Creative Space Beijing
A warm welcome from China's design community.
Last October, a group of people on our product team moved across the globe to Beijing, where they are currently working on new products for China and building developments within our app to improve global experiences. While our Beijing office houses teams like marketing, PR, community, partnerships, public policy and legal counsel, this was the first time a product design team was established in the office.
Having a product team on the ground allows us to work much more closely and quickly across disciplines. In our first few weeks there, we had the opportunity to visit fellow teams of designers at leading local tech companies. Didi Chuxing, Baidu and PPZuche are three such companies that are helping to define what emerging design means within the Chinese market. During this time, we also hosted our first Creative Space event in China. Through these experiences, we exchanged many heartwarming and funny stories about the product development process, and had some great conversations about the future of design in China.
Since it’s founding in 2012, Didi has grown to become the largest ride-sharing platform in China. Our conversations with the team at Didi ranged from the story of Airbnb’s founding to the ways we work to maintain strong culture within growing design teams, and the benefits and challenges of a universal design language system. One topic that really resonated with our team during this visit was our shared dedication to long-term brand value.
In a competitive landscape like China, it’s easy to become singularly focused on building out competitive features and subsidizing growth. While these are important considerations in the short-term, investing in building brand differentiation is also important for long-term success. We were impressed by Didi’s design-led initiatives like their rebrand, the environment design of their offices and Didi’s very own swag store. Not only do these design projects embody and evangelize their brand, they also play a part in making Didi a unique and interesting place to work.
Baidu is the largest search engine in China. We met with six designers and researchers from the Baidu design team one rainy afternoon to share perspectives on team culture and universal design. The Baidu campus was as impressive as one might expect– complete with futuristic security turnstiles that use facial recognition software.
Shaung, Baidu’s senior design architect for mobile, started off by sharing a bit about the culture of Baidu’s design teams and the work that they do. In the early days, Baidu’s design team was centralized, and maintaining a unified design identity was easy. As the company grew, teams were built up around product lines, losing the ability to meet and work as a group. It’s a challenge we know well at Airbnb— as we grow it becomes difficult to unite people across product disciplines. It was interesting to see the similar challenges that our two teams face, even though we’re working on opposite sides of the world. This visit provided a great opportunity to talk to the designers at Baidu in-depth about preserving a universal design language across teams embedded within so many product lines.
PPZuche is a leading car sharing platform in China. Similarly to Airbnb, building trust between car owners and the people who rent their cars, and bridging online and offline experiences is key to the success of the business. We talked to PPZuche’s design director, Rainie, about incorporating visual storyboarding as a part of their toolset.
In each Airbnb office, including Beijing, a storyboard of the host and guest journey is displayed for everyone to see. This storyboard is more than a beautifully illustrated representation of our mission to connect people across the globe; It’s a daily reminder of our role in facilitating offline experiences between people. Talking to Rainie and the team at PPZuche, we explored the ways in which each car and car owner on their platform are unique, and the importance of establishing the right expectations within their platform to minimize unwanted surprises in offline experiences.
Like Airbnb, so much of the PPZuche user experience takes place in the offline world. Understanding the importance of these experiences back in Airbnb’s early days, our founders actually went out with their cameras and personally took photographs of hundreds of homes to ensure that the photos on the platform accurately reflected our hosts’ homes. It was interesting to see PPZuche involved in the early stages of a similar program. Seeing the product before and after the development of PPZuche’s own photography program drove home the universality of our design challenges, and how much we can all learn from each other.
The welcome we received from designers and their teams in Beijing resulted in some wonderful conversations about the work that we do as designers and the experiences it facilitates.
A dinner gathering
To give special thanks those who welcomed us in Beijing, we hosted an intimate dinner with twelve design and research leads from companies including Didi, Baidu, PPZuche, Alibaba, Microsoft and WePiao. It was the first international edition of our Creative Space series, hosted in an Airbnb that truly embodies what Beijing architecture is all about.
The evening started off with appetizers in the living room, where our head of experience design, Katie Dill, shared a bit about the design culture and process at Airbnb. This sparked some great conversations about the structure of design teams, the tradeoffs of generalists vs. specialists and what designers from different companies are implementing within their own teams.
These discussions continued as we gathered around the dining room table for dinner. We are so glad to have hosted this evening where designers from opposite sides of the globe came together and shared perspectives over a community meal in a welcoming local space.