redesigning how people book on Airbnb

For my Applied Product Design Class, I spent 10 weeks working on trying to optimize the way users approached booking multiple stays at once.


10 Weeks


High Fidelity Screens + New User Flow


Principal Designer


Brian Fling
Applied Product Design Instructor


As the pandemic started to open up, my roommates and I decided to take a small road trip down to California after our finals. As my roommate started opening up tabs and tabs of different listings on Airbnb, I couldn't help but notice something: it was getting really clunky really fast.

There were five to ten different tabs open, each of them different places to stay along our trip down the coast. Eventually when it was time to book, the same few lines kept being uttered:

"Was it this one?"

"We're booking this one right, no wait... this one?"

"#$%@, where is it??"

Anyway, the trip went great, thanks for asking. We went to Yosemite! Lot of big rocks there.

Booking a Topic

A week later I'm in my last design class at UW, a product design classed that focused us on working with a real product and trying to improve it in some way for their users. One of the products that was recommended was Airbnb, and that small memory of my roommate struggling to figure out which Airbnb to book flashed into my head again. I decided that I wanted to try and improve the way people engaged with both the experiences and multi-trip booking within Airbnb.

Initial Research

I started out by doing some market research on both the company and their goals, but also the state of traveling within the US. With the pandemic still underway, traveling has been consistently hampered, which has begun to have a significant effect on Airbnb. However, a lot of research into the state of US Citizens view on travel was starting to lighten up, and that almost half of the country was ready to get out and travel again.Airbnb's Mission is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere and we are focused on creating an end-to-end travel platform that will handle every part of your trip.

They accomplish this by doing two things: providing lodging for people to stay at, and providing experiences for people to do in the area of their choosing.

Airbnb was projecting 2021 to be a year full of meaningful travel, so with a bunch of people itching to travel and a platform ready to help people do so, I was eager to figure out what might be the best way of supporting that goal.

As I started to play around with Airbnb, I started to understand the frustration my roommate felt first hand. Looking at the flow to book an airbnb, you essentially search up where you want to go and when, view the available bookings, select one you like the best, and then book it for your trip.

The flow looks like this! Pretty clean and straight forward. The same flow essentially applies for booking experiences on Airbnb, both in it's in-person and online format.

The one thing I quickly noticed was that this entire flow does only one thing: books one airbnb.

If you needed to book 3 airbnb's for a trip, you would be repeating this flow three time over and over. It would be like if you walked into a grocery store, got an apple, bought it, walked out and then walked back into the store to buy a banana, then do the same thing again with a frozen dinner.

This pattern was great, and Airbnb is known for doing these two things really well, but just one at a time.

My question I wanted to ask was, why not do it all at once?

User Research

This was my focus for this project, and I started doing user interviews with 14 different college students about their experiences with traveling and the tools that they used in order to travel to their own heart's content.

Based on those interviews, I was able to identify three different kind of personas types:

Persona 1: The Wanderlust ✈️ 🎆

This person is typically an experienced traveler that is focused on finding new experiences in new places. Often is ok with planning on the go and "going with the flow" when it comes to finding new things to do in an area. They're ok not knowing what exactly they're going to do for the next day because, well, that's for tomorrow anyway- These travelers will typically have a good general idea of where they want to go and build out their trip with a focus on experiences rather than lodging, opting to go for cheaper places in order to visit more meaningful attractions.

Persona 2: The Planner 🗒️🎫

This person likes having a solid idea of where they want to go and what they'll do before they buy their first ticket or airbnb. While they're still open to spontaneity in the trip and finding new things, it's typically only filling in the open time slots between larger experiences they want to have.

Persona 3: The Tag-a-long 🍪

Doesn't typically go on trips theirselves, but they're excited to be asked to go on one! They won't typically call the shots when it comes to planning or determining what to do, but with enough encouragement (nagging them, to be honest), they'll help contribute to the things they want to do and provide input into the planning process.

These are typically the people who are fine with doing whatever, so long as it's within their budget.

User Experience Review

After identifying the different persona groups, I started looking at the current flow of how airbnb was doing things in order to see how the process could be optimized for the first two kinds of users (as the third users would probably not be planning themselves, but would still benefit from the other two users figuring out where they're staying sooner).

The Planner
For the planners, one of the things they valued was having a clear understanding of where they were going as well as getting it all figured out at once. If they already knew where they How might we allow users to have an all-in-one experience when it comes to planning out their entire trip through Airbnb?

This flow focused the user on determine where and when they wanted to go somewhere followed by selecting each of the places they wanted to book, rather than going one at a time and fully booking through.

Going with the flow
To support a more "one step at a time" approach, one of the things that could be prompted is not to fully exit the main user flow but to prompt the user to see if they want to add an experience or add another stop on their overall trip. Similar to how e-commerce shops have "carts", essentially checking right before they're ready to book if that's the only thing they wanted to book. This would allow them to have a storage place for their current bookings or potential bookings that would be done in a way that mimicked other design patters most people use within commerce sites.

I had two potential ideas on how to go about having a more structure way of finding multiple places to stay, but I felt like I was choosing between one user set and another. After showing the ideas to some of the people that I interviewed as well as to my class, the results were incredibly mixed.

