Our team was the winning team out of 12 teams for this design competition hosted by Airbnb, and each member was awarded $200 in Airbnb travel credit.
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Airbnb is a community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world — online or from a mobile phone or tablet.
"Our current platform may not adequately enable users to book their entire trip, including different homes, experiences, and in the future services. How can we design an intuitive, seamless system for building and booking a multi-item trip?"
The deliverable type was open-ended, but our team of 4 decided to develop a paper prototype of a solution to seamlessly integrate Airbnb's various features, so that users do not have to leave the platform while booking a trip.
Preliminary Research & Takeaways
Firstly, our team wanted to analyze the current workflow of Airbnb to find where improvements could be made.
We found that the "Trips" tab did not contain what we expected. When clicked, the site displays a popup that links to upcoming and past trips. However, there is no call to action to plan a full trip.
Next, we researched how a user would plan a trip. The journey seemed to most commonly begin from the homepage, which is divided into homes, experiences, and restaurants.
Then, once the "Experiences" or any one of the above sections is selected, the user picks options they would like to include in their trip.
This division is where we identified a need for an integration. To identify how this integration would be structured, I read through travel blogs to seeing how people summarized their trips. It often followed the format of describing the trip in an itinerary style. One famous travel blogger, Kate, had structured her blog posts by destination and year.
Thus, rather than dividing a trip into categories - food, homes, and activities, which often does not match people's conceptual model of a trip, it would be more intuitive to divide a trip by destination and chronology, with embedded experiences and restaurants to be chosen on a day to day basis.
Ideation & Sketching
Once we had this structure decided, we identified user needs and sketched different ideas of how to present these options for experiences and restaurants in a way that they embed into the existing flow:
The idea was to integrate these portions into an interactive map. This idea came from Don Norman's concept of not reinventing the wheel, and instead drawing elements from the existing physical world that users have mental models of.
The map would allow users to first select all destinations and dates. Then, the users could look at specifics for each destination by selecting it on the map. For instance, if a trip was from Ann Arbor, MI > Detroit, MI, users would first select customized restaurants, experiences, and transportation for Ann Arbor. Then, they would select these same categories for Detroit.
By embedding the option into the process, it gives more discoverability to the options. Because Airbnb is primarily still known for homes, it is important to bring more light to their new capabilities by pairing these options with their star quality: homes.
Moreover, this leaves room for scalability. Airbnb's users have different needs. If Airbnb branches into offering other services such as managing medical constraints, currency exchange, transportation, pet care, etc., then these options could be displayed alongside the map as well.
Finally, we synthesized our ideas to create a final prototype. We created an "add" option under the "Trips" tab, which would take users to starting a new trip. We put a step-by-step indicator above the page, so that the user knows what step they are at in the planning process. The booking process contains:
1. The interactive map that can be enlarged (enlarged view shown above).
2. List view of the trip complete with destinations and selected experiences.
3. Homes section: users can preview and select homes.
4. Experiences section: users can drag and drop experiences into the blanks.
5. Restaurants section: users can drag and drop restaurants into the blanks.
6. Services section: users can drag and drop specific needs into the blanks.
7. Filtering tags: users can add tags such as "vegan", kid-friendly" or "accessible," so that they can quickly find experiences and restaurants only relevant to them.
This project showed me that low-fidelity, paper prototyping is an invaluable tool for demonstrating interactivity and showcasing brand new concepts. While we could have spent time making the sketches into interactive InVision prototypes, this may not always be the best method to flesh out a design in a short amount of time. Moreover, we were able to iterate upon our sketches and throw out ideas we disliked. For instance, at one point, our team realized we wanted a system for users to be able to customize their trip using categories such as "kid-friendly." We created a "sort by" filter and first, but then decided filtering tags were easier to visualize and made it easier to select multiple sorting criteria. Thus, it may not be about how advanced the tool you're using is - designing largely relies on iteration and failing often & fast.