What Questions do Airbnb Design Researchers Ask?

“Find your inner two year-old and ask ‘why’ over and over again to understand someone’s behavior.”

Sasha Lubomirsky loves to ask questions. For the last three years, she’s been tackling the big questions about people and product at Airbnb. Before that, she was the first user researcher at YouTube where she saw the company grow from 65 employees to a household name. She spent an evening with our Bridge community sharing her research process and below are some of the insights .

A couple of aims

The most important factor in getting useful answers is knowing how to ask the right questions.

There are four different types of questions that user research can answer. Read on to learn how to ask questions about user behavior, anticipating future scenarios, usability, and frameworks.

1. Understand current behavior

First, understand  your current user’s natural behavior. This often involves zooming out a level. For example, with Pinterest, it’s not just about what makes someone re-pin something, but how they think in general about looking at products online. Find your inner two year-old and ask “why” over and over again in order to understand someone’s behavior.

2. Anticipate future behavior

The future is uncertain, but research makes it less to. The next type of question helps anticipate the future. These types of questions are for the times when, you’ve started to build something, but it’s not fully flushed out. This research helps designers approximate how people will think about the product when it comes out and to make sure the product is useful.

For their recent rebrand at Airbnb, Sasha showed a prototype version of a page that had significant changes to both guests and hosts in order to “try to understand as best we could how their behavior might change.” This type of research is a way to get the most informed hypothesis.

3. Make sure it’s usable

Usability only matters if everything else is right. Usability testing is probably the most straightforward. These questions, such as “Can the user get from point A to point B without getting confused?” are like the icing on the cake. If the product isn’t useful or desirable, the usability doesn’t matter that much.

One tool Sasha recommends for fast usability testing is usertesting.com. The website has a large pool of users who take tests in their home and send the reports back to you. And you can recruit people based on the criteria you want for the test.

4. Appreciate individuality and then create designable frameworks

Next is “frameworks.” These are the personas and other tools that are carried throughout the design process. Personas allow designers to make an archetype for a diverse group of people based on how they interact with the product. An example of personas for Airbnb users are the hosts who want to get booked throughout the month versus hosts who only host once in awhile when they themselves are traveling.

Sasha with a Japanese host showing photos she’s taken with all her guests

5. For best results, design the findings.

The last and most important step in research is getting the findings integrated in the product roadmap. Timing when research is presented is key. Having a polished visual representation of your research is powerful and a great way to get everyone onboard and on the same page. When presented clearly, it’s hard to argue with research.


If you’re interested in learning more about Bridge, check out our site and keep in touch here to be invited to apply early before applications open September 15th.

Thank you Sasha Lubomirsky and Julia Plevin for the recap. 



Sasha Lubomirsky

Sasha Lubomirsky is a design researcher at Airbnb, where she’s helped grow the team since 2011. Before that, she was at Google, helping grow the nascent YouTube team, and then helping do the same with Android. Sasha spends her time thinking about how to answer important product questions in the most scrappy way possible that informs both how to improve the user experience and positively impact the business.

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