My first experience with Airbnb was in New York City with my best friend, when we planned a short excursion to explore the big apple. Ever since that stay, I have been a loyal customer and lover of Airbnb. Its mission for people to overcome their “deeply rooted stranger-danger bias” and visions of a future where shared cities will bring community and connection rather than isolation and separation inspires me immensely. However, the one quality that initially sparked my passion for Airbnb is their strong focus on design. The design brand they have forged as well as the creativity and thoughtfulness Airbnb puts into designing the user experience is a beautiful thing to see. As such, I thought I would highlight some of the sources of creativity that Airbnb draws from throughout its design processes. If you want a run-down of Airbnb’s history or some facts and figures, check out Camille’s post here!
One of Airbnb’s faucets of inspiration is a continuous project called “Creative Evolution,” in which artists are chosen to be interviewed about their medium of art. It is a series of conversations that range from how they began their craft to a walkthrough of their regular creative process. They end with a few travel-oriented questions such as “What are specific ways in which the places you live inspire the work you do?” or “Have you ever traveled somewhere that inspired you to create something?” or “Are there places you’d like to visit that you imagine would inspire you?” These are the questions that more obviously demonstrate how the artists and specifically their travel experiences act as pooled inspiration for Airbnb designers.
However, I believe there is value in the entire process of getting to know who an artist is and where they come from. Past interviewees have included dancers, an architect, the founder of a print-only publication, a muralist and community arts educator, an illustrator/animator, and many others. The beauty of this project lies in the fact that art inspires art, and all artists are designers.
In the most recent interview, Creative Evolution No. 11, Airbnb talked with two dancers from LA, Chloé and Maud Arnold. Here is a sample of their creative work:
Photo Mixtape is another project through which Airbnb draws inspiration for design. On this medium, Airbnb designers, photographers, and other creative employees compile a series of their own photographs shot from wherever they happen to travel around the globe. Each of the mixtapes consists of a brief introduction (i.e. a descriptive capture of a moment from their travels) to set the tone of that piece. That is followed by a collection of beautiful photographs accompanied by a personally created playlist of music selections, hence the title “Photo Mixtape.”
As I click through one of these mixtapes, it is easy to see why Airbnb designers invest time in projects like these. What better way is there to place oneself somewhere across the world without the time or luxury to physically travel to that location? For a company like Airbnb, gathering pictures, colors, feelings, and emotions from all corners of the globe should be a no-brainer if they want to achieve their goal of bringing together people of largely different backgrounds.
“As a designer, I’m in constant pursuit of inspiration. Getting stuck in monotonous routines runs the risk of creative work falling flat, so I set out to find a place drastically different than home.” ––Julia Khusainova, Experience Designer
The Photo Mixtape series allows designers to peer into the life of someone who lives in a different world than them. It’s the ultimate tool for gathering data about potential customers.
Julia Khusainova, an Experience Designer at Airbnb, decided to generate some new inspiration by traveling to Thailand––her first ever time visiting Southeast Asia. She documented her adventures in Photo Mixtape No. 4.
Airbnb has started a new inspiration series, Redefining Boundaries, that takes you into the lives and minds of creative pioneers who are unafraid to forge their own paths to make the world a better place. There is one piece in this series so far, and it captures the heart of photojournalist Lynsey Addario. She has photographed ISIS in Iraq, sexual assault in Madagascar, tuberculosis in India, among other crises around the world.
Literally risking her life for her work, Lynsey sees herself as a messenger who has the ability to share stories and give these people a voice to communicate to the public with. Her steel determination is an inspiration in itself, as she carries with her memories of when they were kidnapped when photographing in Libya one time.
“I always feel like I’m failing. I’m never complacent. Under fear, I work faster.”
From Lynsey’s interview:
Question: Is there anything else that you’d like the Airbnb community to know about you?
Answer: Most of the people who use Airbnb are people who travel internationally. Get out there and keep traveling. There’s no better way to experience the world. Travel has been the best education for me — not only culturally, but also intellectually. I’ve learned so much about myself through travel. Every time I go to a new country, I’m always surprised at how different people are and also how similar people are — we all want the same things.
I’ve mentioned three of Airbnb’s different Inspirations series, but there are many more that I encourage you to go check out!
Designing for Disabilities
Empathy is a quality characteristic of Airbnb’s work, and another reason why I appreciate the company. They encourage conversations about real problems users might have in order to tweak and re-design to improve user experience. I mentioned before that I took a course in UX design while studying abroad in Cape Town. One of the first and most important lessons we learned is to always put yourself in the shoes of your audience––these are the people who will be using your app or product and experiencing the impact of your work.
“To design effectively, we need to continually question our assumptions and find ways to remain aware if and when our solutions don’t work for everyone.”
Airbnb saw the problem of a community where disabled people were not being adequately accommodated for due to lack of information about the accessibility of homes. Previously, they had one simple “wheelchair accessible” option; however, they quickly realized that the one line wasn’t providing sufficient information to guests. As such, they worked collaboratively with the community to identify a new set of features that make a home a better fit for people with disabilities. These include: step-free entry to rooms, wide entryways to accommodate a wheelchair, etc. Furthermore, to ensure that hosts are able to accurately review their home, Airbnb has also included detailed descriptions and measurements for each feature. See how Airbnb worked through the “design, test, iterate” process to make an impact for those with disabilities:
Why I Love Airbnb
Airbnb innovates in ways that other companies do not. Of course, with Chesky and Gebbia both being graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, it’s not completely surprising that the company they create would have design at its core. It was a smart move as well, because experience design couldn’t be more relevant than in a company that needs to build trust between complete strangers––where no trust existed previously. Gebbia’s Ted Talk, which we watched earlier in the semester, makes an important point about Airbnb’s mission to design a community where homes are not meant to separate people from one another, but to connect people.
I re-emphasize this idea of connection not simply because it’s a core concept of Airbnb’s entire business, but because I’ve experienced firsthand the happiness that one can find in being welcomed so openly into another’s home. I’ve stayed in Airbnbs as close to home as New York and as far as Iceland, and I’ve yet to have a bad stay experience. In fact, many times the homeowners have left a kind welcome note, a couple of chocolates, a stack of maps and books about things to do around the area, and even a $10 Starbucks gift card. I truly believe that Airbnb has done something special and will continue to break down social barriers and connect people––through design.
As someone who is hugely passionate about design (UI/UX), this was an enjoyable blog post to write; I hope you enjoyed reading it as well! 🙂
- Does Airbnb provide any form of direct inspiration or home design guidance to hosts on its platform? Especially with the launch of Plus, I would imagine that design is an important aspect of a “high tier” home.
- For Mike: At Payments, has Airbnb ever needed to design to accommodate for payment or transactional issues that arise from differences in culture? If so, what was that like?
- For Mike: I learned that Payments now supports over 70 different currencies. As Airbnb expands into new markets internationally, does it have local teams dealing with each area’s unique form of payment?