An industrial design hackathon: finding new perspectives on your company’s challenges

At Deliveroo, we’re always looking for ways to improve our service. Unlike many technology companies, a huge part of our product offering occurs in the physical realm. We have thousands of restaurant partners, thousands of riders, and millions of customers eating delicious food worldwide. As a result, there is a huge opportunity to make operational improvements through novel industrial design. We’re on a mission to deliver fantastic food with the most effective equipment. In the software world, the hackathon is becoming pretty common. Spend a day or few days building awesome stuff that falls outside your day to day comfort zone.

A month ago I was chatting about this to an old friend, and Brunel University Industrial Design Alum. I brought up the prospect of an in house hackathon style event for physical products, and wondered if he could introduce me to the right people to get that set up.

A couple of days later I was introduced to the programme director at a local university. He was hugely supportive, and offered to select some of his top students and invite them to take part.

Why run this event? The Value Proposition

For the students: A rare opportunity to practice and approach real commercial problems, inside a high growth technology company, and present them to an audience of genuine stakeholders with operational feedback. A string to their bow at interview, and new work to include in their portfolio. Some great fun with people who they might not have met before.

For the university: a rare opportunity to work with industry in a way that really benefits the student population, adding value for them outside their degree programme. Excellent marketing material, and stories to attract the finest prospective students.

For Deliveroo: a group of bright and creative designers with fresh perspectives, and no organisational biases to worry about, throwing their considerable collective intellect at investigating some of your most valuable operational concerns, with a strict deadline and a low financial investment.

A win, win, win.

Deliveroo riders Rob and Angus share feedback on existing equipment with the students early on day one


It’s surprisingly easy to get these kind of events set up when you have a partner as diligent as Eujin on board. Within a week he had contacted and confirmed 16 students who were available to take part in the competition, mixing second and third year design students together into four teams of four. In the past I’ve advocated self-organised teams, but in this case Eujin suggested we assign the teams to ensure a consistent spread of experience.

I contacted every member of every team, making sure they had the opportunity to use our service ahead of time via a £20 voucher, and encouraged them to meet up for a chat before they arrived on the day.

Participants interrogate our riders to discover valuable opportunities to make their lives easier.

Preparing for action

In the past I’ve been involved with organising four in-house software hackathon events, but this was the first where the participants would be expected to design and prototype products for the physical realm.

First we needed to choose which challenges that teams would be able to pick from. This is important for an event like this, because without guidance, there’s a risk that teams will be stuck thinking up “valuable ideas” without context. I assembled a team of key stakeholders (who would later be judges) and we brainstormed our most valuable problems and opportunities for our company; including those we already had a plan to tackle.

Team “Roothless” present our pain points from their research

A couple of dot votes later, and we had our top three themes. I took these away, and wrote up a detailed brief for each one, so that the external teams had a clear idea of the problem (rather than our existing solution).

The two-day hackathon / challenge needed an hour for briefing at the beginning, and an hour for pitches / presentations at the end — so the largest meeting room on site was booked out appropriately.

We also needed domain experts for the teams to talk to during the morning, so that they could ask questions. A couple of our long time Deliveroo riders, and more recently driver operations team members, Rob and Angus stepped up to help.

Finally, I prepared a quick presentation for the brief on the day, and we were all set.

Explaining the importance of a good presentation

The Agenda

Day one:

8:30 Breakfast and meet the teams
9:00 Briefing and Q&A with Riders
10:00 Equipment demo and teams get started!

Investigating the state of the art: team 75% Bench get started early following the brief.

Day two:

15:30 Gather at the office
16:00 Pitches/Presentations and judging
16:45 Winners announced, prizes and thanks
17:00 Home!

All four teams gather at Deliveroo HQ before the pitches begin.

The design approach

Each student team ran their process differently, but the key themes were as follows:


The brief that each team was given had a starting point on each of the company problems we’d outlined. The teams who performed the best at the communication pitch stage spent most of the first day in this phase. As many people have said, it pays to “fall in love with the problem, not the solution”.

The best performers spent a great deal of time with the riders, they made sure to order food via our app from a variety of restaurant types, and they visited local restaurants who partner with Deliveroo, to better understand their pain.

Teams also took into account key company metrics — for example logistics companies such as Deliveroo rely on high rider retention, and high order throughput in order to reduce costs.

Team “Roothless” did a great job of defining the problem space before settling on one of the challenges


Once a problem has been identified and defined. Most of the teams brainstormed their initial ideas through sketching. This might have been a good time to start floating solutions with some of the stakeholders, considering the short timescale, but most of the teams used their own intuition to make decisions on the best design. Our winners, 75% Bench realised that it wasn’t sensible to converge on a final design so early, and took three concepts forward to pitch.

Sketching initial ideas


Two or three of our project teams took their ideas on to the next stage, planning materials and even processes for their use in practice. We were impressed with the results produced in such a short time. And while it was far from fully thought through, early testing of their concepts would have undercovered operational and manufacturing challenges that are not immediately obvious.

Design development and prototyping from team “Made in Roonel”


The competition concluded with a 5 minute multi-format presentation from each team. Every team told the story of their work, and how their early insights influenced the final product they presented. The telling of stories is a key skill for any kind of presentation. Three out of four teams did a good job here, particularly Roothless, who documented their process through a photo diary.

Roothless take the judges through their research journey


It’s important to make clear early on to the teams that in this competition and generally in business, it’s what you actually pitch that will sell your value. Even with great ideas, research, development and a novel solution, a poor pitch can lose to a great one. Sales is tough, don’t underestimate it.

We set the teams a strict 5-minute deadline on their presentations, and let them choose the format. In practice though everyone chose PDF slides and stood up alongside them with their team.

Judging criteria

Our teams were briefed that the judges would be evaluating their work against the following:

1. Deep understanding of the most expensive problems and most valuable opportunities

2. Creative flair and novel solutions

3. Products that we could realistically prototype and manufacture at scale

4. Clear consideration for the end user of the products

Our judges included our head of design, plus stakeholders from our product, operations, business intelligence teams and rider community. They were given the opportunity to ask each team questions after each pitch.

The Judges share their questions and feedback with the teams.

Our Winners

We had 15 excellent student designers take part in our competition, with Team “75% Bench” winning the competition:

Roothless: Benjamin Armstrong, Nathan Lawson Mclean, Adam Kennett, Harry Sutcliffe

75% bench (the winning team): Annie Maxted, Georgi Venchev, George Hopkins, Ashwin Bali

Made in ROOnel: Andrew Warrington, Phil Jobling, Fergus Hannant, Anil Puri

Deliveroo Barista: Charlie Smith, Thomas Walters, Anna Forrester

Our winners: Annie, Ashwin, Geroge and Gerogi collect their certificates and pose with the judges

Follow up

Brunel University have kindly offered to support the students in prototyping their concepts, and Deliveroo would be glad to offer riders and operations time to test them out on the streets of London.

I’m certain that the ideas and insights the student teams presented will influence our direction in a number of areas, and I’m hoping that the participants might be interested in applying for paid positions at Deliveroo this summer.

Important learnings:

1. You can organise a hackathon / design challenge at your company with an external partner in less than 3 weeks.

2. Students are awesome, and will come up with fascinating insights and ideas through their creative approach.

3. Great lecturers will be pleased to work with industry

4. Win win win projects do exist.

If your company would like to work with Brunel University in future please contact Eujin:

If you or your university would like to take part in a future design challenge or project with Deliveroo, contact us at or call +44 739 854 3183.

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