Airbnb Group Chat Feature
Research | UX & UI | App Concept Case Study
The Design Challenge
Design schools frequently emphasize the blank slate, the space for limitless creation. But often, it’s the constraints that make the design. Built systems are all around us. Every single part of our constructed environment is the result of someone making choices. In this capstone project, I'll examine adding a new feature to an existing product.
For my redesign, I wanted to work on a product that I’ve frequently used and had a personal impact on my life.
Looking back in 2017, it was a nomadic year for me — from month-long stays in Sydney and Melbourne, to exotic trips in Tasmania and Hawaii. Airbnb has allowed me to be immersed in diverse cultures and connect with people away from home while opening up my space for other travelers to experience the same.
With the promise of adventure and immersion comes the challenge of “belonging anywhere.” Brian Chesky, the co-founder of Airbnb, deplored the fact that “mass-produced and impersonal travel experiences” had become the norm. Along the way, he adds, “people stopped trusting each other.” Therefore, cultivating trust and creating a better connection between hosts and accommodation seekers is essential to the successful Airbnb experience.
Imagine you and your best friend are having a reunion in a foreign country after being apart for months. You booked an Airbnb for the trip and the check-in time is at noon. However, your flight delays so you can’t check-in on time as planned. At this moment, you realized you need to message the host and your friend to explain the same situation, twice. While your plane is taking off, you receive a message from your host asking for your friend’s detail. You left with 30 seconds to give the host as much information as possible, and little did you know that neither the host nor your friend has the option to message each other via Airbnb.
I was one of those belated guests who struggled to be the point of contact between the host and my additional guest. Hence, some questions immediately raised in my head — Did other users have similar experiences? What kind of problems users are facing when a host not able to reach out to the additional guest(s)?
How can I eliminate communication boundaries, cultivate trust, and create a better connection between hosts and additional guests?
A simple solution flashes through my head, but I wanted to validate it through actual user stories and data.
Understanding User Behavior
In order to understand the current user stories and pain points related to hosts not being able to connect with additional guest(s), I looked into the Airbnb Community thread and highlighted some of the concerns and needs that hosts have in mind.
“…I often have two or more people turn up and I don’t have a clue who the other person/s are.” — Gina, Australia
“… It would be a vast improvement to have all guests (we take up to 8) to be reviewed and also to be able to receive on-platform communication. This is particularly important for hosts who take more guests.” — Kelly, TX
“… I’m very frustrated with Airbnb, as they do ask their Guests to list others travelling in their party — but they don’t give that info to the Airbnb Hosts. I had a neighbor call me that my smoke alarm was going off, but the person who made the Airbnb reservation was in Argentina and not answering her phone. I had no way to reach her boss, who was staying in my home, to verify they’re ok because they didn’t make the reservation…That’s not safe for me, my home, Airbnb’s Guests, nor my neighbors.” — Tina, CA
Aside from understanding hosts, I also wanted to see what guests have experienced. So I surveyed 23 people (age 18-44) who have travelled in the past year, with and without Airbnb to obtain their thoughts and experiences.
90% of participants usually travel with another friend or with a group of people.
78% of participants claimed that they would likely need to message the host before booking a trip.
35% of participants who have travelled with additional guest(s) reported that their guest(s) would prefer to speak with the host after a booking is made.
More than 52% of participants stated that they would like to know about their guest(s) before they arrive, although speaking with them is not necessary; while the other 39% of participants expressed that they would prefer to know about their guest(s) and have the option to speak with them.
Accordingly, allowing hosts to view the additional guest(s)’ profile and making an on-platform communication possible can alleviate any concern from both parties and eliminate time waisting on redundant conversations users may come across. At the same time, it allows hosts to better manage and anticipate the needs of their upcoming guests — especially when accommodating a large group of visitors.
Creating a great customer relationship and timely communication is incredibly crucial to successful Airbnb experiences. To ensure both the host and guests are able to communicate with each other effectively, I proposed the objectives should focus on perfecting the current mobile app features.
After finding the common goals between Airbnb and its users, below were two design goals that I aimed to achieve:
To cultivate trust and facilitate both parties to form a more personal connection prior to their physical meeting.
To eliminate the cumbersome and frustrations of the restricted communication between hosts and additional guests on Airbnb.
Based on my research, I created a host persona and a guest persona to illustrate both parties’ motivations, pain points, and goals that can be carried throughout the design process and anticipate concrete solutions.
Post-booking User Flow
In order to improve upon current post-booking, pre-arrival user experience on the Airbnb mobile app, I redesigned the user-flow to implement the following features:
Allow the Booking Person to invite Additional Guest(s) via mobile phone number instead of the email address.
Build a framework for Group Conversation to be possible amongst Host, Booking Person, and Additional Guest(s).
Authorize Hosts to view the Airbnb profile and review of the Additional Guest(s).
The goal of my redesign is to enhance the mobile experience for new and existing users while retaining a coherent design structure that resembles the existing visual language. To do this, I studied and traced Airbnb’s current design language and elements to develop my own mockups.
A small feature could make a substantial impact.
During a recent trip to the South Island in New Zealand. One of the accommodations my partner booked on Airbnb was canceled by the host less than 36 hours prior to our check-in date. As an “additional guest,” I received no communication from the host nor Airbnb — The trip information just disappeared on my itinerary when I opened the app. If I weren’t with my partner, I would have no idea if the reservation was removed due to the cancelation or it was a system error of the app.
Because of this, I further convinced that the group messaging feature would benefit other registered travel companions. It allows the additional guest(s) to stay in the know and feel more like a close friend than a distant acquaintance.
From data-driven to data-informed.
In the beginning, I saw data as numbers. I was struggled to find out the number of users who share the same experience. I thought the more people I survey, the more accurate the result I would get. In fact, the numbers don’t answer why this is happening, how the users feel about it, or what concerns and expectations they have. I realized the qualitative insights were much needed to resonate with users’ emotions and behavior. Hence my later research switched the focuses on observing user stories and finding a balance between data, empathy and my gut feel.
“Belong Anywhere” means more than connecting.
When I started this case study, I only had a limited amount of time (80 hours) to complete it. Looking back, the most time-consuming parts were conducting research and copywriting. If I were to have more time to polish my design, I would allow the booking guest to invite/select additional guest(s) through mobile contacts and send out a group invitation at once. Besides, allowing new users to sign up via mobile number can speed up the sign-up process thus potentially increase the sign-up rate.
In order to see beyond the boundary of my perception, I would like to understand the business point of view as well. Considering the group messaging feature is made available between host and co-host. I wonder why this feature isn’t accessible among host and guests.
Convincing thousands of people to open their homes to strangers is no easy feat. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.” I truly hope that my redesign can facilitate the personal relationship with trusted individuals so that the host-guest connection can expand beyond the Airbnb experience, and we can all feel “belong anywhere.”