Airbnb is a unicorn.
Today, they are valued at 25.5 billion according to CBI Insights.
Once upon a time, however, Airbnb didn’t have millions of hosts and guests connecting all over the world. Much like other tech companies, Airbnb came from humble beginnings.
So what was it that transformed them from a failing business with a clever idea into a billion dollar company?
The answer involves a lot of things — growth hacking, smart leadership, great investments, perfect timing, and good luck.
But there’s one thing that served as the jet fuel for their takeoff: killer website design principles.
Without amazing design, Airbnb probably wouldn’t be where it is today — sitting on billions of dollars of valuation.
The simple, straightforward design that you see on Airbnb’s website and app is more than just an aesthetic choice, it’s a model that’s deeply rooted in their DNA.
Principles ranging from building a smaller, better-connected world to following your passions wherever they may take you – are at the heart of Airbnb’s brand.
And all of that is reflected in its design.
Between copywriting (“belong anywhere”) and imagery (people coming together to share culture and experiences), to the content on their site (how-tos on becoming a host to earn extra money for passion projects or trips of your own), it all comes together to create a site that is more than just a service where you can book a stay or rent out your spare room.
I want to take you into the details of Airbnb’s design.
Why? Because, by following their principles you can borrow some of their success.
If you’re looking to better your customers’ online (and mobile!) experience – and why wouldn’t you want to do that? – take a lesson from Airbnb. Here are some of the things that they do absolutely right, and how you can adopt their techniques for use on your own site.
Educate your audience.
Getting someone to open their home up to strangers is not an easy task.
Maybe the purpose of your website isn’t as high stakes as Airbnb, but even if you’re just trying to get people to choose your product over some other, it helps to incentivize things a little.
How do you incentivize?
Well, you can do what Airbnb does. On Airbnb, the extra money people can make from renting out their space is a huge incentive for people to join.
On the flip side, cheaper rates and unique experiences are a big pull for travelers using Airbnb.
But if money isn’t enough, Airbnb’s site does a great job at teaching people the benefits and guidelines to sharing space, especially with others from different backgrounds and cultures.
They explain how those kinds of experiences don’t have to be scary or stressful but instead can help you meet new people, learn, share, and build a global community.
You don’t have to offer cash, savings, discounts, or free gifts. Instead, you can educate and inform your audience.
It’s worked for Airbnb, and with a successful content marketing strategy, it can work for you, too.
The takeaway: Teach your users about the process of your business, whatever it may be, and paint things in a positive light. You can do this in the content you produce, the kinds of imagery you use, and the tone you choose to go with in your copy. It also helps to point out incentives like savings, coupons, contests, and intangible benefits like unique experiences your customers aren’t going to get somewhere else.
Create editorial content that gives your users a reason to be there.
Sure, people are always going to need to travel for one reason or another, but Airbnb works hard to inspire people to go out and explore.
Along with lists of popular destinations, Airbnb highlights places close by that would be perfect for a weekend trip, or places that people maybe haven’t thought of, including some sightseeing ideas.
With the added bonus of cheaper rates, more spontaneous trips are possible and Airbnb’s site helps foster those journeys.
The takeaway: Editorial content that goes above and beyond the basic function of your site adds depth to the experience and it actually gives users a reason to visit your site over others.
You’ll see even more business with editorial content that frames your service in a different light and inspires customers to use it for fun rather than just necessity.
But most importantly, make sure that the content is easily accessible or appears in front of your visitors in the right place and at the right time.
Tell a story.
With content, it’s really easy to just make a bunch of clickbaity listicles and call it good.
But personalized storytelling brings a kind of approachability and shareability that other kinds of content does not.
On Airbnb, stories from travelers and people who rent out their space actually puts a face to the whole operation.
If someone goes on Airbnb and they’re feeling a little uneasy about the idea of sharing space with strangers, real (positive) stories from actual customers will make them feel a lot better about the idea.
Not only does it make the concept a little easier to swallow, but those stories are great inspiration for someone who maybe wants to travel but can’t afford hotels. It also appeals to someone looking to earn some extra money who wouldn’t have thought of Airbnb as an option before reading about it.
