UX Hackathon at Kiwi.com

Alan Whitfield
Designing Kiwi.com
Published in
13 min readMay 2, 2018


This is the story of our first design hackathon. Find out about the winning solutions, see their designs and read an interview with John Roose who has just won his third straight hackathon.

It was go time and Puput was putting on a show with her Brazilian teammates Katia and Thiago. With developer wizardry, they’d infused the Kiwi.com website with their idea to sell stopover packages for long layovers. Clearly impressed, our UX Team Leader Jerry leaned over to me and said: “I want to hire her”. That was the moment I knew this article wasn’t going to be a Shakespearean tragedy after all.

Some designers still use windows

Rewind exactly one day and I was wondering how we’d survive a twenty-four-hour hackathon beginning at 5pm on a Friday, the end of a busy working week.

Designers from as far away as Brazil, Indonesia and the Netherlands formed six teams to compete for bragging rights and Kiwi.com flight vouchers.

By the time we were done, we couldn’t agree on what day it was or whether we shouldn’t just stay at the office until Monday. But the loss of sleep was worth it for an unforgettable experience.

The three winners

Congratulations to the three winning teams who achieved the tough task of impressing our panel of judges.

The Oceans: Puput Cibro, Katia Nakamura and Thiago Rossener. Mentored by Tales Ebner.

Take Off: Filip Svoboda, Simona Chládková, Michal Létal and Jan Vrzal. Mentored by Martin Halik.

A — B: John Roose, Veronica Steluta Mincior, Ján Dugovič and Tomáš Beran. Mentored by Jan Toman.

The Oceans 🇧🇷🇮🇩(winning team #1)

What’sop! is the name of The Ocean’s creation and it is pure genius. We could even begin using it at Kiwi.com with relatively little effort.

If you’ve ever done a search for long-haul flights on our website, you may have noticed that some of the cheapest itineraries include insanely long stopovers. The Oceans aimed not only to sell more of these trips but also to sell more additional services at the same time!

By promoting a stopover service which includes a sightseeing trip to the city and back to the airport, all protected by the Kiwi.com Guarantee.

Fun facts
When the pizza arrived at midnight, we sang happy birthday to Katia in Brazilian Portuguese.

Thiago literally crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Brazil just days before the event. As a developer digital nomad, Thiago is free to roam the planet. He’s in this part of the world for the upcoming Football World Cup in Russia — Vamos Brasil!

Take Off (winning team #2)

Take Off tackled a very real problem in the travel industry which keeps millions of people grounded every year — a fear of flying. I was impressed by their storytelling prowess and their incredibly interesting presentation.

Take Off argued that the fear of flying is irrational because statistically, it’s the safest way to travel. They also hypothesised that only the inexperienced are afraid of flying which they backed up with twenty interviews outside Tesco in the middle of the night.

Well, this idea certainly took off!

The Take Off app is designed to help fearful travellers by guiding them through a pre-flight checklist beginning long before the trip. Part of the service would include a face-to-face pre-flight meeting with an agent. I found this part interesting, and odd, in this digital age. In reality, Facetime or Skype would give the service more of a global reach.

A — B (winning team #3)

Honza Toman advised his team to focus on what the judges would want to see. Well, they really fooled me because A — B’s timeline app was so polished and well thought out that it seemed ready for development after just twenty-four hours.

A — B would learn about its users from their Google and social media accounts, creating completely unique experiences for each of them in the process. The app would pull data from a variety of sources to offer useful and insightful advice at every stage of the journey. Try it for yourself

Interview with John Roose
John Roose is a UX and Visual Designer from SpaceKnow and he’s just won three hackathons in a row. His presentation stood out because it was filled with jokes and their timeline idea was better than any I’ve seen before.

John Roose from SpaceKnow

Did you learn anything new at our hackathon? I mean, apart from prototyping a Low-Fi version first 😉

I learned how to apply the “design studio” technique in practice. The whole team sits around a table and everybody has five minutes to sketch their own solution to the problem. Then each person has one minute to present their sketches and get instant feedback. The next five-minute round is about working that feedback in. In this way, we reached a final concept in twenty minutes, which was especially useful given the short timeframe in a hackathon environment. Also, the whole team felt a strong sense of a involvement.

Did your previous experience in similar competitions prepare you for this event?

A year ago, I participated in an event like this for the very first time. The problem we tried to solve was too abstract, nobody understood our solution and the presentation was very unspecific. We didn’t win, obviously. It was a great lesson.

Click Start to try the A — B app

I learned that the problem the team should solve needs to be very tangible and real. Once it’s defined, it’s important to be wary of the time and move quickly. The MVP should be as complete as possible. It’s even better to throw it into the real world to get feedback or some traction. When all of this is presented clearly, I think there’s a good chance to win. Or at least, this strategy worked fine for me in the last three events, including this one.

