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Airbnb's new typeface (airbnb.design)
157 points by welder 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 169 comments

All I can gather from this is Airbnb has way too many engineers and designers for the amount of actual work there is to go around.

At the end of the day, the day to day engineering problems Airbnb has are not very interesting. It’s a web app that can handle peak traffic with standard technologies (meaning nothing real time, live streaming, or millions of users at once).

I have no clue what most engineers would be doing there day to day.

I don’t know, having spent a significant amount of time with Airflow and Superset, their analytics stack must take an army of engineers, product people, and analysts to use. They have to troubleshoot issues with visits in real time. They have to not double book properties and keep an audit log of every crazy thing hosts do, and detect all kinds of fraud, all while supporting global localization. The have municipal level compliance to manage, and I’m sure a huge back office to help their various legal efforts.

I’m convinced that any business that operates at global scale needs an army of engineers doing, training to do, and coordinating across hundreds of technical areas.

Or is hiring engineers somehow so glamourous that doing so outweighs the profit motive?

Sorry but are you really citing the problem of “not double booking” properties as one of the reasons Airbnb needs to hire an army of web developers?

“How many developers does it take to design a reservations schema?”

I would put open source projects like the ones you’ve mentioned as more evidence Airbnb has too many idle engineers. I think even Google uses Tableau for their BI analytics stack. There’s not necessarily any business justification for a private startup to have to build that from scratch, and the only way Airbnb could justify working on projects like that is if they had a ton of engineering capacity not already working on the core marketplace product.

Most if not all of the challenges you listed are non-engineering related (legal, compliance, host operations, localization)

Hmmm, then one has to wonder, how did AirBnb become so successful while so many others have failed? It's a mystery that will tease our imaginations until the end of time no doubt. If only there were some clue, some window into their company and culture that could help us explain this puzzle?

But yeah, seriously, how hard can it be to make AirBnb? It's just a couple of tables in a database, a HTML form and a jQuery image gallery.

That's a strawman. No one has stated that the success of AirBnB is easy to replicate, nor that a system of equal functionality is easy to create.

Isn't that just a transactional database and support staff? Sounds to me like any simple bookkeeping software with a web front-end.

In fact, were I inclined so, I could make an airbnb in a weekend. /s

I'll use an iceberg analogy: There are moving parts behind the scene making websites' wheels turn that you're not considering. I'm sure there are projects behind the scenes at Airbnb that are interesting but aren't apparent from an outside perspective. Don't judge a product's complexity by their landing page.

Since you worked for Uber, someone could say Uber only has a mobile presence so it's less complex and less interesting than a full website.

I don't get this post? Does this mean only Apple & Google are allowed to create fonts? Are companies no longer allowed explore pursuits outside their immediate business model?

I can only imagine posters like you, on Usenet back in the days complaining that Apple has "too many engineers & designers" when they had Susan Kare design their icons.

No, there is a difference what a VC-funded startup should be burning money on. It's not a public company, yet.

But where do we draw the line? Should they be buying cheap Lenovo laptops and second hand furniture for their office too, out of fiduciary duties? I don't mean to be facetious, but my point is that on some level the investors is investing in the company (or more accurately its leadership) and trust they will do the "right" thing... its a heuristics thing - does sweating the details on things that other people may find irrelevant make it so? Not necessarily. Building the brand, culture, product the way that the company deems it best is kind of what its about no? (validated by paying customers, company growth and whatever metrics the VCs and others are looking at).

Whilst "what a VC-funded startup should be burning money on" is something that the investors should have input on, I don't think random people on the Internet get to be the gatekeepers for what a company is allowed to do with their investors' money.

It's not about being allowed or disallowed. It's about having priorities as a startup. And every random person on the Internet has the right to say that his priorities at this stage would be very different.

If you think people shouldn't be discussing what companies do with their money then maybe you're on the wrong forum ;p

As an example of what some of the engineering people do, that wouldn't be an immediately obvious need if you haven't been involved in running global businesses at scale:


A tiny part of what they need all these resources for.

Obviously running any sufficiently large business on a global basis is a tad more complicated than simply keeping a website up that can absorb usage spikes.

I worked on payments at Uber for 2 years, so I know there is unavoidable complexity in operating at a global scale. I would argue payments is harder at Uber especially on the remittance side compared to Airbnb but obviously I’m biased.

I would agree that money engineering is probably the hardest problem they have. But unlike Uber they don’t have any realtime/streaming/GPS-dependent tech.