The takeaway: Telling your brand’s story and sharing stories from your users keeps visitors engaged and makes your business seem much more relatable.
Evoke some emotion from your customers with compelling stories and content and you’ll leave a lasting impression that will make them much more likely to participate instead of just writing your business off as another wannabe.
Say it with pictures.
Airbnb’s site is full of pictures. This is for a good reason.
You could easily lose an hour on there just flipping through different places and daydreaming about going to each city you come across. The pictures on each listing make it easy to, well…just picture yourself there.
That’s exactly what Airbnb wants you to do.
The giant, full bleed images and videos on Airbnb’s site are perfect in this context and in keeping with today’s digital branding trends.
The images on their landing page are carefully curated to create a kind of dream board of destinations. You can’t really help but click through to see more from that place. At the same time, the grid layout they use helps provide the necessary structure to keep from overwhelming you with visuals.
The takeaway: Picking the right images for your website is imperative to telling a story, enticing users, and just creating a beautiful website in the first place. The bright, colorful, aspirational images are perfect for Airbnb.
Even if your website might be better suited to more restrained imagery, you can still draw inspiration from the selection and arrangement of the images on Airbnb’s site.
Use icons well (or don’t use them at all).
Airbnb’s website benefits from super clean and simple design, and the icons they use on the site absolutely play a part in that. With a couple of stylized icons they’re able to condense a bunch of information and organize it into a way that’s easy to read and isn’t overwhelming.
The takeaway: Icons can be super helpful for cutting down on copy and helping people find their way through your site without having to read everything.
That said, if you use confusing, repetitive, or mismatched icons you’re not getting the point of using icons in the first place. If someone has to stop and decipher what your icon means, it’s not doing its job.
Make navigation super easy.
Whether you’re looking to list your space, find a room at a specific destination, or you’re just looking for ideas on where you should go, it’s super easy to find your way around Airbnb’s site and find exactly what you’re looking for.
Yes, the use of icons and images helps to move people through a site, but nothing beats a sensible, well-planned structure. Once you have that, then you can start building out content over those bones.
The takeaway: People aren’t going to waste their time trying to figure out your site navigation. If things aren’t intuitive, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Even if you have amazing content, it’s not going to do you any good if people get frustrated and click out of your site before it has fully loaded.
Translate everything to mobile.
Responsive design is king nowadays. On Airbnb, whether you use their website, their mobile site, or their app, you’re going to have the same experience and recognize a similar layout.
It makes sense for Airbnb to have such a strong mobile and app experience. After all, travelers will want to access their site on the go. So many people browse, buy, and share from their phones that it’s now necessary to cater to both web and mobile users equally.
When you’re designing for desktop, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy in the long run if you’re keeping the mobile version in mind. A lot of information and detail can be lost on a smaller screen, so as much editing you can do up top to condense imagery and copy to just the need-to-know information, the better your mobile version will be.
Also, think about how mobile visitors use your site. In the case of Airbnb, people most likely identify the homes, apartments and yurts they want to stay at on mobile and then book them when they get to a desktop computer. Therefore, bookmarking and sharing listings (say via text, email or social) might be a very important mobile function for Airbnb users. Think about how you can improve the mobile experience – meaning the way your visitors use your site or service on a mobile device. Not just how it collapses, slides and fits on a mobile device.
The takeaway: Reality is, most people use their phones just as much as their computers, maybe even more.
If your app or the mobile version of your website isn’t just as good as the desktop version you’re going to lose people. Basically, don’t put a bunch of energy into making a beautiful website and then skimp out on the mobile version.
Good design helps Airbnb become the success that it is today. From the imagery, the copywriting, all the way to the barebones site map, the entire experience is designed to make users feel good about using Airbnb.
A beautiful website isn’t just nice to look at. As Airbnb demonstrates, the site has to be functional and thoughtful, too.
If you’re looking to create a minimal, useful, and beautiful website, Airbnb’s a true inspiration.
What are some of Airbnb’s design principles that you want to implement on your website?
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