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The author

Alex Bennett

Front-end Developer

Last week saw Epiphany host the UK’s first Code in the Dark event as part of Leeds Digital Festival 2016, and it was a huge success!

The wonderful people over at TicTail came up with the idea for Code in the Dark a few years ago and since then, community events have been set up under this banner all over the world. Here at Epiphany, we decided it was time for the event to come to the UK.

Last Thursday, I headed up the UK’s first Code in the Dark event after months of organisation, a bit of stress and late-night troubleshooting sessions.

The night itself flew by – bar some very minor technical issues in the initial stages, it was a smash from the get-go; we even had to open the doors slightly early due to the sheer number of people waiting to get in!

In the run-up to the competition date – and thanks to a few high-profile endorsements – we saw our ticket demand surge (thanks, Harry!) proving that the idea behind the event was intriguing to many, developers and non-developers alike.

So, what was the event?

Code in the Dark is a front-end development competition with a twist. The rules are simple: each competitor must create a design from scratch using HTML and CSS only, within a 15-minute timeframe. The catch is that they can’t preview their work!

We had 30 brave developers sign up to compete in six heats, and it was quite the show of talent we had on the night, as each design differed significantly. The winner from each heat then entered into a tense battle to be crowned champion, but the final threw another curve ball at our already panic-stricken developers: CSS animation!

The first UK Code in the Dark

The upstairs stage of the Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen played host to our event: a darkened room filled with a thick layer of smoke pierced with the light from 12 screens shining out to the crowd. Overhead, a laser danced to the soundtrack of New Wave retro songs. The mood was set, the contestants were ready, and it was time to write some competitive code.

Heat one was the first opportunity for the contestants and the audience to get a sense of things to come. With no prior knowledge of the designs to mimic, each round started with a mystery reveal that was met with murmurs from the room and gasps from the contestants. 

As soon as it appeared, they had to recreate it, and designs were continually updated for the captive audience to see their progress.

We had three of Epiphany’s own brave developers enter into the competition; shielded from any event conversations, they were as unprepared as everyone else.

Heat one contestants were presented with the IKEA homepage to recreate: lots of content, not too many pictures, and was probably one of the easier heats of the night. Thiru came out on top here to secure our first finalist.

Heat two contestants were given eBay’s homepage, continuing our theme of using modern, similarly-designed and well-visited sites with a varying degree of complexity. Other pages for the heats included the CNN homepage, the WhatsApp homepage, and LinkedIn's (logged out) landing page.

Our finalists

Heat 1: Thiru

Heat 2: Samantha Miller

Heat 3: Will Blackmore

Heat 4: Jamie Coulter

Heat 5: Jamie Wright

Heat 6: Thomas Nadin

Who would take home the trophy and top prize was anyone's guess for the final. Perhaps the heats – real trials by fire – prepared them for what was to come… or perhaps it lulled them into a false sense of security?

By this stage of the evening, I would imagine that some of our contestants had a couple of beverages to steady their nerves, and so we had to make the final something a little trickier to put them on the back foot once again.

The reveal was met with a few laughs, a few gasps, and six bemused contestants.


(The final design)

Fifteen tense minutes went by; some movement is visible on the contestants' screens, but it’s too hard to call for most. As expected, we needed to give them a helping hand as no one would have expected this as a final. 


We allowed our contestants a moment to see their preview before we added a two-minute mercy timer. A roar of applause soon followed from the Engage entourage, as it marked the moment they secured first place with one of their four entrants.

And so Code in the Dark drew to an end; we handed over the prize and trophy to our victor Will Blackmore, and begin thinking about the next competition…

When’s the next UK Code in the Dark event?

You heard it here first: in October 2016, we're hosting Code in the Dark UK 2.0! Keep up with @codeinthedarkuk for our latest updates!