Tl;dr - We mocked up what a deeper social experience on Airbnb would look like! You can check how our 2nd Place entry in the Adobe Creative Jam.
On April 24th, 2020, my friends, Renaise and Tommy, invited me to join them on an Adobe Creative Jam. A short design sprint would ideate and mockup a solution to a corporate sponsor's design prompt. This writeup will serve as a small little explainer behind the motivations of why we picked the feature that we wanted to design- and the opportunity that presents to Airbnb as they scale forward to becoming a public company.
Airbnb is one of the few products that could be a positive-sum for all involved. By allowing hosts to monetize their spaces to get extra income, some have built small rental empires and craft unique memories for those who stay there. For people looking for a different way to travel, there lie enjoyable stays for all on the platform. To make this work: Airbnb offers a unique value proposition as a two-sided marketplace focusing on trust. This strategy was able to enact a profound shift in consumer behavior.
Airbnb Co-founder Joe Gebbia notably stressed in a TED talk that design is instrumental to Airbnb's success
The product its self is deceptively simple. A user will find a section of the site dedicated to searching via locale, allowing for filters like price. On the other side, a portion of the product is focused on hosts that enable them to manage their listings. There is a lot of business logic handled by the company in pricing, reviews, and discovery that can have essays dedicated to the intricacies of how Airbnb operates.
I usually approach a novel space that I haven't thought deeply about to naively list the intuitions around the problems of the market. Doing so can help us initially capture the market problems that Airbnb might face. In business, it is my opinion that any issue not solved by you is money left on the table for your competition. There are caveats to this line of thinking- products must balance features and execution.
First, the team and I started crudely listing issues that might arise in the journey map between guests and their hosts.
- Comparing listings
- Finding a good time range
- Coordinating guests
- Sharing their trips
- Planning events not tied to their stay
- Trusting their guest will follow the rules
- Management of the location: keeping information up to date
- Ensuring that the guest's needs are met
- Pricing and promotion
- Making sure that the reviews on the listing drive traffic
We looked at the founding story of Airbnb to make sure that we captured the founding vision of the product. The feature that we wanted to design had to make sure that it felt like a native part of the application yet also delivering on the service's value prop. One of the moments that Brian Chesky highlighted when he described renting out his San Francisco apartment was that both the host and the guest thoroughly enjoyed their stay. We knew that any feature added had to be a positive-sum for both parties on the app.
Then we were able to distill this scenario into a challenge that we felt that we could solve.
Crossing User Journeys
Example sharable artifact that formed an assumption about user behavior
We recognized while we were listing the issues we noticed a common theme of discernment. For potential guests, we noticed that they would parse through hundreds of reviews to make sure they are confident in their decision to book. For hosts, we noticed that they would be primarily concerned about the trustworthiness of groups and guests.
After we mapped the user journey- we noticed it was quite common for those who went on vacations to index on sharing. For some it was writing reviews, but for most, people would share their artifacts on Snapchat or Instagram.
There also was a need to improve the group booking experience. When users are planning an itinerary- all they can do is add and list bookings to keep everyone on the same page. However, when a trip is in progress- we noticed that the Airbnb app remained in the background. From a business standpoint, there are opportunities to cross-promote experiences and upsell as a trip was on-going. Increasing the application's stickiness would be essential to keep the journey and Airbnb top of mind while driving up the customer's lifetime value.
From a reviews standpoint, we noticed that the listings' reviews were primarily text-based and didn't have enough visual content to cross-reference some of the well-taken photos of a staged listing. We understood that Airbnb stresses to hosts to stage their listing to look as lovely as possible- but we also understand that places might look better online than they might in person. We felt a gap in having a resource that can positively confirm the visual data while remaining a benefit to hosts was crucial.
We then asked what if we had a section on the app that allowed guests to upload their photos of the trip so all of their friends can get access to their journey. We felt that like the Nike Run Club app that would produce sharable artifacts, we felt that users should do so on Airbnb. This would bake in plenty of user journeys that are taken outside of the Airbnb product experience. One of which is having people ask you about your booking, the experiences, and allowing others to book your trip and experiences if you so felt that you wanted to do so.
One additional consideration we made was how to make sure that this feature was a net benefit. A fond experience I had early in Airbnb's lifecycle was when the host came while we were checking out; they offered to take photos of the party, moving the relationship beyond a mere vendor. With these sharable artifacts, we wanted to make sure that whatever was produced- there is a benefit to both the host and the guest.
