Co-designing with Hosts

How collaboration shaped our new mobile experience

Categories: Behind the Scenes — Jenny Arden

Imagine you’re a new host about to welcome your first guest. You’ve prepared for this moment– made the bed with fresh sheets, set out clean towels, maybe even picked up some fresh flowers and a selection of teas to brighten your guest’s morning. Then you get a message from your guest: They’re on their way, but the cab driver needs directions. No problem. You’ve got this. Tap, tap, tap…send message. Wait, did that go through? You double check. Did the Internet do its job? Is your guest really on their way? You send another message to see if they got the first one. After all, no one wants to be lost in a new city.


Communication is key

I was recently one of those lost guests, frantically messaging with my host from an airport arrivals curb. I had a tired 5 month old baby on my hip and a dying mobile phone in my hand. My host was my connection to a hot shower and a quiet place for my family to rest. She was gracious and quick to respond. Not only did she patiently reiterate the directions, she even offered to grab us a few things at the grocery store from where she was messaging.

It turns out that this happens a lot. At Airbnb, we connect hosts from around the world with guests who want to experience what it’s like to live in their area. Among this vast and vibrant host community, one trait is universal: our hosts must successfully manage a significant amount of communication in order to make sure all guests feel welcomed and informed. In fact, we know that timely communication is so vital to successful Airbnb experiences that we made it a criteria for reaching Superhost status. This is why we have made significant investments over the past few months in the highest impact communication tool we have to offer – our mobile app.


Why mobile?

We heard from many hosts during last year’s Airbnb Open that our mobile app is crucial for managing day-to-day tasks. Unlike guests who may use Airbnb a handful of times a year when they travel, our hosts use the platform daily to respond to messages, prepare for arrivals and ensure their calendar is always up to date. Of course, our hosts also have their own busy lives outside of hosting. They are artists, athletes, full-time moms, professional hospitality providers and people who work 9-5 jobs. They manage all of this on the go, while welcoming guests on a daily basis. In order to make this happen, the tools they rely on need to be easy to use, fast and highly dependable. Through host feedback my team learned that hosting is inherently mobile, so Airbnb should have the best possible mobile app to meet those needs.

This project also gave us an opportunity use our newly implemented DLS system to build a new mobile hosting experience. The goal of the DLS is to help close the gap between designers and developers by leveraging a universal design language. This allows us to make a variety of products that feel more like a close family than distant relatives.


Our hosts are the experts

There was one more gap we wanted to close. Now that our internal work across disciplines is more seamless, we felt it was time we extend that process outward. My team began by creating a series of prototypes as conversation starters with our hosts. We continually met with hosts from around the world, and every conversation we had triggered new insights that helped us create the features they needed. Throughout the design process, our hosts co-designed this experience with us so that it covered their day-to-day needs. Once complete, we will have created dozens of functional prototypes and met with over 100 hosts (40% of whom live outside the US) in 8 countries.

A young woman writes on a post it on a bulletin board.

Using this process, my team was able to make significant improvements that streamline our hosts’ interactions with the mobile app. We started with small changes, like moving the Inbox to the first screen instead of having it hidden 4 clicks into a menu. We also dove into more complicated aspects of hosting like time and task management. Hosting is a lot like operating a small business. Our hosts must be their own marketing, customer service, operations, sales and sometimes housekeeping – all in one. Having a calendar to manage all their activity is vital, which is why we prototyped and tested over 40 different designs to make sure we got it right.

A screenshot of design prototypes for host interactions.

Collaborative design

In the end, it was our hosts who shaped the new calendar views. They helped us design the calendar so that it’s not only clear what’s happening over the next couple of days, but also easier to manage pricing and quickly block out dates. This allows hosts to update their calendars on the go when, for instance, they need the space while friends are visiting from out of town.

Hosts also gave us new feature ideas. For example, we often saw hosts using a word document saved on their computer with answers to commonly asked questions. When guests asked a question, hosts would reference their document to copy and paste their prewritten responses. Of course, this system doesn’t work very well on mobile, which is why we introduced message templates. Now hosts can store those same answers within the mobile app and easily respond to common questions within seconds. Now, next time your new guest asks for directions from the airport you’ll have the answer ready and waiting for them with the tap of a finger.

A screenshot of designs for mobile message templates.

Over the next couple of months you will start to see these new features on Apple iOS and Android. With theses host-inspired improvements, hosts should find the app faster, easier and more reliable than before. Now our hosts can focus less on on-line tasks and more on off-line activities– like grabbing a few things from the grocery store to help out travel-weary guests like me.  We enjoyed meeting and working with many of our hosts on the new mobile experience designed specifically for them.



Jenny Arden is a Design Manager at Airbnb. She’s also an endurance athlete, cookie recipe inventor, and new mom.

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