Going into the presentations, how confident were you about your solution being a winner?

Not at all. There were a lot of great ideas floating around. I thought we might have a chance for the win because we did solid research and had a nice process, but we also made mistakes. Our prototype was too polished and the graphics were almost complete. Our mentor was Honza Toman, a great designer. He and I thought that this might mean minus points with the judges because UX design is not only about having a nice looking UI.

What did you think about the other groups you competed against?

I didn’t see anyone go to sleep. Everybody was tough and determined. They really put everything into it, so not just the people but also the atmosphere was great.

Apart from the content of your presentation, is there something you’d like to mention about your design process, or the event in general?

Concerning the design process, I try not to anchor myself to specific solutions until the problem is well defined. I’m mentioning it because I talked to someone at the event who started to describe his project “I’ll create an app, which…” — this sentence already contains the presumption of a solution, but the problem wasn’t even mentioned.

I think when designers meet other people at events like this, they better understand the skill level of their peers, this brings self-reflection and improvement.

The Mentors’ Choice

Each team was assigned one of our designers as a mentor to provide guidance and ask the right questions, but also to allow the contestants come up with the solutions themselves. At the end of the event, the mentors voted and decided that The Three Dots were also deserving of an accolade.

“It’s like watching your kids grow” — Kiwi.com Mentor talking about his team

Hygge: Meet Your Next Journey, by the Three Dots

Marketa Kucerova, Eva Sulcova and Richard Hrmo. Mentored by Tomas Kupka.

The Three Dots created an exciting way to gamify travel using a Tinder-like technique — swipe left or right until you get the perfect destination match. This caused quite a stir among the judges who denied all knowledge of how Tinder works.

“Gradient is the most beautiful thing in this world” — Henne

They might not have won according to the judges but The Three Dots won the mentors’ votes, and mine as well, for what it’s worth.

In twenty-four hours, they produced an excellent mockup of what would easily be my favourite travel app. They nearly named it Cockaigne but settled on Hygge instead, which is Danish for cosiness.

The Three Dots focussed on travellers who know when they want to go but not where. Hygge would use Machine Learning and AI to learn about you from your profile and your choices, offering relevant travel packages according to your budget and travel tastes.

The team’s presentation was energetic and eager and they were incredibly grateful to their mentor Tomas Kupka who worked tirelessly through the night with them.

Jerry’s lessons

I bet on Jerry Tvrdek’s team to win. As our UX Team Leader, he has the most experience and I thought that he had to break his hackathon drought at some point.

Instead of focussing on the judges and winning the competition like Honza Toman, Jerry’s approach was to use this opportunity to educate his team as much as possible, teaching them to understand the problem fully before jumping to solutions. However, the judges weren’t convinced by the Fantastic Four’s solution for self-driving cars in Brno.

Meme ⭐️Henne with his creator, Jerry

The organisers

The UX Hackathon was conceived and organised by David Tuč, our Head of Design and Martin “MJ” Jancik, the real heroes of the day.

Martin is the most energetic human I’ve ever come across. He missed his daily 12km run because of the hackathon, so he ran 24km the day before instead.

I am an absolute design enthusiast, so I’m always excited to talk with like-minded people. That’s why I went on the journey of organising this event—Martin “MJ” Jancik

When asked about the most interesting numbers from the event, it wasn’t the 140 Red Bulls or the two Tesco trolleys full of pizza — it was the fact that we each spent over thirty hours awake trying to solve design problems.

MJ, Hackathon hero

Our esteemed judges

Andrej Makovický — Head of Search at Kiwi.com
Roman Studený — Search Product Manager at Kiwi.com
Andrej and Roman provided tough constructive criticism. Their precise questions often unsettled the presenting teams. However, they gave credit where it was due and provided useful, valuable insight.

Ondrej Válka — Freelance Product Designer
Ondrej provided extensive feedback notes on every team’s performance, creating an excellent learning opportunity for the contestants.

Ondrej Raul— UX Manager at Konica Minolta
Like our in-house judges, Ondrej asked revealing questions of each of the teams. He also provided feedback after the event to those who wanted to learn more from his vast experience.

The two Ondrejs on the left. On the right, our two search giants Andrej and Roman being briefed by MJ

Our judges had numerous evaluation criteria. Some looked at usability while others focused on the creativity and sustainability of the idea. They also evaluated how each of the teams identified problems through research, their generation of ideas and the design process — Martin “MJ” Jancik.

MJ to the rescue

On behalf of the Experience Design Team at Kiwi.com, I’d like to say a huge thank you to our judges and to all of the contestants who came from near and far to make this event so special. We hope to see you at the next one!

🥝🥝You can follow the Kiwi.com Experience Design Team on Medium, Instagram, Twitter and Dribbble 🥝🥝