Airbnb, a company valued at $10 billion, had a tough time getting investors when it launched--in part because two of its co-founders, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, were designers. Today, Gebbia credits a visual sensibility, inspired by design icons Charles and Ray Eames, for much of Airbnb’s success.
--As told to Liz Welch
My role is to think about what the future could be for Airbnb--and that includes crafting an effortless and easy-to-use service on any platform, whether mobile, tablet, or Web. Furniture designers Charles and Ray (his wife) Eames have always informed and guided me in that process. Their ethos was to create the best design for the most people for the lowest price--that has inspired my vision for Airbnb, as have their craftsmanship and attention to every little detail.
They were also incredibly exploratory and experimental, and had a highly iterative process to find the right solution for them, which included experimenting with materials like plywood and molded fiberglass that would suggest new pathways for the form and shape of their furniture. We follow the same path every single day at Airbnb, especially when it comes to creating new products. For example, when we learned that, in addition to their homes, our hosts were offering cooking or surfing classes, or guided hiking or historic tours, we thought, “How can we make it easier for people to discover and book these types of experiences?” We first talked to several hosts in San Francisco and then guests to understand what their needs were.
Then we started experimenting with a product called “experience marketplace” on the Airbnb platform that offers those activities provided by our community. It’s still small. We have a dedicated “things to do” page in San Francisco, for instance, that offers sailing and hiking trips.
The Eameses also never stopped learning. They tried to see the world through a child’s eyes, through the “everything is possible” point of view. I take that to heart as much as I can. A world-changing vision often necessitates a profound simplicity in the user experience. I feel triumphant when our moms can use Airbnb without their technically inclined kids. Creating the future means having a global vision and an extreme focus on the approachability of what we’re creating. Our product wouldn’t have been able to sweep across the world without having had great design. Design is the meeting between global vision and making that vision approachable for a global audience.