So outside of payments it’s not clear what “interesting” engineering problems they really have, which means throwing engineers and designers to work on pet projects they’ve convinced themselves is really important to the future of the company but are just...pet projects.

Airbnb handles hosts and guests paying each other in different currencies. They're also active in 190+ countries. I would say their payments system is more complex than most companies.

Setting up payment interfaces in each currency takes a while but matching isn't hard. FX streams are easy to get, the algorithms to convert currencies so that you avoid exposure are not complicated.

It's probably mostly keeping all interfaces to payment vendors working.

Brand is all they have, since the app is so simple. Saying that a typeface in an app is wasteful is like saying it’s wasteful for Starbucks to commission their own chairs.

...and does Starbucks commission their own chairs? Serious question

As any company grows, I’d argue that solidifying their identity becomes increasingly more important. Hence, a custom typeface they can use to distinguish the brand.

Whether it will be successful or worth the effort and expense is a different discussion. It seems like a well-designed and cohesive set of fonts, but otherwise unremarkable (in my opinion).

> All I can gather from this is Airbnb has way too many engineers and designers

This is a perfectly valid job for the design team (with the assistance of the engineering team, initially to make sure they are not missing technical requirements and latterly for implementation).

Presumably (I've not checked) they were previously using either very common font which doesn't stand out at all and/or a licensed font that was costing them money. Sorting the "stand out" issue is important because (much as I hate the fact) branding it important, and sorting any licensing issue could be even more so (licensing costs for typefaces can add up considerably at scale - those designers and engineers could have just saved the business a ton long-term).

Why did they not do this from the start then? That would probably have been premature optimisation. Early on in such a product/company's life-cycle there are growth issues to manage & engineer through/around and unexpected fires to fight, which are more important sinks for your engineering resource, but when the dust starts to settle a bit there is time to deal with important-but-less-urgent matters.

HN at its worst: using a post about creating a font as a cheap excuse to mock Airbnb's engineers and designers, their jobs and their reason for being employed there.

And somehow it's the top comment in the thread, as opposed to, say, actually discussing the font or the content of the article. Wtf.

I'm making a point on how indulgent it is to spend technical resources on something of so little consequence, and then write 2(!) 10,000+ word blogposts (including https://airbnb.design/working-type/) on it and also produce a video to announce it to the world.

The second blogpost actually says After 18 months of creating, refining, testing, and integrating, we flipped the switch and released Airbnb Cereal across our brand and product. 18 months?! This is HBO Silicon Valley level insanity.

Spend 18 months figuring out how to stop real issues on the marketplace like discrimination against minority guests. The only solution Airbnb has offered to quell the #AirbnbWhileBlack controversies that started in 2016 has been to force hosts and guests to click a button pledging to not discriminate. That is an actual issue. This is throwing idle bodies at a non-existent problem.

it's a classic HN. "I can build that in a weekend!"

Actually my response was - WHY build/work on this? I understand that licensing a font can cost a company a lot of money but there is no reason why a company of this size can't just use any of the thousands of open source fonts available. It is a waste of time/resources that is pretty characteristic of a big tech company (having worked at one).

In at least the cases I've seen - the reason why this happens is because design teams want to stand out and stamp their identity on the company. It is a reason to add imaginary value to internal "design studios" and promote designers to arbitrary titles.

And engineers, PMs, etc. mostly do the same. Create work, features, platforms that add no real value but simply to stamp their identity and pursue (effectively) self-promotion.

The original commenter makes a great point about saying that there are many other things to focus their energies. Okay, throwing engineers at a single problem is not a good way to do things.

But the AirBnB iOS app has been broken for ages. Various visual and functional bugs. Offline support is arguably the most important feature for an AirBnb app (if you're traveling and don't have service). But this hasn't been tackled at all.

Instead AirBnB engineers are going through all of their properties and updating their fonts, fixing issues with responsiveness/scaling, packaging on mobile platforms, etc. WHY?

The WHY is because they want a unique brand identifier. If they used a font anyone else could use then it would no longer be unique to the brand. Essentially they don't want you to feel comfortable or at home on a competitors site who may try to mimic their branding.

This expense goes under marketing not R&D.

First of all, nobody mentioned building anything in a weekend. Second, generic responses like yours can also be considered "classic HN", so it's kind of like the pot calling the kettle black.

And third, If you've made the same font for Netflix, it apparently takes 3 months to make enough subtle changes to brand it "one of a kind".

