Airbnb: Inspirations


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!

Creative Evolution

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

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.


Redefining Boundaries

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! 🙂


  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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?

9 thoughts on “Airbnb: Inspirations

  1. Incredible post! It was mind-blown to hear some of the stories. Airbnb truly values design at its core, and the “Redefining Boundaries” series is so powerful! I think Airbnb one day may become a pop-culture icon. The accessibility feature echoes with the sentiment from the TED talk we saw–design makes good things happen. Good design fosters trust and, in this case, allows people with disabilities to experience a larger world. I am super excited to visit Airbnb!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post! I love the photo mixtape project, it really exemplifies Airbnb’s goal to bring people around the world together. I also love their commitment to equality, which is so apparent in their effort to make travel easier for people with disabilities. I agree that Gebbia and Chesky’s degrees in design is something that really distinguishes Airbnb. They struggled with investors etc. in the beginning because they didn’t have tech or hospitality backgrounds, but their commitment to design for their customers is what makes Airbnb special.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating post, Clare! I agree that the RISD background and emphasis on design certainly influence the company’s decision-making process. In my opinion, what sets Airbnb apart is how it manages to model the same culture that it ingrains in its customers. The handwritten welcome notes, chocolates, etc. epitomize the culture and connection that drives collaborative consumption today.

    As you point out, Airbnb successfully integrates the same values that drive its growth into its culture, including empathy and Redefining Boundaries. I can’t wait to see how far Airbnb takes this model and the effect it has on breaking down our social barriers!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. I don’t think you could have picked a better part of airbnb to focus on given (like you said) it’s company founders and its creative roots. While most consumer tech companies are in our home in some sense or form, airbnb is unique in that their product is our home. Given how much of life happens in a home, airbnb really is connected with the whole human experience. For that reason, I think they are smart for exploring all these avenues and trying to incorporate this diversity into their company’s culture and vibe.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this post, Clare! As someone who has travelled to many places with a disabled sister, I can greatly appreciate the focus on accommodating people with disabilities – it effectively fulfills the company’s vision of bringing people together. I was also fascinated by the Redefining Boundaries series because I loved Lynsey’s quote that “travel is the best education.” AirBnb is enabling this increased world exposure slowly but surely, and I hope that it encourages more people to step out of their boundaries to gain these new perspectives. Can’t wait for this visit!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This was an awesome post, Clare! I really like how Airbnb is living up to its very broad mission by offering such an amazing and user-focused platform! I booked a room on Airbnb once and it was a very painless process and I realized how awesome it was that I could find somewhere to stay just like that. I never knew how much they invested into design, but I think it is really paying off for them! One of the best things that I learned in class was that you can have the best team in the world and the most funding, but a business will never be successful without a great product. I think that Airbnb’s focus on their product is what will further their success down the road.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post Clare! This was a very interesting post to read in light of AirBnB’s introduction of Plus. I wonder how big of a role these creative projects will play in a feature that emphasizes design and creativity. Plus could form in many different ways, mostly stemming from the idea that AirBnB could help hosts design or let the hosts do most of the work themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved reading this blog post, Clare! The fact that Airbnb revolves around design and user experience is what proves to continue to propel Airbnb to the top of the travel industry. Airbnb has always had a specific vibe that I associate with it: inclusive, positive, accommodating, innovative, and diverse. I have never had a poor or negative experience while staying at an Airbnb. Your post really widened my perspective to just how much design is poured into the experience. I love that artists are incorporated into the process and I truly think that is what gives Airbnb its uniqueness and sets it apart from competition. I’m excited to explore the Mixtapes and Creative Explorations you listed. I find the artistic focal point of the company fascinating and absolutely cannot wait to see it the process in person next week!

    Liked by 1 person

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