The planners liked the plan ahead feature while the go-with-the-flow travels preferred the check at the end feature (which, makes a lot of sense when you think about how both ideas were designed). I was worried that if I chose one that I wouldn't be supporting the other user group as much as we could be.

Eventually one of the students that I showed my ideas to brought up the idea that I could just implement both options, as one was a new way to approach Airbnb and the other option was just to make sure it's easier to handle a use case if it comes up.

I started playing around with how both features would be integrated, but determined that both could be viable solutions that could be implemented, just in different ways.

Building UI

As I started to move into the high fidelity stage, I began to look at how Airbnb designed their screens, what patterns they like to use, and see how I might be able to incorporate those kinds of patterns into the screens that I made.

The first thing I started to work on was designing out the trip building feature. I was trying to figure out what was the least invasive to the standard airbnb flow but was also noticeable enough to get users to start engaging with that specific feature.

Airbnb above their search bar allows the user to determine what they're searching for, from lodging, experiences, and online experiences. Since they were already separating online experiences and experiences, I figured adding a nuance to finding lodging through planning a trip might be an addition that makes sense.

Online experiences also opens up a new page, versus "places to stay" and "experiences" just altering the search bar field, so I decided to have "Plan a trip" open up a new page as well to make it easier to set up a new pattern.

Airbnb doesn't really handle multiple queries at once, it's more of just search for what you're looking for right now and we'll show you. So having a new screen made it easier to set up a new pattern versus try and change something they already know and force them to get used to that pattern change.

Using the new design elements that Airbnb put out with their Airbnb 2021 campaign, I tried to have them only focus on establishing where they'd like to go first. I tried to have it evoke a similar aesthetic style to both airbnb but also those airport destination screens that showed you which flight was arriving when. Ultimately the focus was clarity on where they wanted to go first.

The next thing was helping them understand how this new system fits into their current airbnb experience. Originally where the "become a host" button was, I opted to change that for a "view trip" in order for them to have a guide for their booking progress as well as it being consistent with where "cart" features typically are (top right corner).

Building upon the standard flow, the actual search results features is the same, with the addition of a title that explains what city you're currently searching for. There's a quick action feature right next to the city that will allow you to choose to select the next stop instead as well.

Clicking on the "View Trip" button will then show the user what trip they're currently on as well as the other locations they are currently looking for lodging. There's an option to add another route which sends you back to the original screen to help you figure out where you would like to go.

Checking out
Once you've already booked your Airbnb, you're provided with a confirmation screen that has all of the details of your trip. I realized within this flow there is never any recommendation of experiences nearby or the ability to consider booking another place within a trip. I knew I wanted to bring it up during their experience, it was more a debate of whether it should come before or after they book the trip.

Originally in my proposed flow, I wanted to prompt them to check out an experience or look for another Airbnb before they would actually fully book one. After hearing the feedback from my classmates about how they book airbnb's, a few of the students brought up the concern of wanting to make sure they didn't miss out on a rental by just having it in their cart.

In order to ensure that this didn't delay users that wanted to immediately book, I opted to have the prompt/recommendation to come after you've fully booked, as the full details of your trip would be sent via email.

I wanted to offer the user the ability to either continue searching for places within a singular trip or provide a reminder to them that you can also find experiences within the area. So under the main details that are provided on your confirmation screen, I opted to provide them a search bar that could help them find their new place as well as nearby recommendations for the area they just booked their airbnb in.

If they decided to use either of the features, they would be brought to the search result screen based on what they searched for. The current booking as well as what they would be searching for would then be categorized as a trip and the screen would point out to the user that they could then check out all their details within the "View Trip" button to introduce them to the new pattern.

Wrapping Up

Within the timeframe, these were the two features that I wanted to help incorporate into Airbnb's current system. I think Airbnb does an amazing job at connecting people with unique stays, and I almost everyone I talked to used Airbnb because of how well they've created a clean and efficient way to find safe and enjoyable housing. It was very fun and delicate challenge to try and not make that current experience worse.

This was a great exercise in working within Product Design, as I feel like I've never really had any exposure to the things you might be focusing on as a Product Designer compared to a UX Designer. A lot of my thought process were focused around what would benefit the users, what would benefit the company, and how we could blend those two needs together in a way that didn't frustrate either party.

This also felt like the most fleshed out process that I've done for a design project recently, which I really appreciated since this helped me better understand how different design methods could help me better understand my users but also how to design better. If I had more time I would (and will try to over the summer) flesh out a few more screens to make this more cohesive, but the main thing I want to try and continue playing with is helping Airbnb help their users accomplish more "meaningful travel".

With the COVID-19 pandemic hampering how we could move and who we could see, Airbnb projected 2021 to be the year of meaningful travel. I think there's an amazing opportunity for Airbnb to help their users reflect on the traveling they did and provide a much more personal experience to traveling with others and traveling for purpose. In the meantime, hopefully building these features allow for all different kinds of travelers to be supported more by Airbnb, even the tag-a-longs, too!

Catch you on the next trip!