>And somehow it's the top comment in the thread, as opposed to, say, actually discussing the font or the content of the article. Wtf.

Specifics of your comment aside (which I may agree with), on principle it's not necessary to always discuss the "content of the article".

The post serves as a starting point. It doesn't have to confine and frame the discussion. Especially if there are other more important stuff lurking or implied behind what a post says.

I don't like excessive complaining but isn't it valid to ask why a company such as airbnb needs to spend the money on their own font?

Let's discuss the font then. It's boring and generic. Obviously it needs a 30-page puff piece written about it. Remind everybody the AirBnb had a super bowl ad, etc. This is not content marketing. Yada yada.

My guess is that their biggest technical challenge is fraud detection. High dollar two sided marketplace is ripe for it.

The designers do a lot of product development-- or it seems that way based n the narrative. The website is not AirBnBs product, they sell the entire experience. I get the sense it is a much more designer centric place than engineering.That said, i am sure the engineers are optimizing not only the site but the reams of inbound data that comes with a global business. Clearly they must defend against fraud, protect their users, do identity verification and other data intensive predictions. Its up to you whether these are "hard" or "interesting" but they probably do have a ton going on at their scale and while it is conparatively simple to google/fb i think you are dismissing a lot of challenges that may not be immeadiately obvious.

> too many engineers and designers for the amount of actual work there is to go around

Paging the gang over at Twitter.

It’s easy to say you’re overinvested in design, but many massively successful companies are separated from their also-ran competitors by seemingly minor design decisions, like 140 character limits or disappearing messages. In this context, design seems worth the money.

From Typology: Type Design from the Victorian Era to the Digital Age by Steven Heller and Louise Fili, page 185:

> They have also developed new faces based on these classical materials, but added those nuances and attributes that they lacked when current. Many of these faces are created for publishing, advertising, and computer clients who desire exclusive, proprietary alphabets. Like the king of France in the seventeenth century, these companies are patrons of an iconoclastic breed of type designer. The New Classicism is about both revival and invention, because there is no sense in remaking type that has existed before without improving upon it.

The font was commissioned from Dalton Maag, who specialize in this kind of work (as the second highest ranked comment notes). So if anything it is money that is being wasted, not employee time.

After 18 months of creating, refining, testing, and integrating, we flipped the switch and released Airbnb Cereal across our brand and product.

I'm not sure what you mean—but it is very important to note that the bulk of the work of creating a new, globally-internationalized typeface, is hard, tedious editing of glyphs and kerning tables etc.

Sure, AirBnB staff were involved, but they did not put in the huge amount of effort necessary to actually create the font. So that effort did not happen on AirBnB's property, so to speak, while AirBnB design staff "got to commission a font" as part of their career progress.

https://airbnb.design/introducing-airbnb-cereal/ is PR puff, it could mean they spent an afternoon or a decade of human-hours on this.

Look at it this way: if their technology cannot separate them from their competition, they effectively are a marketing/sales driven company.

I’m not saying that should spend time and resources on a font now, but I’m also not saying they shouldn’t.

A font can help their branding, and having a strong brand can help keeping their margins high. Typography works for Coca-Cola, for example.

Designers are creatives. It is better to nurture a great team of designers with projects such as these because of the intrinsic rewards the project creates for it's creators. You don't keep design talent around for long unless the work engages creative passions.

The same can be said about software engineers. What is code craftsmanship?

The argument was that there are too many designers and engineers. Not keeping the talent around for long is exactly the point.

Have you every written a scheduling app or a booking engine? At their scale, it’s hardly not interesting. Just that aspect alone is crazy hard to get right. On top of that they essentially have a CMS for hosts and very complex payment system. Security alone requires a pretty massive team.

Each component of their system could be a separate company. I own a small B&B in a tiny corner of Provence and I get dozens of inquiries a week — all of those inquires are spending time looking at images, checking availability, etc. now multiple that across almost the world and you will find some extremely interesting engineering challenges.

And site reliability has been exceptional. I’ve also never encountered a single bug in my normal use. That’s a big deal.

> I have no clue what most engineers would be doing there day to day.

Keeping up with the ever changing requirements of service design, marketing and sales, I suppose.

This is basically what I’ve gathered from spending time inside their main HQ as well. A bunch of insanely overpaid people drinking free beer and doing absolutely nothing interesting while supporting a Rails app.

Maybe they can use them to start complying with local laws.

