Airbnb, the online community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book accommodation around the world has now over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries, and it like clockwork it just keeps expanding.
Airbnb's mission is not only to help people finding a place to sleep, but about creating the perfect travel experience. So what is a perfect travel experience?
I love travel and I love Airbnb. Also as a lover of design, I wanted to understand how their mission is reflected in their iOS app and if my user research could lead to insight and ideas for improvements.
It's very clear from Airbnb's branding and marketing efforts that the emphasis is on the interpersonal experiences between host and guest, and as a longtime traveler and host myself, I can sign off on that being exactly what makes Airbnb so special to me.
But I also remember all the times where my own trips or having people stay at my place, started out less than perfect only because of misunderstandings or lack of information or communication.
Traveling to a new place and staying with people you don't know, whether the host is there or not, can quickly become a very frustrating experience if you don't have easy access to the information you need when you need it.
For instance, as a guest trying to find the apartment, having the address can seem like all the information you'd need to get checked in, until you find yourself circling around the block unable to find the right entrance or that parking garage the host mentioned somewhere in the listing. When getting there, you may find yourself having to dig through your inbox on the phone (fingers crossed your battery isn't dead..) to find that email you got with the door code, and then try to remember where you saw information about the apartment number, was it somewhere in the listing or an email? Later when checking out, what were you expected to do with the dirty towels or the key again? The last thing you want is to upset the host and get a bad review!
Airbnb is not streamlined like a hotel chain and thankfully so, but that also means that every Airbnb host is different, every listing description is different and as a traveler you never know what to expect. That is exactly we love Airbnb, but at the same time, I've found a lot of unnecessary inconsistency that is not of the charming kind, but only leads to bad reviews and a trip that was less than perfect.
From user interviews and from reading hundreds of reviews on Airbnb, my learning is that there are a few changes Airbnb could do to the mobile app that would improve the odds of nailing that 'perfect trip' experience, and still leave room for the pleasant surprises and the human interactions that makes traveling with the Airbnb community so wonderful.
The result of my research and design is a new app experience for guests who have booked a trip on Airbnb which provides guests with a place in the app for more relevant information regarding their booking and an option to receive time relevant information about their stay. The result is that guests and hosts can expect a more consistent and less confusing stay experience.
My Design Process
To validate my hypothesis and the problem I started by interviewing Airbnb users about their experiences. I also looked at Quora and read Airbnb reviews to learn about what guests and hosts were complaining about.
To sum up the key findings:
Guests don't easily have access to the information they need when they need it because:
a) hosts are not giving the information
b) Airbnb is not providing the information given in an easily accessible format to the guest
To help guide me in my design process I came up with two personas. Although I had decided to focus on the guest experience, Airbnb is a two-sided market, so I made sure to also be mindful of the host’s needs and motivations. Please meet my personas, Philip and John.
Philip is 30 years old, lives in Portland, OR, and he really enjoys going on short weekend trips either alone or with his friends just to relax or experience something new. A weekend is not that long and so he wants to get the most out of his time exploring the destination and not having to spend too much time being lost or digging through his emails to find the information he needs. Philip is tech savvy and rely a lot on his favorite applications.
John is 42 years old and lives with his wife Ann in Oakland, California. He’s originally from San Francisco. John is a HR manager for a small company and he really enjoys talking to people, so in addition to making a few extra dollars on their spare guest room, meeting new interesting people is one of the reasons for why he and his wife has decided to be hosts on Airbnb, but he's also very busy and don't always have the time to be "on call" 24/7.
I started shaping the idea of designing a mobile notification service experience to surface the right information when needed and to help increase guest/host communication, so I wanted to explore further the different situations when Philip would use this feature if it were in the Airbnb iPhone application. I did this by quickly sketching out scenarios on a piece of paper and here are some examples:
Then I picked one scenario that seemed the most useful to Philip based on what had surfaced has pain points in the user interviews. From there I spent 5 minutes flushing out some ideas and sketching out what the UI could look like in the app to get access the most useful information in this situation.
To help me define the scope of the project I created user stories listing all the elements that would have to be created and linked togehter in order for this feature to be helpful to Philip. It quickly became clear that the scope of redesigning the entire My Trip app experience would be much more than I could handle in two weeks, so I had to narrow down to just a few scenarios to cover for this project. I decided to focus on these:
Philip can open Airbnb app and access My Trips when booking is confirmed.
In the My Trip section of the Airbnb app he can:
- Get directions to the host location via preferred 3rd party application.
- Tap-and-hold to copy address into another application or text/email.
- See host’s notes on where to park
- See host’s notes on how to enter the building/house/apartment
- See information about the neighborhood /city
- See all his booking details
- See a structured house manual and amenity list
Receive notifications with relevant information based on his location and time of day
Then I created a task flow based on these user stories. Even this had to be simplified a lot based on the scope of the project.
I decided to pick two of the ideas from the sketches to move forward with and I started sketching a more high fidelity version of the flow of this feature. I wanted to provide a pro-active notification service to surface the most relevant information in a timely manner, and also structure the My Trip section to be more tailored to the chronological steps in the trip experience.
Airbnb “My Trip” - With A Pro-Active Notification Service
This feature will provide the guest with the information he needs about his booking when he needs it all through his trip. There should be no need to dig through emails or read long description notes on the listing’s page, to find the answer to your question about how to get there, how to check in and out, about the amenities and how to use them, the information in the house manual, house rules and other relevant information for your booking. The information could be pushed based on location, home wifi detection, time of day and other triggers. The notifications could be pushed to phone or to smartwatches.
Here you can read the narrative of Philip's trip with the My Trip feature.
I've only touched upon a few use cases and implementations for this feature, but why I think this feature is so interesting is that I can see it developing over time with new technology emerging. Some areas to to expand this feature to right now would be to allow integration with other 3rd party travel apps. If you are using TripIt for your flights, it would be good to let the host get automated notifications based on flight delays. I've also played around with different integrated navigation solutions, for instance if both guest and host are Waze users, it could be an easy way to share the drive right in the message center or Waze and TripIt accounts cold be connected as part of the booking process.
But I definitely think the part of the feature that is adding the most value is to implement the hosts' neighborhood guides in the app. The user interviews revealed that many hosts have created binders with local information to the guest in the room, but it's not mobile and it does not leverage the huge amounts of useful data that other hosts and guests are providing in the form of listings and reviews. If the host does not have any recommendations, these could be sourced from the overlap of other hosts nearby.
Airbnb could provide a more consistent user experience independent of the host and provide the user with the information he needs when he needs it. If the host is not providing it, it can be crowdsourced from other guests in the same area which will also add to a higher sense of community.
Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with Airbnb, this was unsolicited work based on my love for the company and passion for travel.