‘Airbnb Home’
in a Box

PRODUCT CONCEPT

Imagine a way the business traveller can feel less alone by utilizing Internet of Things and deep learning technologies.

September, 2016

THE DIGITAL PRODUCT

Re/designing Google Home

This product challenge inspired me to combine three loves — human-centered design, home design, and my expertise designing for emerging technologies. A VOICE operated interface in the home combines these beautifully. Voice recognition technology has finally matured, and now there is a battle to live in our homes between the soon-to-be-released Google Home and Amazon’s Echo.

I propose an Airbnb device ecosystem that could be delivered to hosts, hence ‘Airbnb Home.’ This solution will be delivered in a box to help Airbnb’s guests ‘belong anywhere.’ 

Looking at this from a product/service design perspective, how could Airbnb promote the concept, distribute the hardware, and support their hosts and guests? Would an Airbnb-branded box containing just the right smart devices, software, and an Airbnb cloud platform that learns and provides personalized services to guests, work? How could this be developed without being too overwhelming?

These are some fun questions I explore below...

THE CHALLENGE

Belonging Anywhere means more than connecting.

Airbnb has given us access to places where we feel connected, but there is more to belonging than this. Belonging extends beyond connection to feeling understood or remembered, which makes my Airbnb home feel a bit like my home, and I feel safe. All these feelings are fundamental to ‘belonging anywhere.’

Could connecting Airbnb’s intelligent cloud platform to products like Google Home and Nest Thermostats, along with a beautiful interface between them be a solution? Voice-enabled hubs like Google Home lack the context of an Airbnb host or guest to make them really meaningful. Airbnb, like no one else, knows about our needs at home, our travel habits, and cares about our safety.

I proposed an initial problem hypothesis:

A Voice UI massively simplifies the hosting and guest experiences.  

Voice UI could significantly reduce the complexity of host management and add tremendous value to guests’ lives. Voice UI is a human way to communicate; the navigation structure is natural, intuitive, and easily accessible to people beyond early adopters.

With a little online research, I learned that Voice recognition is early but ready for mass adoption. Google and Amazon are leading the charge into our homes.

Voice recognition technology — specifically far-field — has matured and seen significant improvements in performance in tandem with the consumer’s growing comfort with talking to machines. Source Redcode

The customer in this hypothesis is literally a guest with a smartphone who is automatically connected to the host’s ‘Airbnb Home,’ their wifi, home appliances, and a their own apps such as Spotify and Google Calendar.

Even without a connected smartphone, guests can control home electronics and ask questions of the host or Airbnb customer service. I decided to talk to an Airbnb host and an Airbnb guest, as well as searching the Airbnb forums, services, and brand to gain more insight into how hosts and guests alike would like to manage their homes and live in them.

My two primary objectives are to understand the clear value a Voice UI could bring to hosts & guests and to evaluate what devices, apps, and functionality would be required to make this real.

Challenge revisited

After completing this challenge I refined the problem hypothesis with new insights.

A personalized, learning, voice-controlled home sets the right tone, massively simplifies the hosting and guest services, and connects the business-type traveller to her daily rituals.

Can guests now truly ‘belong anywhere?’ Keep reading to understand why I revisited the problem hypothesis.

THE APPROACH

Focusing on Features Meaning

It’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to motivate people to adopt a new technology no matter how cool it is; the experience has to be 10x more meaningful than an existing technology while not expecting people to change their behavior. I learnt this the hard way as co-founder of Dekko, a startup inventing a new user interface for augmented reality.

Since we have a natural human desire to interact with technology on a more intuitive and human level, framing a product strategy around Maslow’s hierarchy of needs made sense. A progressive rollout of each feature lets us learn from users, iterate, and polish one micro-interaction at a time. This is something I would love to develop further!

The following diagram shows the stages required in delivering a meaningful user experience. From bottom to top the stages are mapped against hardware needs and key features for guests and hosts.

Source: Stephen Anderson's user experience Hierarchy of Needs

THE DISCOVERY

Learning about Airbnb.

Airbnb : A community built on trust - Safety - Security - Fairness - Authenticity - Reliability

Airbnb’s vision for the future includes innovating and using new technologies to make a home more welcoming. This lines up with my initial idea and encouraged me to explore further.

“At Airbnb, we imagine a future where smart homes are wired to protect us, provide comfort, and improve our quality of life. As times and technologies change, know that we’ll always be innovating, and finding new ways to help you make your home a welcoming place.” source

I soon discovered that Airbnb had already started a personalized smart home program, Hosting Assist, which partners with smart lock companies as well as services, showing confidence in existing smart home devices.

Host Assist is a collection of apps that can help you share your space with ease. These apps are offered by companies who have partnered with Airbnb. Source: airbnb.com

Here are some of the smart devices I’ll be exploring to find meaningful solutions.

