Learning Design At Airbnb

A UX designer friend at Airbnb asked me to help on a project. I was new to the company and I happily agreed, excited that I might learn something about designing things to look pretty. We went into a room full of whiteboards and my friend launched into a very intense post-it session. She had interviewed 20 potential users and we were looking for trends in the data. I was a little confused, this didn’t seem to be the work a designer was supposed to do. After 20 minutes of discussing various user pain points I interrupted my friend and asked when we would start designing something. She smiled and said that’s what we had been doing for the past 20 minutes. I told her I was confused as I thought design was making things look pretty. I expected her to be mocking up logos and laying out beautiful web pages. She patiently explained to me that the purpose of the brainstorm was to identify a problem our users experienced in their day to day lives. Based on the problem we would create and test various ideas which could solve the problem. The best solution would be our product. We could then get down to the business of making it look beautiful and functional.

My mind was blown, I had never been very interested in the work of a “designer” because making things pretty for the sake of looking pretty seemed boring. What my friend was describing was anything but boring. A UX designers job, is to create something that solved a real problem. This involved research to identify pain points. Prototyping to test solutions. Storytelling to convince your stakeholders the solution was worth investing in. And finally visual design to make the product as intuitive and enjoyable to interact with as possible.

I am quickly becoming obsessed with the work of a UX Designer and i’m very lucky to work at Airbnb which has some of the best designers in the world. My full time job is an Executive Assistant which takes up a lot of my time but I am trying to be disciplined and spend 1 hour per day learning design. My goal is to validate if I actually like the work of a designer and want to do it full time. The UX designers on my team are wonderful and they have been coaching me on a ton of stuff which I have listed below. There are a bunch of great online courses and one of our senior designers is coaching me through a design challenge to create the travel alarm clock of the future. I’ll do a separate post about this as its a big project.

Core principles of visual design

This course takes less than 30 minutes but the content has been phenomenally useful. It teaches the fundamental principles of visual design which include Scale, Framing, Hierarchy and Grids. Understanding these principles is like understanding the rules of a football game. They are pretty easy to understand and make everything else make sense.

Designing posters — Layout

This course helped me a ton with laying out documents and emails and soon it should help with web user interface design.

Typography

This course changed my perspective. I always thought fonts where pretty boring but now I notice them everywhere.

Sketch is an industry standard tool for designing users interfaces. I used it for the exercise in this class where she shows you how to lay out a business card. You can also use Adobe InDesign.

Drawing and creating logos with Adobe Illustrator and the Pen tool

I love drawing in Adobe Illustrator, it’s a daunting program to learn but the most useful feature is the pen tool this logotype masterclass with Jessica Hische will show you why. I created these logos from scratch using the pen tool.

Learning taste

Look at logos, layouts, packaging, apps, websites. Have an opinion on what you like and don’t like then decide why. This will help you understand what makes something good or bad. Use google or Pinterest.

Photos

The core principles of visual design (Scale, Framing, Hierarchy, Grids) also apply to photos. My mind was blown when someone showed me how to turn on the grid overlay in my iPhone photos app. The grid helps you to abide by the rule of thirds when taking photos. The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.

Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard for editing photos. I haven’t learnt this yet but I’m terrible at photos so this will be an exciting challenge.

Document your process

A bad designer does not make it easy for their stakeholders to understand WHY they built something. When you create products make sure you document the whole process. Take notes when you interview users. Photograph all the post-its when you synthesize your research to identify patterns and pain points. Show all the pain points you identified and walk through why you chose the worst one. Explain the logic behind why you landed on one of many possible solutions. Show mockups, prototypes, videos of usability tests. Show how the user interface evolved.