House of Cards

Why playing cards took center stage in our latest fellowship project

Categories: Behind the Scenes — Sally Carmichael


What did you set out to accomplish in your fellowship project?

I wanted to create an experience that could bring people together in a genuine and familiar way.


How did you land on the idea of playing cards?

During my first few weeks, I was charmed and enamored with the culture here. There’s a culture of showing hospitality to those around you and creating an environment of belonging that really resonated with me. I initially thought this would be the focus of my project, but it evolved to celebrate the global hospitality of our hosts and guests. I wanted to capture the dynamics of their exchanges; meals, conversation, keys, and travel tips. These eventually got more specific and playful with things like pizza, toilet paper, and polaroids.

It was important to me to create something analog that enabled an offline experience, especially one that could universally transcend language barriers. Playing cards seemed like the perfect format: they’re rooted in cultures around the world, collected and gifted as souvenirs, and were introduced to new regions by travelers.



What were some challenges you encountered during this process?

Tackling illustration was a rigorous, but fun challenge for me, especially when it came to focusing on people and their actual likeness. I didn’t have much illustration experience when I first made the decision to create an entire deck of cards, so figuring out a style that worked for me was key.


It was important to me to create something analog that enabled an offline experience; especially one that could transcend language barriers. 


Did collaboration influence the final product? If so, how?

I met with our customer experience, product, and global citizenship teams, each of which helped me to form the foundation for the story I wanted to tell. A byproduct of this was that it connected me to the broader Airbnb culture. It was clear that our culture is defined by our hosts, whose acts of hospitality unite us around the world. My favorite bit of feedback: including three jokers instead of two, one to represent each of our founders.



You’ve transitioned from the fellowship program to a full-time design role since you created this. When you look back, what part of the project was the most rewarding?

I think the biggest reward is when I see people using them. I also love the idea of someone giving it as a gift, or a leave-behind in an Airbnb listing. Cards are meant to be social and shared, so I’d love to see them being used that way.


Photos by David Elliot.

Sally Carmichael is a Graphic Designer at Airbnb. Originally from Kansas City, she loves dumb jokes, hanging out with dogs, and eating french fries in new places.

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