When Cornell’s design thinking lecturer, Tracy Brandenburg, called Airbnb to ask if they might have a challenge her class of MBAs, PhDs, and master’s candidates could work on, to her surprise they not only said yes, but also invited her class to Airbnb’s headquarters to present their findings to the company’s design team.
The challenge? For Cornell design thinkers to find a game-changing way to increase host engagement by making the host experience “so awesome people would literally want to compete to be a host.”
The requirement? Each student must stay in Airbnb housing.
This requirement was crucial. Empathy research is a cornerstone of problem-solving using the design thinking methodology. To design a solution for the user, designers must first understand the user. That’s why experiencing the full immersion of staying in Airbnb space was essential.
Class teams conducted their initial empathy research by meeting Airbnb hosts local to Cornell. In these meetings, team members sought to understand how Airbnb hosts feel about their experience and what could make it better. After collecting this information, the class designed its first round of concept solutions.
Next, it was off to the Stanford d.school (short for Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford), where the class presented its first-round concepts to d.school coaches, who provided feedback to help the teams develop second-iterations of their designs. Once complete, Airbnb hosts local to Stanford tested the new ideas. Again, the class iterated and produced third- and fourth-round solutions. The ideas were then ready to present to Airbnb and the Airbnb design team was eager to provide feedback.
In four separate teams, the class presented sketches of how concepts worked from beginning to end. The three rows of Airbnb designers were pleasantly shocked to be watching active scenes with prototypes and props in a theater rather than a PowerPoint presentation in a conference room. The Airbnb leadership team was excited to invite the Cornell design team back next year for another challenge and has confirmed that the firm will include Cornell’s concepts in its 2015 idea review.
The trip continued beyond Airbnb for the Cornell design team with visits to several other design-focused firms, including Citrix, Intuit, and IDEO, as well as Google and Frog.
“Working with Airbnb and getting direct feedback from their design team was an invaluable experience,” said Cornell design team participant Sean Corriel, MBA ’15. “We were able to apply our problem-solving and iteration skills learned in the classroom to a relevant, and real, challenging issue Airbnb is currently facing. Working with [design thinking lecturer] Tracy was great – she is always enthusiastic about the process and problems. She makes learning [about] design fun and interesting. Always pushing us to work past the obvious, Tracy continues to remind us that it isn’t always the easy solutions that will lead us to something truly innovative.”