How Airbnb created
a visual language system
to redesign their app
But that’s precisely the concept behind Airbnb, the online marketplace and hospitality service that’s taken the world by storm. Founded in 2008, the company now boasts over 3,000,000 listings in more than 65,000 cities and 191 countries. Travelers can book unique accommodations online—whether on a desktop, mobile phone, or tablet.
Recently, however, Airbnb found itself facing an internal problem. There was a gap between their designers and engineers, and a lack of cohesiveness across their digital products. Communication and collaboration suffered, resulting in a disjointed user experience and a lack of efficiency and innovation.
Airbnb needed to streamline design across their digital products, and to unite designers and engineers with a common language. This led them to develop the Design Language System (DLS), a collection of tools with consistent patterns and shared principles. Its purpose is to define a set of design components that enable rapid iteration and communication across disciplines.
The system also incorporates coding as a design tool.
This brings logic and data into the creative process, helping Airbnb’s team turn ideas into reality.
The DLS is based on four core principles:
Unified: every element contributes to a coherent system.
Universal: visual language is accessible for all users.
Iconic: products reflect a focus on design and functionality.
Conversational: typography and motion create clear communication.
The scale of Airbnb’s business means that multiple designers and stakeholders must work together to promote innovation. The variety of devices it supports means that features must be synchronized in several different formats.
The Design System Language encourages both collaboration between individuals and consistency across platforms.
Visual language is like any other language.Karri SaarinenPrincipal Designer at Airbnb
Misunderstandings arise if the language is not shared and understood by everyone using it.
By focusing on the methods of working across disciplines, building better tools, and creating a unified system, we can use our time to apply creativity to solve bigger challenges.Alex SchleiferVP of Design at Airbnb
What is Digital
Digital product designers work with technology companies to create software that provides the best user experience possible.
They integrate elements like typography and graphics with complex technology to design accessible and effective digital products, such as apps and websites.
Digital product design is iterative, meaning concepts are continuously tested and reformulated until they meet the last design criteria.
What kinds of skills
does it require?
Digital product design is a relatively new field, combining various areas of expertise and processes. These include…
Digital product design is often difficult to define due to its enormous scope. In fact, Airbnb’s solution to their design dilemma proves exactly how complex it can be.
Successful digital product design requires cross-disciplinary communication and innovative thinking. When applied correctly, it can completely revolutionize user experiences while simultaneously improving internal operations. It’s more than just the process of creating an app or a website; it’s the dynamic search for creative solutions and continuous improvement.
By developing their own visual language, Airbnb was able to create a more cohesive, engaging, and innovative digital product—demonstrating that design really does make all the difference.