Airbnb – inside a design-led business

In this documentary, we visit Airbnb’s San Francisco headquarters and speak to co-founder Joe Gebbia to find out about how the company is using design to develop and grow.

Airbnb was founded in 2008 by Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, both graduates of Rhode Island School of Design, along with third co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk.

The service allows people to find and rent homes around the world. It now operates in 190 countries and has more than 1,500,000 listings in 34,000 different cities.

In this documentary, we go behind the scenes at Airbnb’s headquarters in San Francisco, to find out how the company is taking a design-led approach as it grows and develops.

Forging a design-led approach

We speak to co-founder Joe Gebbia, who tells us about what building a design-led business is like and how Airbnb ruffled feathers in Silicon Valley by taking a “non-scaleable” design approach to problems, rather than relying on code.

We also speak to Airbnb’s environment’s design lead Aaron Taylor Harvey and his colleague (and wife) Rachael Yu.

They tell us what it’s like to be designers in a design-sympathetic business and also how Airbnb is using its office design to try to recreate the experience of staying in one of its listings.

Comments (13)
  • Rob Calvern 18th April 2016 at 5:39 pm

    This is one of the most over rated identity designs for quite some time. Its all surface and shine but dig bit deeper its not overly authentic.

    • Scutterly 18th April 2016 at 6:20 pm

      Care to explain how you come to that conclusion. Your attention to fact and reasoning is……somewhat lacking.

    • Brave Thinking 19th April 2016 at 11:08 am

      I’m confused over your comments, its like some kind of school yard jealousy. How is it not authentic? Are you suggesting its a copy? And if so of what?

  • Adrian Walker 19th April 2016 at 12:49 pm

    I find it strange that the founders who say that they are great designers, where unable to design their own identity and asked DesignStudio to do if for them. I think it would be better (and they would be respected more) if they had said that they understand good design.

    • Jamie Gallagher 19th April 2016 at 9:27 pm

      Why would they spend the time and resource doing that? They are entrepreneurs with huge amounts of balls in the air, their skill was in commissioning the right people and allowing them the freedom to do the best job they could – which, all the flack from designers aside, is a hugely successful job – designers are great at criticising high-profile branding jobs, but lets look at the success of the brand, and the success of the works that the design community regard as ‘cool’ then judge which was actually the more effective, or ‘better’ piece of work. DesignStudio did a great job here I’d say.

      • Clive Jones 24th May 2016 at 10:10 pm

        I agree wholeheartedly Jamie… I’m an old designer and love the apparent simplicity of the logo and the way it fits perfectly with the design conscious ethos of their brand. I have the same opinion about the Instagram rebrand… but that’s another whole can of worms I guess.

      • Paul 3rd August 2016 at 5:52 pm

        I totally agree with Jamie on this one. The fact that it should be suggested that the founders should design their own branding is a lack of understanding about what branding at a large scale and having a vision really is. I think many designers still base branding solely on the creative process/output which is a short sighted view. That vision strategy set by the founders has to be set in everything airbnb do, from the staff they hire, their digital platforms, tone of voice, marketing strategy, customer service, corporate social responsibility, etc…a lot dot joining to try and deliver – so there are potentially a lot of agencies and specialist people required with different skill sets to help them achieve their vision! I’m a fan of using agencies as well as having some in house input, as agencies have less of an emotional stake in the company, which can make their decision making less biased or skewed!

      • Ikem 3rd August 2016 at 6:01 pm

        I totally agree with Jamie on this one. It slightly devalues the craftsmanship of using a quality branding agency to suggest that it could be done effectively in house because the owners say they’re creative. Unless you’re resourced like ITV Studios or Sky Creative, you’d probably want an agency to bring fresh ideas and an impartial point of view, plus all the research and strategy they can throw at it. Founders and entrepreneurs have a lot to think about when starting or evolving a company. Branding is more than just about the creative process/output – it’s the set of ideas, vision and an aspiration in everything airbnb do, from the staff they hire, their digital platforms, tone of voice, marketing strategy, customer service, corporate social responsibility, etc…a lot dot joining and strategic thinking6 to try and deliver.

    • Mavrick 19th July 2016 at 1:05 am

      Yo, that’s what’s up trtufhully.

  • Andrew Benson 26th April 2016 at 9:09 am

    Love the Airbnb logo and identity.

  • Matt Roth 28th September 2016 at 1:41 pm

    I completely agree. Its all a bit shiny shiny but thats Design Studio in a nutshell.

  • Graeme 15th November 2016 at 4:23 am

    I hate to be the one to point this out:

    http://thenextweb.com/dd/2015/09/07/30-year-belo/

    Quite sad, given the story that was spun around the creation of the new mark had so much resonance.

  • […] You will need a Festival Pass to attend this talk but if you can’t make it, you can watch our Age of Design documentary featuring Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia here. More details can be found […]

  • […] Airbnb was a great example. Its founders are design school graduates, but not only did the business originate as an entirely unique concept, it’s continued to take a design-led approach as it grows and develops from branding to working environment and its understanding of data. You can watch an interview on how it’s applying design principles here […]

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