How User Experiences Help Us Overcome Our Own Biases

Written by Mark Coulstring

In a recent TEDtalk, co-founder of Airbnb discusses how a user experience allows people to be trusting of others.

Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia made a huge bet: people would open their own homes to total strangers. It is the basic principle behind every single transaction, and only a few years ago, the idea of being able to trust strangers to live in your home at a cost would have seemed unfathomable.

Before the creation of the website, the co-founder and Airbnb’s Chief Product Officer admits that he was even reluctant to share his own place. After having beers with a traveler needed a place to stay for the night, he didn’t want to let him in. Gebbia eventually allowed him to crash and everything turned out just okay. His guest “was not psychotic,” he recounts. “We’ve kept in touch ever since.”

The experience was his first time hosting and trusting a stranger. “Maybe the people that my childhood taught me to label as strangers were actually friends waiting to be discovered,” he says.

Before Gebbia and his co-founders Brian Chesky and Nathan Blecharczyk could create the website that would become Airbnb, they needed to come up with a user experience strategy that prompted people to trust each other and allow people to be comfortable letting others stay in their homes. How did the company overcome the “stranger-danger bias”? It came through a good user experience.

Gebbia and his team found, through research, that people trusted others who were like themselves and mistrust those who were different. But creating a platform where people can connect would work if the only people who were connected were the same. The only thing that would break through this basis was recommendations from others. “Now, if you’ve got less than three reviews, nothing changes. But if you’ve got more than 10, everything changes. High reputation beats high similarity. The right design can actually help us overcome one of our most deeply rooted biases.”

Booth users — guest and hosts — are prompted to share their experiences with each other on the website. And if you ever used the site, you will see some help text promoting you to share some information. There’s nothing random about the copy. The company is basically optimizing how you share about an experience to build trust. They found there needed to be a balance between sharing too much too little. If users shared little about their experience, then the report would do nothing. Conversely, if a user shared too much personal information, the report would fail to engender trust. As a result, the designers at Airbnb built a user interface that would prompt an adequate response.

Gebbia admits that what Airbnb offers isn’t anything new. The idea of being hospitable to travelers and strangers has been around forever. And even in the tech realm, there are other websites that offer similar services, but he credits their success on their user experience strategy being able to break down how people trusted each other.

Now, the organization is a major player in the hospitality industry, creating an additional source of incomes for millions throughout 190 countries. If you are interested in learning more about Gebbia and how his team helped transform the sharing economy, check out his TEDTalk below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16cM-RFid9U]

Mark Coulstring
Written by
Mark Coulstring
VP, User Experience, Seamgen
Product Design & Strategy Leader, Worked with CVS, Aetna, Oakley, KIA, Intuit, ViaSat, AARP, Experian, and many more.
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