After we were able to square away the need, we then looked to the feature. Usually, writing marketing copy/press release helps a team mentally position the feature so we can derive the utility. Although unorthodox, doing this exercise helps the team know if we would fulfill the value we can offer. If not, we rework the feature to make sure that the benefit hypothesis is clear.
Journals is a unified portal to keep your trips organized by listing and curating events that your group has booked to keep everyone on the same page. Group members can post photos, stills or ephemeral to share memories to close friends and family. At the end of the trip, journals will help you curate and share those memories to even those who weren’t physically with you but spiritually there.
This snippet helped us gate the requirements. We realized in order to make all of the customers happy- we needed to design the following.Translated to a more concrete requirement, this would look like a collaborative photo journal with the ability to decorate it in a way that delights users. This collaborative photo journal can be shared with people who aren't booked on the trip, and as users go on trips, they can get location-specific charms to add to the feature.
- Collaborative album
- Group itinerary improvements
- Polls on itinerary
- Featured Journals on listings
- Journal Discovery
This also helped us see what a roadmap for this feature look like.
- Group leader can post announcements
- AI generated montage videos
- Remote Trip (Inviting people who aren’t physical guests but want visibility)
- Share Journal with host
- Share completed trips/itineraries
- Re-book completed trips
Translated to a more concrete requirement, this would look like a collaborative photo journal with the ability to decorate it in a way that delights users. This collaborative photo journal can be shared with people who aren't booked on the trip and as users go on trips, they can get location specific charms to add to the feature.
Process and Result
We used Airbnb's Online Experiences and Design Language System as inspiration to create a brand new feature that snugly fits into the Airbnb ecosystem.
Then we drove our focus into positioning. One of the most important lessons I have learned in my career in Product Management is that if you ship a feature and users don't know how to get there- you should have never shipped the feature.
So we first spent time designing where the feature would be highlighted in the UI. Renaise and I focused on the discoverability, coming up with a fresh new card that drew attention to the Journals, but without overpowering the understated design that Airbnb aims for in their listings. We felt that the journal cards would be a tremendous improvement to listing pages if hosts wanted to add additional context to guests who were willing to share more about their trips.
We also noticed when Airbnb adds a new feature, and it tends to grab a pretty large spotlight, so we focused on how it would be featured on the main screen. Adding carousels with a card design that emphasized people on the trips would draw people to investigate the feature.
However, this is half of the battle for parties on Airbnb to take advantage of the feature. Users would also need to be onboarded.
In this case, we decided to incorporate the feature in a familiar area to most travelers. That would be the trips section; when a user books a trip with a group, they will get a notification showing that they have a new journal made. (Sane defaults mean that the Journal is private)
However, in the booking, whenever they would view the booking section, we added an area to the page that the party already checks frequently, increasing the exposure to the feature while also increasing the potential for serendipitous social interactions on the app.
In product design, it is crucial for what you decide to design and what you don't. We made a conscious decision to steer away from a traditional feed or synchronous social because we know that other social apps can do a better job (and are preferred by users) on staying in touch with friends. In Airbnb's case, much like one can nostalgically look at your iPhone's Wallet app and see the plane tickets you have. Journals can serve as long term sharable storage in line with Airbnb's mission to create memories for travelers.
We spent time designing screens that explain what users can add to the Journal and sections filled with suggested content. Since Journals is a sort of extended catalog that supersedes a group chat, we allowed users to post polls, see recommended areas to visit and upload content that captures the moment. One user behavior that the team was keen to pick up on was that many content creators would use Snapchat or TikTok to generate photos or videos but would save and not post. Hence, we felt that Airbnb would be out of place to request social media access and just allowed users to upload what they already made.
All in all, in 48 hours we felt that we produced a formidable result. Upon reflection on the XD board, we had a few gems in the collaborative process this was one of those features we wish we had the chance to actually build. Luckily with prototyping software getting better, we had the chance to, which you can play around with here. Our work was able achieve 2nd place among 1,500 entries into the competition.
Product managers and designers of all stripes know that release day is just the first day despite all of the great work done by a hypothetical team. I would have set up a dashboard that would have tracked the amount of "active" Journals created. Ideally, we would get a percentage of group trips and see who at least interacted with the media presented on the page and set that as a baseline. We would also want to drive better business outcomes, see if the number of experiences booked increases due to the highlights in the feature. Interesting 2nd order effects worthy of observation are seeing if the number of group trips increases because of the feature's social nature. It might increase the group itinerary feature's discoverability.
...and if anyone from Airbnb would love to build this, my email is listed on my personal website.