Dalton Maag probably had a pretty good 2018 so far: https://twitter.com/kodform/status/996447044100386816?s=21

Yep. Those look almost identical.

It's hard being one of a kind when all everyone wants is Helvetica, but not exactly.

Seriously. Just use Helvetica Nueue.

It's perfect.

Neue? I guess the only flaw of that font is its spelling. ;)

Look again: a, f are pretty different, proportions differ all over (see O), and the author of the tweet clearly hid the tapered & much wider aperture of the Airbnbs e behind the image.

Type design is a subtle thing - they are clearly similar, but definitely not identical

That image comes straight from their own announcement: https://airbnb.design/introducing-airbnb-cereal/

Type design is a subtle thing is such a wrong statement. Type design is everything - big and small things. This is why it takes a long time to design a timeless font because the search domain is insanely massive.

Let's be honest here, Netflix Sans and Airbnb Cereal are pretty much identical except for the grotesk details.

I was curious if you used the word "grotesk" as a technical term in type design, like how "gothic" (apparently) has typographic meaning. I looked it up, and learned that "grotesque" is a class/category of sans-serif fonts.

Re-reading your last sentence, you probably meant in a general way, as in "grotesque: characterized by ludicrous or incongruous distortion; outlandish or bizarre".


Edit: Oh, here's a great comment from someone who worked on the font, with a mention of "Grotesque" san-serif.


I meant it in a typographical sense.

I did notice the subtle differences there and certainly agree. In particular the angular terminals. That's why I said "almost". I'd never dismiss those differences, but do those subtle differences align with a goal of distinct identity? Identity feels like more of a higher level observation. For example, if you had two white hats with black text on them in each typeface, you probably wouldn't be able to identify at a glance which company they came from.

I mean, you could say the same about Lufthansa and (formerly) American's use of Helvetica. But no one would accuse them of having the same corporate identity.

I think the big difference here is how much the typeface itself is touted as being being new or distinct from others as a foundation for their style going forward. Perhaps that's just the impression though. For the airlines' use of Helvetica, that design choice was deliberate. How unique the choice was from others wasn't the main thing going on.

I'm not sure I've effectively communicated that thought. Seems tricky to convey. Again, it seems like maybe I'm getting an impression that isn't intentional.

> the author of the tweet clearly hid the tapered & much wider aperture of the Airbnbs e behind the image

Good catch. They obscured the most noticeable difference. Pretty cheeky.

And unnecessary. To the casual observer Netflix and Airbnb have the same new font.

That's a bold move.

One of the people involved in the project and answering questions in the article. Happy to answer more questions.

We talk about reasoning for Cereal in the article and in my case study too[1]. In large organizations, you often have tens or hundreds of designers, support multiple platforms (ios, android, web(mac, windows, linux) and do ad campaigns around the world. When it comes to typefaces, there really isn't any universal system fonts (other than Arial maybe), that are available on all platforms. If you use different fonts on each platform, the design will be slightly different, trying to manage a cross-platform design system (like we do [2]) becomes challenging. Every time, designer has to pick the right font, potentially do 2-3 designs with different font to make sure they all look how they want them to. Also then each time user or anyone in the company looks at the design on their device, it look will slightly different. If the marketing then also uses different type, it will look slightly off if you include product shots (one reason why Apple now uses SF everywhere). Short answer: having multiple fonts causes additional work and can confuse people, especially inside the company.

Since there isn't universal cross-platform fonts, it means you often have to embed fonts, and in some cases license them. Licensing fonts is different than just buying a font file. Even for small developers quality fonts can run up to $50,000 per app (imagine what the licensing costs are for a global company with large userbase!). With licensing you never get exactly what you want in terms of expression and functionality, and other brands can easily buy the same thing.

As the last point, what I find really exciting that we can now consider font kind of like a software. We change it whenever we find problems or just want to improve something. That is usually not possible with licensing. Obviously, you would and should only do your own typeface if you have these kind of issues and care enough wanting to solve them.

[1]: https://airbnb.design/working-type/

[2]: https://airbnb.design/building-a-visual-language/

Congrats to your team on creating what looks like a very versatile font. I can appreciate the benefits that creating a custom font will have.

One of the other commenters mentioned that AirBnB's Cereal and Netflix Sans (both overseen by Dalton Maag) are almost identical. Could you speak to the differences, technical or otherwise between the results and how that relates to differentiating the brand aesthetic?

I wasn't part of the Netflix Sans or have insight into the process or have access to their fonts, so cannot really speak to the differences per say.

