Airbnb case study: How design helps cross-culture business

Image from Airbnb blog

One of the recent design-related events I attended was eBay and StubHub: Marketplace Panel and After Party. At the panel, Katie M. Dill, head of Experience Design at Airbnb talked about “Trust”, “Diversity” and “How to maintain branding cross-culture”, which inspired me to do a case study about Airbnb and learn how design helps with its cross-culture business.

Photo taken at the panel, yay front seat!


Building trust essentially means approaching opportunities and challenges with a design-thinking mentality. All the speakers at the panel talked about how design has played a role in building trust — they all put the human experience at the center.

“Trust…brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable.” -IDEO

How does Airbnb help build trust between hosts and guests?

According to Katie, the teams are dedicated to building trust and cultivating a transparent community marketplace. It breaks down to social reputation, communication through profiles, and finding a connecting point. She mentioned there is a video online that explores how Airbnb designs for trust from Joe Gebbia, the co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Airbnb. I found the video very insightful, and would like to share what I thought were the key points (watch his TED talk to learn more).

Screenshot from Joe’s TED talk video
“…We are aiming to build olympic trust between people who’ve never met, could design make that happen? Is it possible to design for trust?”

“A well designed reputation system is the key to building trust”

At the TED talk, Joe demonstrated one of the challenges they faced by asking the audience unlock their phones and hand them over to the person on their left. The audience experienced the kind of trust challenge that Airbnb was facing between it’s hosts and guests. According to Joe, Airbnb did a joint study with Stanford in which they looked at people’s willingness to trust someone based on how similar they are in age, location, and geography. The research showed that we prefer to trust people who are like us. The more different somebody is, the less we trust them, and that’s a natural social bias. When they added reputation (with reviews) into the mix, this is what happened:

  • If you got 1–3 reviews, nothing happens
  • If you got more than 10 reviews, everything changes
Screenshot from Joe’s TED talk video
“…high reputation beats high similarity. The right design can actually help us overcome one of our most deepest rooted biases.”

“Building the right amount of trust takes the right amount of disclosure”

How does Airbnb design for just the right amount of disclosure? They use the size of the box to suggest the right length and guide the users with prompts to encourage sharing.

Screenshot from Joe’s TED Talk video
“Design can overcome our most deeply rooted stranger-danger bias”

“When trust works out, it can be absolutely magical.”

“The connection beyond the transaction is exactly what the sharing economy is aiming for.”

“The sharing economy is commerce with the promise of human connection.”

Author: Jessie Chen

Collect by: