What the new Airbnb logo means for designers

Alex Bigman

Airbnb, an online marketplace for short-term housing rentals, unveiled a new branding scheme yesterday that centers on a bold new logo and extends across the company’s website, mobile apps and beyond. They’re pretty proud of it, and for good reason: this is one of the most dramatic and confident rebrands the tech industry has recently seen.

Symbol

Airbnb’s new logo (official at left)

Whether it will ultimately pan out well for the company (after the knee-jerk positive, negative, and generally adolescent responses from the peanut gallery subside) remains to be seen. But in any case, that loopy A/heart/location pin definitely signals some major sea changes that all designers should take note of. Here are our initial observations.

1. It has no relation to the old logo

In an interview with Fast Company, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and co-founder Joe Gebbia said the following of the company’s previous logos:

“Those brand identities were created in a matter of hours, for a short deadline, and only for temporary use,” recalls Gebbia. Adds Chesky, “We were growing so fast, it became one of those things where you say you’ll figure it out later, but then you never end up doing it because you’re too busy.”

Airbnb-logo

Airbnb’s previous logo

We have a feeling that many startups could say the exact same thing – and yet most of them choose to remain tethered to their original, slapdash brand marks. Consider the evolutions of Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo!’s logos: all of them have been extremely incremental, demonstrating an unwillingness to abandon previous styles.

Which makes sense. Brand recognition is often hard-won and not something to be thrown away like yesterday’s garbage. But at the same time a brand mark from a company’s toddler days may hold it back as the company attempts to mature, so sometimes a risky decision must be made. Airbnb made that decision, and if it works, others may follow suit.

2. It’s coral-pink

Like facial hair and the width of pant legs, colors go in and out of fashion. Since the post-2000 tech boom, blue has been by far the color of choice for Internet-based services (think Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, PayPal, etc.). Why? Blue is seen as a very “trustworthy”, down-to-business color. When you’re trying to get users to provide sensitive social or financial information to a company founded less than 3 years ago, trust has a high premium.

blue logos

Technology companies like IBM have traditionally played it safe with blue logos and Internet companies have been especially inclined to do so

But Paul Stafford, co-founder of DesignStudio, which executed the Airbnb rebrand, has picked up on a less positive connotation with blue that may be emerging. In the Fast Company interview, he referred to it as “cold” and “corporate.” Now that the Internet-based service industry is highly established and there is less need to emphasize trust, consumers are opening up to brighter, warmer colors. Airbnb has bet on this big time. If it turns out people still aren’t willing to make financial transactions under a pink banner, they’ll be the first to know.

3. It has DIY potential

In design, people are constantly evangelizing “simplicity” and “minimalism.” And yes, the Apple Inc. logo is very simple in concept, but give a Sharpie and whiteboard to your Average Joe, and his rendition probably isn’t going to look that great — even if you don’t hold him to the metallic effect and gradients.

The new Airbnb logo, in contrast, was designed to be so simple that virtually anyone could replicate it in a way that looks decent and charmingly unique. Consisting only of a single flat, looping line, it looks like it would actually be fun to draw (you can give it a whirl using the company’s Create app).

Create

Airbnb’s Create app allows you to make your own version of the logo

The idea here is to free the logo from the digital world and bring it into the physical. Anyone who rents out their apartment through Airbnb, for example, can symbolize this affiliation by drawing the logo on a piece of paper and posting it in their window. It’s that easy to be a “brand ambassador” (to use a hot industry term) for this company—you don’t even need the usual requisite packet of branding assets. That’s an ingenious move.

4. It has a name: Bélo

Airbnb desperately wants to be more than just a short-term housing rental market, as we dryly described it in our introduction. They’ve been bandying the term “hospitality” around for a while, and now they’re cranking up the abstraction another notch.

The rebrand campaign insists that Airbnb isn’t about saving a few bucks on hotel fares; it’s about “belonging,” one of the most deep-seated human needs (hence Bélo, and the company’s “Home” project at this year’s London Design Festival). That encompasses more than just housing: the company has hinted that it may move into carpools, cleaning, and all sorts of other niches within the so-called “sharing” economy.

It sounds to us like they’ve watched a few too many of Don Draper’s pitches on Mad Men, but who knows. People might just buy into this “Bélo” stuff.

Video via Youtube

5. It’s made for merch

Long ago, Chesky and founders realized that their company’s original name, Air Bed and Breakfast, was too long, looking “more like a sentence than a startup name.” Now, the new logo takes the brand mark to a whole new axis: the vertical.

Unlike the linear wordmark, the new logo and symbol occupy a roughly square area. This lends itself better to merchandise like mugs and t-shirts, which also have roughly square areas to fill. Beyond that, the logo symbol makes for a nifty keychain, so expect to see some of these floating around (assuming the logo sticks).

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 2.59.12 PM

Airbnb’s new logo lends itself well to merch like keychains

6. It evokes the human anatomy

Everyone else is going there, so we figured we should at least touch on this. And let’s face it: once you see it, you can’t un-see it. Will the fact that this logo resembles a certain, um, body part (take your pick …) prevent people from taking it seriously? Or does it introduce some much-needed humanity to the neuter repose to which most logos subscribe? We doubt this will be a make-or-break issue, but hey, never underestimate people’s capacity for immaturity.

What do you think of the Airbnb redesign? Share in the comments!

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