I can say that modern(since 15th century) latin based type, is usually based one of the traditional type families: Humanist (Venetian pen-writing, eg. Palantino), Grotesques (sans-serifs) and Neo-grotesques (more geometric grotesques like Helvetica). In terms of creating a usable typeface, you pretty much follow one or two of those traditional families, and then adjust terminals, proportions and other features. If you go too crazy, it might just look strange and not work well anymore. You can create something very distinct for a very special purpose, say a movie title score for a scifi movie, but for an UI, you want something that doesn't distract the user. Its like most visual design, you want it be pleasant, but user should eventually forget the design and focus on the task at hand.

We started this project a while back (18mo ago which is timeline not an active development time), and received and tested probably around 30 different font file iterations during that process. These included several directions of the font families based on our initial ideation workshop. Even when you're in the process, it can be pretty hard to see the differences, just looking some of the letters, unless you really focus and try to tease out the differences. Something like 'o' is pretty much the same in all same family typefaces, and most letters have very similar shape. In our case, we did a lot of testing around actually designing existing or new UIs and where is becomes much more apparent how all the letters and proportions work together. (If anyone wants to test it, then pick 5 or so very similar looking fonts like Roboto, SF, Helvetica, and design few screens with it with varying sizes, amount of content and weights, compare and see how the differences feel.)

Our goal since the beginning was to find something that works well in UI, and is expressive for marketing. Some weights like Book, Medium and Bold are meant for UI where as ExtraBold and Black are more towards marketing. We find that where we are now is definitely an improvement for what we had before. Both our brand and design is quite minimal and heavily relies on type, we think that it's important to control it and make sure it feels like us.

This is a brilliant answer, and not terribly far from what I was expecting. Thanks for taking the time.

Do you have any specific insight into where testing didn't succeed, or where other typefaces reached the limits of your constraints before deciding to go this route? For example, if a low-res phone screen couldn't legibly display type at small sizes.

op delivers a usual...

the fact is 99.999999% of people do not see or notice the difference.

i can say with strong belief that changing your font did not add to your bottom line.

Fonts are a very subliminal thing. Sure, you may not be able to point out the differences between certain fonts, but many can tell the difference between different corporate identities.

Doesn't that ignore OP's additional point:

>If you use different fonts on each platform, the design will be slightly different, trying to manage a cross-platform design system ... becomes challenging. Every time, designer has to pick the right font, potentially do 2-3 designs with different font to make sure they all look how they want them to. Also then each time user or anyone in the company looks at the design on their device, it look will slightly different.

Where simply commissioning this font to be used globally for everything from product to marketing will reduce the amount of time spent on creating design materials (ultimately saving the company money or allowing their employees to focus on more important tasks)?

Or his other point where commissioning this font incurs a one off cost and reduced spending in licensing.

> Since there isn't universal cross-platform fonts, it means you often have to embed fonts, and in some cases license them. Licensing fonts is different than just buying a font file. Even for small developers quality fonts can run up to $50,000 per app (imagine what the licensing costs are for a global company with large userbase!). With licensing you never get exactly what you want in terms of expression and functionality, and other brands can easily buy the same thing.

Will this typeface be only used for the UI and marketing, or also for Airbnb's logo[1]?

[1]: https://press.atairbnb.com/media-assets/?categ=Logos

Did you look at making it a variable font to reduce bandwidth on web loads?

> If you use different fonts on each platform, the design will be slightly different

Oh no, the fonts will look different on different devices! Better commission a custom font.

Back in the day, we just accepted that was how the web worked.

Jokes aside, I see why you'd want consistency across devices and print. But what's wrong with using an open source typeface, or modifying one for your purposes?

> and other brands can easily buy the same things.

Why do you think a unique font is essential for branding? Some well known fonts are in use by many companies.

I think people are perhaps downvoting you for the joke but it is a really important question.

A or B?

A - Design a custom typeface in 3 months for a project

B - Use a proven typeface from one of the world's best designers, say Adrian Frutiger's Univers that has been tested and updated for digital medium?

I am a bit old fashioned I guess. There is so much beauty in Didot, Univers or DIN than today's quickly churned out fonts. Technology has changed, but the methodology hasn't and an impeccable font takes a better half of the decade to perfect.

Someone else jumps on the "we need a new font!" bandwagon...

"We have specific business needs around brand distinction, legibility, and scalability, that no available typefaces were addressing"

The font looks almost identical to a lot of other sans fonts.

