The truth behind the controversial Airbnb rebrand

When DesignStudio unveiled its Airbnb rebrand in July, it faced an avalanche of criticism on everything from originality to sexual symbolism. James Greenfield takes it all in his stride.

Airbnb logo

Last month, I had the best and craziest week of my professional career. Six months earlier it had hit me that our Airbnb branding and the subsequent refresh of the digital apps and website was going to cause quite a storm. Here was a brand I couldn't pick up a paper or open a tech blog without reading about, and we were working with them to make the biggest visual change in its history.

A lot of people felt like they owned this brand, and that's a tough audience to please. In addition, millions more were about to be introduced to Airbnb for the very first time. How would we face such a challenge? Through a combination of hard work, dedication and one very clear creative vision.

The logo took Designstudio nearly a year of in-depth research to complete, as its designers travelled to over a dozen countries in order to interview real-life airbnb hosts and guests

The results are the combined effort of many months' work, starting with an intensive week of four of our team travelling to 13 cities, staying with 18 hosts across four continents, to working between our London studio and a pop-up studio at Airbnb's San Francisco headquarters.

We interviewed over 120 people, and worked in a collaborative process side by side with many of the great team at Airbnb, ranging from designers and product developers to the founders themselves. We wanted to be completely open with the design process and every step is there to be viewed on DesignStudio's website.

Good design doesn’t come quick. It's craft, time spent on each detail, thought put into every moment, every word and every curve. We crafted every part of this process, keeping authenticity and integrity at the core of everything we did. We all sometimes see work that was rushed. It's obvious, we see it every day – the results of the 'That will do' brigade. But that's not the way we work at DesignStudio.

Airbnb logo

Designstudio described the goal of the rebrand as to ‘design a marque anyone could draw – something that transcended language and formed the foundation of a new brand’

As I sat in Airbnb's head office, I was of course expecting the design community to be as split as always. After all, every brand project needs the good, the bad and the ugly to cast their eyes over it and express a personal opinion.

Listening to Brian Chesky announce the brand to the world via live stream, the reaction was pretty amazing. We want people to question why a brand exists. What's their mission? Who are Airbnb? It's all good stuff I want people to talk about: big media, big audiences, big achievement. The team took every blog post, tweet and tumble with good humour and believe it or not, we enjoyed the week thoroughly.

At the end of the day, I have a happy client, and a team who enjoyed a massive, challenging project and are rightly proud with the results.

Cheers internet. Love, DesignStudio.

Words: James Greenfield

James Greenfield is executive creative director at DesignStudio. He was previously head of design at ManvsMachine, and creative director at Airside before that. This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 231.