Puzzle Box: How to Build a Better Gift Card

Behind The Scenes Gifts

Gift cards are easy, right? You just pick one up anywhere with a cash register and in a nanosecond you’ve taken care of your gifting needs. Except, not really. The recipient of that gift card will likely be underwhelmed and give you some serious side eye because, let’s face it, not much thought goes into gift cards. Unless you’re Man Crates.

Admittedly, we sorta have a problem. We OBSESS over gift cards. Specifically, how to make them more memorable. It all started with the Smash & Grab gift card. We figured it would be way more exciting to encase the card in a concrete brick than to simply peel it off of a flimsy cardboard backing. You want to redeem this thing? You’ll have to use the included hammer (and safety goggles) to smash through to the prize.

Pretty revolutionary. Buuuut, while it does present a challenge, we knew we could make it even more involved.

You’ve got to use some brawn to first smash, then grab. But what if you had to use your brain instead? That question fueled the fire behind the development of the new, harder-to-open Puzzle Box gift card. To give you a full behind-the-scenes peek at the making of Puzzle Box, we held a lightning-round interview with a few of its madcap creators. First up: our Special Projects sparkplug.

Edison Tong

Special Projects Associate

Puzzle Box Solve Time: “I helped make it, sooooo…”

Out of the Box: What was the motivation for exploring a new gift card concept?
Edison: Jason, our Senior Manager of Special Projects, came up with the idea. He wanted to do something different than Smash & Grab that made guys have to use their brain to get inside the box.

OOTB: Give us your one-line elevator pitch?
ET: Internally, we were calling it “an escape room in a box.”

The masking tape was a nice touch, but ultimately we decided to go with a cleaner look.

OOTB: With nothing else like it in existence, how did you find inspiration?
ET: We looked around Pinterest boards and and browsed all kinds of puzzle sites to consider what puzzles we should include and how they’ll work. We also consulted our packaging supplier to test feasibility. Ultimately, we landed on including four different types of puzzles:

  1. Math problem
  2. Visual illusions
  3. Wordplay
  4. Hidden message

OOTB: How long did it take the team to unveil the finished product?
ET: Overall, it was 3-4 months from concept to production. We were fortunate to launch just in time for the holidays and our initial supply sold out almost immediately.

OOTB: What are your favorite Puzzle Box features?
It’s cool that you can share it with other people. Once you’ve cracked the code, you can reassemble everything and run the whole thing back. Inside the box, we actually printed with anti-forgery ink that the FBI uses on top-secret documents. I also really dig the design that Joey (our graphic designer) came up with.

HINT: It’ll take more than a tug at that handle to get inside the box.

OOTB: Give us one of the challenges you faced in the development process?
ET: Has to be the digital experience. We wanted to offer a new layer to this gift. So we merged the physical opening with a digital component. We thought pushing solvers to their phones would be a novel, engaging way to offer hints and enhance the experience.

OOTB: How fast was the quickest trial run?
ET: The fastest trial run is a blazing time of 15 minutes.

OOTB: What has the customer reaction been?
ET: Customer reaction has been great so far. We’ve gotten some 5-star reviews and our customers have posted their happy reactions on social media.

OOTB: We hear there’s a new version in the works. What will be different? Can you let us in on a little secret about it?
ET: Indeed. there’s a new version coming later this year. It will be way more tangible. Lot’s of physical puzzles and tools to solve them.

Let’s dive into that digital experience a bit more, since that’s a big part of the proprietary nature of the Puzzle Box. To explain how the team tamed the mayhem, we picked the brain of Ali, our resident product guru.

Ali Eslamifar

Senior Product Designer

Puzzle Box Solve Time: “35 minutes, with a little help.”

Out of the Box: Was the digital experience something that was part of Puzzle Box from the beginning or was added later as a way to provide hints?
Ali: Jason had the vision and hope that we could do something cool online. A simple page that lets people go through the progression and unlock the solution. After brainstorming, we came up with a lot of fun things we could do.

OOTB: What are the functions of the digital experience?
AE: First, you start by entering the url to page that carries the theme through. It looks like game experience. When you’re on your mobile device or desktop, you can get prompted to receive hints, solve the first puzzle and unlock access to hints. There’s also the capability to track the timing of your opening experience to compete with friends and family members.

Contemplative stares were a frequent part of perfecting the digital process.

OOTB: Can you give us a quick summary of the development process?
AE: The amazing thing about Puzzle Box is that is was one of the most cross-functional projects we’ve ever done at man Crates. That means it required a ton of coordination across so many departments. (Bullet points, please…)

  • It started with the Merchandising team, which came up with the idea and built the prototype step by step. They held brainstorm sessions with 6-7 Man Crates employees.
  • Then the Product team got involved to map out and execute the accompanying digital experience.
  • Engineering then stepped in for the web development and testing.
  • From there, the Creative team came up with the design and messaging for the box itself, as well as the product page and other marketing communications.
  • Finally, Puzzle Box was tested with outside resources to gather feedback and streamline the user experience.

The Puzzle Box war room looked like something from A Beautiful Mind, only a lot more organized.

The design process was intense, with a very detailed pattern adorning the box and interior. Our lead designer was up to the task. Here’s his take on the masterpiece that is Puzzle Box.

Joey Alaniz

Senior Graphic Designer

Puzzle Box Solve Time: “Too long. 45 Minutes.”

Out of the Box: The overall aesthetic has so much depth and detail. From where did you draw inspiration?
Joey: When I get presented with projects like this, I first start by hearing the story from the creator of the product. I listen for the feelings they want to provoke from the recipient. From there I go online and start to research things along the same line. The internet is a great place to find inspiration.

Did you feel that? You’re now officially in the mood to solve some serious puzzles.

OOTB: What was the most difficult obstacle you overcame during the design process?
JA: Making sure all the puzzles functioned properly in the spaces they were placed.

OOTB: You usually need to consider user interaction in creating boxes. How was this project different?
JA: There were so many moving parts, everything had to make sense and flow in an intuitive manner.

OOTB: What’s your favorite design element on the box?
JA: The reveal inside the box. I have never done anything like that before. I’d go into more detail, but I’m sworn to secrecy.

Voila! There you have it…how the Man Crates team solved the production of Puzzle Box. And we did it all without any hints. Grab a Puzzle Box gift card the next time you need a gift for a guy and see if he can crack the 30-minute mark!