Airbnb As A Mutual Friend explores ways to help Airbnb hosts and guests build a more meaningful relationship.
Aug 2017 (2 weeks), Aug 2018 (2 weeks)
Independent Project / User Research, Product Thinking, Interaction Design
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Airbnb and nothing that follows is a criticism on any existing work. This is an exploration on a problem I discovered through talking to other Airbnb hosts and guests I met during my travels.
“People increasingly seek and want to discover the other. Indeed, objects and destinations have no power to transform you. What really transforms you is meeting people.”— Brian Cheskey, Co-founder of Airbnb
This case study is an iteration of the First Date concept I did as a two-week long design sprint back in August 2017. It explores ways to use design to set clearer expectations on both parties’ willingness to interact and help them learn about each other before they meet in order to help them build a meaningful relationship. After getting feedback from a designer at Airbnb and hosts and guests from around the world, I revisited the problem space and gave it another try in August 2018.
Let’s dive in 🚀
Guests find it easy to find a place to stay on Airbnb, but those who look to experience a new place like a local through interacting with hosts cannot find the right host. On the other side, hosts who enjoy traveling through meeting new guests from around the world lack information of how much guests are willing to interact with them.
How might we help hosts and guests set a clearer expectation about their relationship?
In August 2017, I came up with First Date concept, where hosts can offer to take guests on a “First Date”, spending time together at hosts’ favorites. While the concept addresses the lack of unclear expectations on both parties’ willingness to interact, it causes bigger problems:
Host fatigue: Hosts, especially the ones who manage multiple listings, experience “host fatigue” from having to stay on top of all the bookings. Making hosts keep up with dates for First Date could make managing more overwhelming.
Discrimination: Hosts, for no justifiable reason, might decline a guest’s request for the whole stay because they don’t want to spend First Date with them. In addition, First Date can cause Airbnb’s platform itself to exclude a certain group of users: for example, hosts and guests who don’t speak the same language (which is 61% of the connections on Airbnb).
Incentives: “This is a great idea, but who is paying?” Although some hosts would be willing to offer First Date as additional services, the extra costs and time make the concept hard to sustain.
With the curiosity to learn more, I set out to do another design sprint. Equipped with new insights, I want the solutions not to only help build meaningful relationships, but also alleviate discrimination.
I focused on exploring ways to help hosts and guests set a clearer expectation of each other’s willingness to interact and learning about each other. Below are some of the explorations I considered. While these didn’t work, they helped me discover key insights to develop the solution I settled on.
Social Host Program
Similar to how hosts who provide reliable service and accommodation get a Superhost badge, hosts who are social can be awarded a Social Host badge. Guests who are looking into interacting with hosts can filter listings to find the social hosts.
Pros and Cons: It helps sets a clearer expectation for them, but “social” is subjective and hard to measure. It would require a lot of effort to set up the entire program and the metrics of success are difficult to define.
Levels of Interactions
Similar to how hosts can list their amenities, they categorize their level of interactions into high, medium and low, and provide a short description. Guests who are looking into interacting with hosts can filter listings by level of interactions.
Pros and Cons: Again, it helps sets clearer expectations for them, but levels of interactions are subjective e.g. high level of interactions for an introvert host might be considered low level of interactions by a more extrovert guest. The possibilities of this leading to a more misunderstanding and reducing a chance for them to build a meaningful relationship are too high.
Testing these concepts with Airbnb hosts and guests was an important stepping stone to developing the final solution. I learned that hosts already made an effort to set a clearer expectation, but it is hidden under a lengthy About description.
“My listing tries to convey quite a lot, but the message is only as good as how much the guest reads.”
— an Airbnb host (from Airbnb community blog)
In addition, I came across an article Designing for Trust article by Charlie Aufmann, an Experience Design Lead at Airbnb. where he talks about how Airbnb plays a role of a mutual friend that introduces friends at a party. This concept reminded me of how people who share a mutual friend tend to find building relationship easier when they first meet because they have talking points about each other. For example, A and B knows C, C told A and B about each other’s favorite things, A and B then use those as talking points to build a relationship.
How might we translate this experience onto Airbnb?
The solution to help Airbnb hosts and guests build a meaningful relationship I came up with is broken down into 2 parts:
Set a clearer expectations about hosts’ willingness to interact
Provide talking points for hosts and guests to start building a relationship, while alleviating discrimination
Surfacing “Interaction with Guests”
Hosts already made an effort to set a clearer expectation, but it is hidden under a lengthy About description. I surfaced the section on the listing page, placing it above the reviews section. Now, guests can take levels of interactions into account just like how they do with other physical amenities when they shop and compare listings.
Introduction, “What’s Your Favorite?”
Having a clearer expectation is often not enough to build a meaningful relationship. An introduction card with an easy-to-digest information about hosts and guests with information about each other’s favorite things provide talking points to spark meaningful conversations.
Airbnb As A (considerate) Mutual Friend
Introducing two people can go wrong if not done at a right place and time. Airbnb will prompt an invitation for both parties to learn about each other only after the booking is confirmed to avoid guests basing their decisions on hosts’ personalities over the listings themselves.
I started off designing for hosts and guests who are more outgoing and use Airbnb to explore new cultures and meet new people, which don’t make up the majority of Airbnb’s user base. However, by designing to set a clearer expectation for niche group of users, any host and guest will also benefit from it: Guests who want privacy can be sure to get that and hosts who don’t have the time to hang out with the guests won’t be expected to.
Like how designing the world that anyone can belong anywhere is an iterative process, so is this solution. I love translating conversations and observations into design solutions as my personal projects. It helps me understand the world around me and my role as a designer better.
Some further considerations that I would think about if I had more time to work on the project:
Measuring Business Impact: I didn’t start off this project thinking about the business, but as a response to a problem I discovered by chance during my travel. After iterating on the possible solutions and gaining feedback, I realized that it’s difficult to pinpoint how success would look like for a feature like this. I genuinely believe that helping hosts and guests build a more meaningful relationship can help improve their experience traveling with Airbnb, so this would be something I focus on in the future.
Collecting Richer Information: “What’s your favorite” concept requires hosts and guests to provide richer information about themselves. How might we design an experience that is frictionless and low-effort?
A huge thanks to Clara Lam, an Experience Designer at Airbnb who gave insightful feedback to both iterations, and Airbnb hosts and guests around the world I got to know and learned from.
I’m currently a Product Design Intern at Facebook, helping 80 million business owners better leverage Facebook business tools. I’m also building Alcove, a space for people to reconnect with their values and unlock their potential. Previously, I’ve helped build products and learning experiences for IBM, Thai Airways, and Enpeo Consulting.
As an advocate for collaborative learning, I’ve contributed to building a learning culture within teams I’ve worked with. I also co-founded Design Picnic, where I collaborate with Thai designers around the world to create a resource hub for human-centered design for the Thai community.
When I’m not nerding on design and education, I can be found supporting projects by my creative friends and dancing to 80s asian pop music.