Airbnb’s design approach

The O’Reilly Design Podcast: Katie Dill on designing for seven billion people, hiring good people, and the triforce.

By Mary Treseler
October 14, 2015
Colonnes chapiteaux pantheon Colonnes chapiteaux pantheon (source: Wikimedia Commons)

In this week’s Design Podcast episode, I chat it up with Katie Dill, head of experience design at Airbnb. Dill talks about Airbnb’s values; the relationship between design, engineering, and product management; and what Airbnb looks for when hiring. Dill also will be keynoting at O’Reilly’s inaugural Design Conference.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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We have a few different ways of looking at the values that are behind our work and the way we do our work, and the team behind it. For a starting point, our company has core values. There are six points, which are actually on our website, that drive the values of all the people that work here. Some of which are things like championing the mission or embracing the adventure and having an entrepreneurial spirit.

Pretty much behind all the design work — and the thinking and processes of the people that work here — are three values we hold dear: being a host, simplifying, and every frame matters. Those three become really powerful in our design decisions and we translate that to our work. So, in being a host, we think about how we use the digital platforms that we design for to help people along in their journey, to invite them into an experience or a new part of the world. … Even our content choices, the language that we use, we try to make it really comforting, accessible, very human, just like a host would. That same thing goes with simplify. We want to be clear and to the point, and so we reduce the noise. Every frame matters references the frames of a storyboard, so every frame meaning that every point in the journey matters. … It’s not just about one screen that someone looks at or it’s not just about the app; it’s not just about one moment in time.

We’re not design-driven, but we’re also not engineering driven and we’re not product driven. Our viewpoint is that a company is not going to create the best impact or the best experience or deliver the best value for users or stakeholders as driven by one of these particular disciplines or pillars. Our view is that it’s through the collaboration of these different pillars, which we call the “triforce” — product management, design and research, engineering and data science — it is through these three pillars working together that we have the most impact.

We look to hire is people that have humility, craft, and hustle. The reason for that is that yes, we want the best designers on the planet working here,and people that have exceptional craft and taste, and care about every detail and do their work with pride, but of course, that bit that you mentioned is that they have to leave their ego at the door. We’re designing for our users at the end of the day, and it’s not for us, it’s for them.

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