Michelle Lin

Selina Hostels


Crafting the Onboarding Experience for Selina Hostels


Project Overview

Selina Hostels, founded in 2012, is the first chain of "luxury hostels" in South and Central America. Headquartered in Panama City, Selina seeks to disrupt the hostel hospitality industry in these regions by providing a high-end hostel experience at locations which provide both co-working and "co-playing" spaces. 

Designed an onboarding experience that would eventually split the iOS app experience into separate and personalized flows depending on user type. In addition, considering the many locations and types of hostels that Selina offers, I designed rotating splash screens that would best represent the array of Selina "personalities" and their values from a marketing standpoint. 

I was chosen out of Gigster's network of 100 designers to fly out to Selina HQ with a Product Manager, working directly with the client, to create several hi-fidelity screens for Selina's MVP iOS app as part of a scoping project. The challenge lied in creating an onboarding experience which was both seamless and applicable to two very different user types.

3 weeks

Sole Product Designer

The Design Process


The design process for this particular project strays from my general process due to the short timeline (especially in Panama) and lack of resources.



Researching the Competition

Prior to leaving for Panama, I spent the first week downloading numerous hospitality apps — especially those marketed towards backpackers and frequent travelers. All in all, there was a complete lack of structure for the hostel-based apps, whereas the Virgin Hotels and LoungeBuddy apps both had a clean and modern UI design and an onboarding experience to match. 

Since I was only designing a small portion of the MVP version of the app, it felt more reasonable to stick to the features we (Dave the PM and I) liked of the LoungeBuddy iOS app. An app like the one Virgin Hotels offers would ideally be something further down the line — once Selina becomes more established.


Persona Development

I developed two personas based on what I knew of the client's goals, in terms of target users, and assumptions I drew from my own research of Selina Hostels.


User Interviews + Synthesis

Once Dave and I arrived in Panama, we met with the client to understand what his goals were and the statistics he was seeking, we created a simple survey via Typeform and sent it out to all of our friends on Facebook and posted the link to the survey in numerous "Digital Nomad" and travel groups. 


Due to the fact that we weren't able to visit one of the Selina Hostels during our time in Panama and conduct direct user interviews, a lot of uncovered statistics were likely flawed. However, it is that first statistic that we felt was the most interesting and convincing to the client.


Street Talk + Hostel Explorations

 Luna's Castle — the most popular hostel in Casco Viejo

Luna's Castle — the most popular hostel in Casco Viejo

 View from the Luna's Castle terrace on Flag Day

View from the Luna's Castle terrace on Flag Day

In addition to the user surveys we sent out, I also went out to the local hostels to conduct simple ethnographic research through observation and asking travelers basic questions regarding their travel habits. 




 Some whiteboarding gibberish with Dave and Ori, our client!

Some whiteboarding gibberish with Dave and Ori, our client!

This is where things got complicated — being a generalist Product Designer and drawing from research and an understanding of the target audience, I proposed a simple onboarding experience along with splash screens that would best capture the unique value proposition of Selina Hostels. However, Ori and Dave both wanted the MVP of the Selina app to be representative of the "future tech industry" and pushed for an AI conversational onboarding experience.

After many days of whiteboarding, further research and discussions — I was finally able to convince the two of them that an onboarding experience of the sort would feel entirely foreign to the potential users based on the knowledge I've gathered as well as statistics and studies regarding their current clientele. 


Lo-Fi Wireframes



Hi-Fidelity Screens


Inspired by the modern and clean UI of other iOS apps — the main home screen and the final screen post-booking — I created additional hi-fidelity screens, outside of the scope, prior to closing the deal with the client.

Delivery + Reflection

This was the first time I was constantly working alongside a Product Manager and a client that contested many of my design decisions. It was an absolute learning experience, especially because I was designing an application for users of various cultural backgrounds. Ultimately, this project taught me how to communicate clearly and effectively with stakeholders. 

Beyond the many lessons learned, I actually ended up staying in Panama for an additional week — not only because I fell in love with the country, but also because of the many wonderful people I met while conducting my ethnographic research. After our week of work (in Panama) was up, I moved into Luna's Castle for an extra week to truly interact with the travelers and locals. In the end, we were able to sign Selina Hostels as a client and I'm looking forward to going back and visiting all of their locations.