This week I am thinking about what it means to be a design-driven company and took notes of an interview with Airbnb's Brian Chesky. Design-driven, functional organization, architecture, industrial design, software design, and more.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is among eight buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that have been added to Unesco’s World Heritage List. | David Heald

This is an experimental series where I will post notes every week. Let's see what happens when I publish less polished things persistently.

What does it mean to be a design-driven company?

  • A visionary founder-led company is not a design-led company.
  • Design-led or design-driven can be a mindset that advocates the deep understanding of users and focuses on the impact it has on people and communities.
  • Design, product marketing, product management, marketing communication are not inherently separate parts of the company but potentially a single one. When these functions work closely together the perception of the product and the company can suggest a deeper understanding of user and design.


from an interview with Brian Chesky  by Nilay Patel in the Decoder

Brian Chesky - Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Airbnb

Functional organization vs complete team autonomy

The only large functional organization in the world is Apple, and even Apple is only quasi-functional because they have a whole services group now, which is a little bit quasi-divisional. But Apple is a functional organ; they’re an anomaly.
When I got to a functional org, suddenly I took the very best people and I put them on one problem. Not only did we save money, we started growing faster.
When Airbnb became a functional org, suddenly the entire company was on one roadmap. We all had the same exact priorities. There were fewer meetings. Decision-making was faster. Quality was better.
There’s this age-old truism, like, “Great leadership is hiring people and giving them operating room and” — I’m going to use the word pejoratively — “empowering them to do their jobs.” I don’t think that is good leadership at all.
What I found is that my executives have felt more empowered than when they were more autonomous, because they’re not as much an island. Now they have the resources of the entire company behind them.
Marketing and engineering are totally integrated. At most software companies, marketers are like waiters. They can’t go in the kitchen. The chefs yell at them. We try to just take a different approach. That’s how we do it: totally integrated, totally functional, pretty creative.
I spend a lot of time on design and product marketing, product management, and marketing communication. I use those terms interchangeably.
The solution Schleifer and CEO Brian Chesky devised actually deemphasizesthe designers. The point, Schleifer says, isn't to create a "design-led culture," because that tends to tell anyone who isn't a designer that their insights take a backseat. It puts the entire organization in the position of having to react to one privileged point of view. Instead, Schleifer wants more people to appreciate what typically lies only within the realm of designers---the user viewpoint. [Why Airbnb's New Head of Design Believes 'Design-Led' Companies Don't Work - WIRED 01.30.2015]

Airbnb and Jony Ive

Airbnb Brand Identity 2017 | Source: DesignStudio
I spent a lot of time on that logo. We had this great firm called DesignStudio that designed it. But the fun fact about that logo is the last person to pen it was actually Jony Ive, who now works with me. He actually was the one to refine that identity.
Jony and I (Brian Chesky) are working together on thinking through the entire Airbnb design and ecosystem — the system of trust, the reviews, the profiles, the payments, how the whole thing works together.
Jony and I have been good friends for many years, and he has been gracious enough to provide me with guidance and advice. (...) Jony and his partners at LoveFrom will be engaging in a special collaboration with me and the Airbnb team. We have made the decision to work together through a multi-year relationship to design the next generation of Airbnb products and services. (...) I hope all of this speaks to the seriousness of our design-driven approach. [Designing the Future of Airbnb - From Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky October 21, 2020]

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is among eight buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that have been added to Unesco’s World Heritage List. | David Heald

Architecture vs Industrial design vs Software design

I spent a lot of time thinking about branding, design. One of my favorite architects is Frank Lloyd Wright. I like to reference architecture because when I say design, most people think that I’m referring to the color of a button or the logo — in other words, the way something looks. Most people think that architecture is more than just how a building looks. It’s how a building works.
(...) Industrial design is a very end-to-end way of thinking. If an architect designs a building and the building doesn’t get leased, that’s not really the architect’s fault. They’re not really worried. But if a designer designs a product that doesn’t sell, it’s kind of on the designer. You didn’t do a good job.