Airbnb Business Traveler

After researching the different types of travels through Airbnb's forums, services offerings, and user interviews, it became clear that the Airbnb Business traveler would get the most value from an ‘Airbnb Home’ service. This doesn’t mean only ‘business’ locations would benefit from installing ‘Airbnb Home,’ but the limitations would be...

This, however, should be very secure. Only authorized guests are able to control your home for the time of their stay. At any time, hosts are able to take control from the guests if the conditions are not met. Hosts can monitor home electronics usage while still keeping guest-connected apps and accounts private.

"Be aware that for those renting out entire homes/apartments, it is AN EXTREMELY COMMON PROBLEM (one that has been related on the host forums probably hundreds of times) to have the person who books not come, bring more guests than were declared in advance, or have guests bring over friends, relatives, strangers, anyone, while populating your place with a variety of unnamed and unknown people." Airbnb forum quote

THE DISCOVERY

What does HOSTING mean to you?

During this very quick, high-intensity discovery phase I was able to review the Smart Home devices, learn Airbnb’s brand values, and begin research into user needs, behaviors, and pain‐points. I also quickly looked into technical feasibility and constraints, but this task requires significantly more time and focus than I have for this exercise.

The user research revealed that ‘hosts’ are motivated by either earning a second income, running a business, or sharing their home with others. A host wanting to run a business would be the most motivated archetype since its core value is saving time, managing guests remotely and automating tasks.

I like to use personas throughout a project to guide design decisions, priorities, and create empathy with the audiences.

Host Persona Development

To kick-off the user research, I wrote up a Proto-Persona and later compared this to the actual persona.

Here is the Host Persona (called Tom in the Proto-persona). As you can see my Proto-persona was geared towards the ‘business’ motivated hosts, but the actual host I interviewed was motivated to ‘share her house’ and not ‘run a business.’

What does being a GUEST mean to you?

Guest Persona Development

Tight timing meant I could only interview one Airbnb ‘business traveller’ guest, but I also looked to blogs and Airbnb’s forum to gauge what people were saying. Additionally, I looked to Airbnb Business Travelers to understand guest motivations. These varied research techniques helped me to quickly gain insights into the needs of the ‘Airbnb business traveller’ and gave me an understanding of features that would add meaning to their travel.

Key Solutions

With the personas ready, I decided to come up with key solutions for each persona. To do this I mapped out a lot of potential features connecting them to the persona goals and values. From this big picture view I saw some key design principles that would help me keep the solution focused and consistent.

With this work done, we can build some the frameworks to produce designs.

THE FRAMEWORK

Brand & IoT Design Requirements

The biggest complaint about Amazon Echo is that it’s “an expensive timer.” The best IoT experiences are fluid, clear, and have meaning in our lives. ‘Airbnb Home’ runs the risk of being just another device giving us too much information we don’t need or want. After doing some research in IoT design and from my own design experience, I listed key IoT design principles that are required to design a successful product.

Synthesizing goals from the research served as a lens through which to consider not only what the product should do, but also how it should feel. I believed this would be the difference between delivering a good experience and a great one. Thinking about the emotional needs of the guests helped me understand the important considerations needed to design for a Voice-enabled interface. Taking these insights along with others from designing for new technologies such as Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality, I believe we should consider:

Side note: Security is very important to IoT products. Only authorized guests would be able to control the home for the time of their stay. Hosts could take control of the system at any time if the guests don't honor the requirements. Hosts can monitor home electronic usage while still keeping guest-connected apps and accounts private.

THE FRAMEWORK

Visualizing the end‐to‐end.

Starting at the end lets you see the big picture. So I picked an ambitious but manageable piece of the problem to solve. 

Combing through the research and mindmapping the different experiences hosts, guests, and Airbnb value against the hardware- and software-uses allowed me to come up with a broad set of tasks — quickly.

I entered all the tasks into a spreadsheet to see how an ‘Airbnb Home’ service is required to work against our personas, scenarios, tech feasibility, and Airbnb brand objectives.

This informed my Order of needs and phasing strategy for implementation of the key product features.

Here I’m showing the cropped mind map of the guest experience with guest scenarios and various content and feature hardware and software requirements.

See the full mind map expanding into Host and Airbnb valued features. Also, here is the Scenario+Features Spreadsheet.

THE INTERACTION FRAMEWORK

Inspiration & Sketching

Inspiration came from many sources, talking to friends about their frustrations, searching for beautiful interface design, and watching IoT scenario videos. Here is what I discovered...

Storybording

Because of some limitations, I decided to illustrate just the critical Voice UI and not the secondary mobile interface. I would like you to just imagine a friendly tone of voice, intuitive, personal, and spoken in the language of the user. Airbnb adds meaning and joy to the guests and gives the host peace of mind.