How AirBnB uses Design Thinking in Projects – An Example

  • AirBnB - Headquarter
    Slide through the gallery to get some impressions of AirBnB’s working culture (the image shows AirbnB’s SF headquarter).
  • AirBnB - Office Space 06
    AirBnB — Entrance Hall
  • AirBnB - Office Space 03
    AirBnB — Entrance Hall
  • AirBnB - Houseboat Deck
    AirBnB — Houseboat Deck
  • AirBnB - Welcome 01
    AirBnB — Welcome Desk
  • AirBnB - Welcome 02
    AirBnB — Welcome Desk Area
  • AirBnB - Welcome 04
    AirBnB — Miniatures from original AirBnB listings
  • AirBnB - Customer Story Walls 01
    AirBnB — Empathy: Customer Story Walls 01
  • AirBnB - Customer Story Walls 02
    AirBnB — Empathy: Customer Story Walls 02
  • AirBnB - Work Spaces 01
    AirBnB — Work spaces: Every meeting room is named after a country and furnished/replicated after original listings from the country
  • AirBnB - Work Spaces 02
    AirBnB — Work spaces: Every meeting room is named after a country and furnished/replicated after original listings from the country
  • AirBnB - Work Spaces 04
    AirBnB — Work spaces: Every meeting room is named after a country and furnished/replicated after original listings from the country
  • AirBnB - Work Spaces 05
    AirBnB — Work spaces: Every meeting room is named after a country and furnished/replicated after original listings from the country
  • AirBnB - Work Spaces 03
    AirBnB — Work Spaces: Flexible office space
  • AirBnB - Work Spaces 06
    AirBnB — Work Spaces: Flexible office space
  • AirBnB - Host Personas
    AirBnB — Host Persona Production
  • AirBnB - Miniature Homes 01
    AirBnB — Miniature Homes
  • AirBnB - Miniature Homes 02
    AirBnB — Miniature Homes
  • AirBnB - Miniature Homes 03
    AirBnB — Miniature Homes
  • AirBnB - Employee Gallery 01
    AirBnB — Employee Gallery
  • AirBnB - Welcome 05
    AirBnB — Entrance Hall
  • AirBnB - Patio
    AirBnB — Patio

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The AirBnB user base is quite diverse. Sometimes the situation arises that a request does not match the host’s lifestyle or expectations of what a »proper guest« may look and behave like (just think of young Berlin party tourists trying to book the quiet apartment of an elderly couple). In such or similar occasions the likelihood of hosts rejecting or not responding is relatively high. Even though one might feel sympathetic to the host’s decision, the user experience for the guest breaks. Especially inexperienced first time users are unlikely to come back. AirBnB knows exactly, that running a multi-sided platform model entails the mediation and facilitation of user relations. It therefore has to find ways to resolve or prevent such conflicts, e.g. by adequately matching certain user profiles. In order to do that however it first had to know why hosts reject, i.e. what are reasons that aren’t understood yet and how may they be addressed?


AirBnB knows exactly, that running a multi-sided platform model entails the mediation and facilitation of user relations.


The resulting and still ongoing »Why Hosts Reject« initiative is a good present example for AirBnB’s devotion to deliver the best user experience possible. They made it a focus area and formed a team to conduct an in-depth foundational research in which Insights and Analytics teams work closely together. Data from 100 quantitative surveys (closed and open-ended) with hosts who recently said »no« was triangulated with insights from analytics as well as with one-to-one interview follow-ups with selected respondents. They found a myriad of often emotional and logistical problems and reasons, e.g. merely insufficient information on the guest’s background, weirdly worded messages with lots of scribal errors or inaccurate representations of availability in the hosts calendar, to name but a few. After data analysis and synthesis the team ended up with a tree-structure-like taxonomy of reasons why hosts say no.

Unfortunately we are not allowed to share detailed contents of the taxonomy here, as similarly to the »Snow White« project this is handled as classified information. Nonetheless we can say, that it emerged as an elaborated visual representation during the synthesis sessions: “Even the fact that we took the time to beautifully communicate this, is a definitive example of [the design thinking posture] here, which is pretty special. You might say it’s not that important. But it helps to communicate to a large audience in here”, Sasha Lubomirsky, AirBnB’s Head of User Research, rapturously points out. “We now have our own map with the top categories of the taxonomy and we’re working through them right now” she continues. This is done by using existing host and guest personas as a lens to approach problem areas from the taxonomy. Some personas act more as property mangers whereas others are more concerned about personal relations to the guest they are renting out to.


The taxonomy helped us to formulate those very well-informed hypotheses. […] When you understand the problem, the solution is way more straightforward. If you understand the problem, the ideas follow!

Sasha Lubomirsky, Head of User Research at AirBnB


The team now focuses on situations, where those problem fields and personas are involved, which might have the biggest impacts when they get resolved. This is done by small experiments on the platform, e.g. making hosts more comfortable by providing them with more custom-tailored information about their guests. Sasha is very clear on the fact that it was “the taxonomy that helped us to formulate those very well-informed hypotheses. […] When you understand the problem, the solution is way more straightforward. If you understand the problem, the ideas follow!” The »Rejection Taxonomy« therefore stands as one good example for AirBnB’s lived design thinking practice, which values the user experience above everything else, even if the company is growing fast.

 


Host rejection taxonomy: This is #designthinking at @airbnb. What’s your story?
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About AirBnB

AirBnB is community marketplace for all kinds of accommodations. It enables people to list, discover and book their properties to guests via their website or smartphone applications. Listings range from apartments, villas and tree houses to castles, boats and other eccentric places at any price point imaginable. So far it has over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries.

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