Close collaboration leads to great results

No two briefs are ever the same. For this reason, DesignStudio has no prescribed method or off-the-shelf solutions for our clients’ creative challenges. We know how important collaboration is, and so as true partners, we worked between the US and UK, camping out at Airbnb’s San Francisco headquarters in a pop-up studio with an open door policy, as well as our own London studio. This enabled us to have fluid conversations, flash sessions and stakeholder access to quickly overcome the challenges of a rebrand of this scale, before returning home for focused creative sprints and the eventual creation of the chosen route.

Having never actively sat down to design an overall brand beyond a series of logos to meet the needs of a rapidly growing business, the founders identified the importance of this to be able to push the company forward to the next level. We had unparalleled access to Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, two of the founders of Airbnb. Both are trained designers who understand the value and power of a design-led business and the need to create a brand to match.

Getting to know the Airbnb community

Having built an Airbnb listing in our studio as part of the pitch stage of the project, we had begun to gain an understanding of what it takes to set up and manage your own space on the Airbnb site. We took these learnings into the first stage of our immersion process – why people host, what makes them join Airbnb and ultimately what makes them continue hosting in such large numbers.

To understand the full scale of this global community, four DesignStudio team members set out to visit 13 cities, staying with 18 hosts, across four continents. All of them equipped with a $100 video camera and the mission to look for local inspiration and insight to drive us to build a better brand. From the many hours of footage they recorded, we created a four minute film which documented our experiences and the community, reflecting the brand back to the team at Airbnb in its true form. On top of this, we interviewed 120 people at their global offices, plus hosts and guests in the global locations we visited.

It soon became apparent everyone coming into contact with the brand has an emotional sense of purpose and affection for it, yet this spirit wasn’t being communicated externally. This became our mission, making the need for a rebrand even more pronounced. By us living the brand as the founders still do, by staying with different Airbnb hosts on each trip, we stayed focused on the theme of the community throughout the whole process. Most brands want to be loved and spend an age trying to achieve an emotional connection to them – and yet here was one that genuinely had the ability.

‘Create the Awesome’ – our project blog maintained daily throughout the immersion process.

“DesignStudio were inspired by our culture as much as we were inspired by their process. The team is incredibly collaborative and flexible. They opened up their creative process and let us in, and ultimately the close partnership led to the best possible solution for the Airbnb brand and community.”

Andrew Schapiro – Head of Brand Creative, Airbnb

Unlocking the power of belonging

As well as our global travels, throughout the process we orchestrated a series of creative tasks and workshops, centred around the brand, creativity and the brand’s future at their headquarters in San Francisco. This helped us dive deeper into the topics of belonging, brand and how to communicate with their global community.

From our immersion processes, we created a repository to carry with us throughout brand creation. A manifesto of sorts was created solely with content from the community. ‘Open’ was the title of a book created and designed in 72 hours by a team of four that utilised print-on-demand services and came as part of a ‘sense package’ delivered to key stakeholders to mark the beginning of the brand creation. As a team we often referred to it and used it as our ‘brand compass’.

Partnering with experts to unravel the name

At two points during the process we worked with one of our brand partners, Sign Salad, who gave us a semiotic reading of Airbnb. We commissioned them near the start of the process to see how the Airbnb name resonated globally, looking at its evolution from the founding story (air beds and bed & breakfasts), through to the meaning it has today as leader of the sharing economy.

For those unaware of Airbnb, we looked at the perceived meanings of ‘Air’ and ‘BNB’ as divided words across Europe, North and South America and Asia. We later engaged Sign Salad again, to repeat the process for the final chosen creative – looking at the semiotic connotations of our proposed work in the brand’s four current biggest markets. This was on top of our own research into consumer profiles and brand perceptions collected and utilised throughout the project.

“Because of DesignStudio’s rebranding process, they really became part of the Airbnb family. They lived our brand and took the time to get to know us. Their work enhanced the humanity and humility of Airbnb. DesignStudio is made of creative minds and I remain grateful to have worked with them all.”

Carrie Levy – Head of Photography, Airbnb