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Will Apple’s ex-design chief Jony Ive bolster Airbnb’s IPO?

October 27, 2020, 11:22 AM UTC

Good morning, Eamon filling in for Clay today.

Last week, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced the vacation rentals company was partnering with design legend Jony Ive “to design the next generation of Airbnb products and services.”

“Jony and I have been good friends for many years, and he has been gracious enough to provide me with guidance and advice,” Chesky said in a statement announcing the hiring of Ive’s consultancy, LoveFrom.

According to Chesky, Airbnb is “engaging in a special collaboration…through a multi-year relationship” with LoveFrom, which Ive founded last year after ending his 27-year career at Apple. As part of the relationship, Ive will help “develop” Airbnb’s internal design team while Airbnb’s current design chief, Alex Schleifer, is reportedly stepping down.

Picking an industrial designer to revamp a services company is an interesting choice. But as the pandemic has disrupted the tourism industry more than Airbnb ever could, perhaps bringing on a paradigm-shifting designer like Ive is a good call.

During his tenure at Apple, Ive was responsible for the design of the Cupertino company’s greatest innovations, not least of all the iPhone, which revolutionized how customers interact with service providers.

The pioneering smartphone was designed as a tool to facilitate the nascent AppStore. It had to be intuitive and accessible for new users—which, at the time, was everyone. No doubt Airbnb hopes Ive will bring that empathy for the end user with him as he designs new customer experiences for travel in a post-pandemic world.

Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia has attributed much of Airbnb’s success in its early years to a design thinking strategy he picked up at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he and Chesky met.

“If we were working on a medical device, we would go out into the world. We would go talk with all of the stakeholders, all of the users of that product…We’d have the device applied to us, and we would sit there and feel exactly what it felt like to be the patient,” Gebbia said in an interview in 2015.

According to Gebbia, Airbnb directs its designers to experience the product—in this case, accommodation rentals—for themselves, too. That design thinking foundation may have helped Airbnb bounce back from the pandemic. At its low point, bookings were down 80%, forcing the company to cut 25% of its staff in May while taking on billions in additional debt.

But by June, bookings in the U.S. had recovered substantially as Airbnb pivoted to focus on domestic trips and virtual experiences. And by August, the company felt confident enough to relaunch its IPO, planned for later this year.

But as Chesky has said, travel is never going to be what it was before. Bringing in a transformative designer like Ive could help soothe investor confidence as Airbnb plans for an IPO in the travel industry’s most turbulent year to date.

More below

Eamon Barrett



New York University’s Ad Observatory, a research project that analyzes political ads on Facebook, released new information from its data collection that gives an insight into how both the presidential campaigns of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden use personal data to target users. One of the markers that helps campaigns pinpoint who to show their ads to, for example, is “interest in Lin-Manuel Miranda.” Facebook previously told the project that its data-scraping method is “not a permissible means of collecting information from us.”

Accessible test

Britain’s Royal National Institute of Blind People has developed a pregnancy test with tactile bumps that rise up to display test results rather than showing a visual result, like typical pregnancy stick tests. The prototype device would allow blind women to take pregnancy tests in private and learn of the results first, instead of having to ask someone else to assist them with reading it. 


On Monday, Twitter announced a new initiative to promote accurate information to its users about the upcoming U.S. presidential election: preemptively debunking ("prebunking") commonly circulated misinformation by pinning factual information about the election to the top of users’ timelines. 

Mate 40

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei unveiled its new Mate 40 smartphone series last week. The new phones come equipped with Leica camera lenses like earlier Mate series phones. They also feature camera upgrades, better graphics, faster processing speeds, a longer battery life, and faster charging speeds. Two of the four models in the new series, the Pro and Pro+, have a hands-free swiping function.


British designer Alice Potts created ‘bioplastic’ coronavirus face shields made from food waste and flowers she collected in London’s parks. The face shields are biodegradable, 3D-printed, and come in different colors depending on the type of flowers, vegetables, and fruits Potts uses to make them. (Beetroot yields a pink hue.) Potts plans to make the manufacturing and design information publicly available so that anyone can print their own sustainable face shields.



Dubai’s inaugural architecture festival, d3 Architecture Festival, will run November 11-13 on the sidelines of Dubai Design Week. The event will focus on sustainability—an existential issue for the desert city.

Canada’s annual graphic design fest, DesignThinkers, is running online this year, November 10-21—the first time in the event’s 20-year history that it hasn’t been held in person.


The National Gallery of Victoria’s art, design, and architecture exhibition, the NGV Triennial, will run from December 19 to April 18, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia.


“Based on input from developmentalists, data scientists, and youth advocates, 21st Century policies around data privacy and algorithmic design could also be constructed with adolescents’ particular needs in mind.”

Avriel Epps-Darling, a Harvard doctoral student, argues for The Atlantic that regulations on algorithmic biases fail to take age into account, despite evidence that trauma experienced as a result of systems bias is more harmful to adolescents than adults. There’s precedent for differentiating media regulation based on age, Epps-Darling says; look no further than regulations for advertisements targeting children.

This issue of Business by Design was curated by Naomi Xu Elegant.