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Katie Dill on how to deal with digital and analog chaos

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How does Airbnb design their digital platform to adapt to the analog chaos that may emerge outside of it? Pontus Wärnestål, Director of Service Design at InUse, gives his chief impressions of Katie Dill's speech at From Business to Buttons.

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At InUse, we often encounter design situations where user experience weaves together the digital within a complex analog context. And as the service platforms we design extend over more and more touch points in multiple channels, the complexity of the service increases. The challenge will be to create an broader perspective and try to anticipate situations that may arise in these complex systems of digital and analog interactions.

It was therefore very interesting to listen to Katie Dill at From Business to Buttons. Katie is the Director of Experience Design at Airbnb: an online marketplace for renting and booking short-term accommodation that is managed through the digital Airbnb platform.

In her presentation, Katie introduced the problem of trying to manage the chaos that can occur when experiencing a service that is largely analog (living for a period in an apartment, house or other accommodation), something set up between two people who do not know each other. In addition, the situation itself is quite delicate: the host gives their private home to a stranger, and the guest must trust that the home they rent during their vacation, or business trip for that matter, meets all their requirements and expectations. To complicate the situation further, there is not infrequently the question of different cultures and languages ​​between guest and host.

How does Airbnb then design their digital platform to create an overview of the potential analog chaos that may occur? Katie introduced five principles that guide design decisions for the Airbnb platform:

  1. See the Big Picture. Visualize and communicate customer travel to all internally within the organization. There should never be any doubt about what the goal is and what experiences should be facilitated through its use.
  2. Get Ahead of It. There are many things that can go wrong, and it's our job as designers to predict as many potential pitfalls as possible. It is also about managing expectations.
  3. Set the Stage. By setting up frames and giving suggestions to hosts on how to present their property accurately (descriptions, photography how-tos, tips on activities in the surrounding area, etc.), you rake away clutter in order to let the content take center stage.
  4. Keep it Real. Katie pointed out that Airbnb realizes that they do not own the accommodations or that the hosts are “employees,” but instead try to build an authentic culture around properties and renting based on guest and host communication. In this way, you reduce the risk of a superficial and artificial experience that other service providers in the  komer  service and tourism sector may occasionally suffer from.
  5. Arm Your Partners. An important part of the Airbnb platform is the analysis tool for the hosts. This part of the platform is not visible to guests, but acts as a data-driven coaching tool for the hosts. This includes analysis and help to interpret guest ratings and property tips such as “photo schools” to continuously enhance the hosts’ offers.


Just a few days before From Business to Buttons in Stockholm, I myself used Airbnb for accommodation for three weeks in Denver in the United States. In many ways, it was a much nicer and more interesting experience than the classic hotel room. The digital platform enabled quick communication between me and my host. And as Katie herself gave as examples in her presentation, Airbnb supports hosts with recommendations on how to write great background information about the area, how to give good suggestions on restaurants and experiences, etc. This was noticed, as my time in Denver was enriched by the many hints of the treasures and gems in the area that I certainly would have missed if I chose to stay in a traditional hotel. In other words, a lot of things happen behind the scenes so that the experience “on stage” between guest and host will be as rich and positive as possible.

Check out our courses at inUse Academy!