various tasks in it
a map of the escape room with description of various tasks in it
Planning Phase
a visual of how the app looked like in different phases of its usage
a visual of how the app looked like in different phases of its usage
First User Testing

​To keep with the futuristic and media focused theme, the participants were going to be guided through the escape room via an app that they would interact with on a tablet.

I designed this app with the intention of it being, simple, intuitive and playful. Storytelling-style audio snippets (as well as the option to read the content in parallel or afterwards to be able to reread the instructions given) introduced the participants to the futuristic scenario in the beginning, provided them with their tasks and in the end concluded the experience, congratulating them on their success.

a panorama shot of the first set-up of the escape room, seeing all its angles
a panorama shot of the first set-up of the escape room, seeing all its angles
Improvements & Second User Testing

After getting rid of the drone task (which solved our prior set-up problem), exchanging the mindmap task with an augmented reality task, tweaking the angle to the digital profile task and integrating the feedback of the test group regarding the clarity of hints given, the second user testing went a lot smoother.

With this positive result, I was able to stick with the chosen tasks and go into detail work.

I smoothed out the experience even more, spend time on decorative elements to create a more inspiring environment in the room itself and created documentation, set-up and reset guidelines to make it easy for the people leading the escape room.

Final Thoughts & Learnings

​Biggest challenge:

It was an important learning for me to take the same mindset as in programming: "Design for the dumbest possible user". This might sound harsh, but it really helped me put myself into a different role as I myself grew up as a digital native and especially in the beginning it was hard for me to grasp just how difficult online tasks or interaction with technological gadgets can be for certain people. Creating tasks that cater for a group of several people of which I don't know their individual specific skill and knowledge level when it comes to digital interaction and still make it an experience that is not too easy so that they would feel made fun of, but not too hard so that they would lose their motivation was a true challenge.

​Biggest celebration:

I highly enjoyed designing this escape room from start to finish - picking the story, the tasks, the decoration and in the end also leading it with several groups and seeing how much they were enjoying it. It was a magnificent experience.

In order to test for the difficulty of and needed time to solve the tasks, I did a test run with a group of staff of the university I was working in. This wasn't the target audience as our later participants would be older and therefore also less experienced with digital media and apps. However, if this younger test group already had difficulties or time issues solving the tasks, it would be a clear indication for our real target group.

It turned out that the drone task (flying a drone in a closed-off area in the room and taking a picture of a password with it) was something that the testers enjoyed a lot but which was too hard to achieve. Additionally, we came across technical issues with our digital profile task and lastly also noticed issues with the task of collaboratively creating an online whiteboard collage.

Combining the insights into these issues with the feedback of our testers and the knowledge of the weak spots of setting up the escape room in its current form, I was ready to go into the next iteration phase of the escape room.

Learning is an experience. Everything else is just information. - Albert Einstein

Transforming learning into unforgettable experiences.