The Airbnb Host Community

Design strategy

I led a team of product managers, designers, and software developers to create a unique Airbnb host experience. Our job: increase host retention and decrease call center volume by envisioning an online host community.


Many teams attack problems from the inside.  I applied design thinking to make decisions from the outside in, solving problems principally from an Airbnb host’s point of view.

Discover + Define

We talked directly with Airbnb hosts, closing the gap on our assumptions and their reality. Hosts were churning due to a lack of host-to-host engagement


I led two experience design workshops to define possible solutions. Our earlier research led the way, and we came up with possibilities we never would have imagined

Design + Prototype

My design and development team built a realistic interpretation of the real thing. We iterated, refined, iterated, refined

Test + Learn

We used the prototype to gain host feedback prior to launch. Testing also defined future features and a key input into our evolutionary roadmap


We needed to empathize with Airbnb hosts.  To do that, we conducted 1:1 interviews with them. Instead of asking questions like “What do you need out of a community,” we asked “What makes a good host?”

Interviews and surveys allowed us to create host personas.

Personas gave us anthropological structure. They allowed us to categorize major motivations, apparent needs, and latent needs.

Personas formed the basis for future ideation. Without them, we would have made uninformed, partial, or incorrect assumptions.


Nothing beats real-time collaboration! I led two workshops with Airbnb during my tenure. I designed each workshop to be interactive, fun, and built with purpose: to focus on a high volume of rule-bending ideas – the art of the possible.

Moments that matter: based on our early discovery work, we explored point-in-time interactions that were critical to giving hosts what they needed (and didn’t know they needed!)

Story writing: we put ourselves in hosts’ shoes and wrote real-to-life stories in how community interactions would enable host success
Sketch: we grouped the workshop into teams and created low-fidelity sketches based on select stories (visual design skills not required!)
Prioritize: we evaluated our moments, sketches, and stories against Airbnb business drivers to define our MVP against two points of measurement: meaningful host value (novel ideas), and actionability (the ability to deliver quickly).


I led a design team to build a Sketch+InVision clickable model. We designed some of the user stories and tested with hosts; we also used it to gain internal buy-in on brand standards.

I’m a New York-based host; I arrive at the community for the first time

I check out what’s going on in my area in New York

I’m new to the area and I’m not sure about the penalties associated with canceling, so I ask a question

After a while I get a notification that someone replied, so I return to my community profile to check the activity

TEST + Learn

By combining a clickable model with a traditional survey, we asked hosts about what they saw (and what they didn’t):

  • Brand alignment: hosts generally felt like the new community would integrate well with the Airbnb experience
  • Cities: hosts couldn’t decipher whether or not the existence of cities would add value
  • Personalization: hosts questioned the accuracy of personalizing community content and wished there was a greater focus on content relative to their host journey (“show me you know me”)


After we prioritized features and functions based on prototype test results, we needed an operational model that would deliver an MVP and incrementally add value to the community product.  I worked with Airbnb to develop a design thinking-to-agile model that continuously informed future ideas.


The community performed well in its initial year of activity:

  • Airbnb realized meaningful call-center deflection as a direct result of the community
  • They continued to invest in its reach, adding an ideation center and private clubs to the site
  • The site has become a platform for local political advocacy.

Copyright Eric E. Ellis. All Rights Reserved.