The difference between a fontset that looks similar and a fontset that solves for all the business requirements can be vast. Cereal appears to be extremely versatile and distinct in a few key areas. You don't need a custom font to distinguish your brand from others, but you probably do if you're going to be using that one typeface for every damn thing in every damn scenario.

I think the fact that this new font has an installed base of 0 counts against it's versatility.

I think the fact that a negligible amount of the general public could pick the new font (knowingly, not by guessing) out of a group of 9 other sans fonts counts against it's ability to distinguish the airbnb brand from others.

I don't think more than 1 in 9 people chosen randomly out of the general public would be able to accurately name any font and don't think this has any bearing on distinction. I did ask a followup question regarding the similarity to Netflix Sans however. Secondly, I don't understand your first statement.

Installed base is pretty meaningless in a world of web fonts and mobile apps. Everyone will need to download the font once. Not a big deal.

The installation process isn't the sum total of the point there. Known-good is better than unknown, all other things equal (and not to sound condescending but they basically are).

It's low risk but frankly it's even lower reward. If their goal was to distinguish themselves, perhaps they could do it more effectively through something people would notice.

Their goal turned out not to be to distinguish themselves.

Yes but this one is addressing legibility and scalability.

Why do they use a screenshot with a typo for demonstration purposes? Beautiful is misspelled as "beutiful". Why are all these companies designing their own fonts. It's not needed and for primarily mobile-based apps it ends up being jarring.

My personal take on this:

Q: why do they use a screenshot with a typo.

A: Maybe to bring attention to the font? To the letters that are missing or those that are present? Maybe just because they can.

Q: Why are all these companies designing their own fonts. It's not needed...

A: Many reasons. It can be cheaper than licensing other fonts. It makes their apps (and brand) stand out. Or people might find it more aesthetically pleasing. The perceived `need` for it, has nothing to do with whether or not you need it for their app/website to function properly. And maybe `jarring` is exactly what they want.

It can be cheaper than licensing other fonts

Can it? How many people-hours went into this, and which fonts have higher licensing costs than that?

It's definitely not cheaper than using free fonts. Or even modifying an existing one -- it's not as if Airbnb's exclusive use of this font is going to benefit them in any measurable way. Even if that were necessary, it seems like they should have just paid Netflix to use their font, and maybe make some changes, rather than working with Dalton Maag to make damn near the same thing.

I mean, what's the most expensive commercial font license? Neue Helvetica is $350/yr/cpu.

Does a per-cpu licence allow you to use the font in all your publications?

I don't know the details of Linotype GmbH's licensing agreements, but my point was that this route is surely less expensive than commissioning a new font.

I am certain they don't want to pay that per mobile CPU it runs on…

But usually web & (mobile) app licensing is separate from designer workstation licensing.

> Q: Why are all these companies designing their own fonts. It's not needed...

It's marketing.

> Why are all these companies designing their own fonts.

Too much money, too much time on their hands, too much ego-driven decision-making.

So... it seems like Netflix Sans plus more open apertures (angled terminals) on letters like "e" and "a"

Was Netflix Sans the determined starting point?

Pretty much... The firm that made Netflix Sans made this one too. Looks like they just tweaked it a bit for Airbnb.


But they will say - "Oh, fonts are all about subtle things". Yes and no, you're wrong. The search domain for fonts is extremely large and that's why it takes forever, in some cases a decade, to design a really timeless font. Not in 3 months, or worse - modify Netflix Sans and pawn it off as "One of a kind".

Seems like it's essentially Netflix Sans with enough changes to be different IP

Typefaces can't be protected, at least in the US.


That's kind of amusing. So in theory someone could just copy their typeface and rewrite the "font" and publish it for free. That makes the entire thing seem even more pointless -- if one guy can copy Operator Mono (I found at least one clone of that font as soon as I searched for it on Google) what is the point of paying some design firm to make you damn near the same thing as Netflix Sans when you could just rip it off yourself?

Typeface designs are protected in some countries outside the US, and even within the US the font _code_ is protected.

I get Error establishing a database connection

Same here, in a very pedestrian typeface no less.

I found it bold.

Does anyone else with astigmatism notice that the e, c, and even the a are way too closed off? Especially for print (and on the heavier weights), good luck distinguishing these characters from far away with an o.

Is your astigmatism uncorrected? I can make the characters out just fine, but I wear contacts for astigmatism.

i find it fascinating how bizarrely hostile to a company developing a new font some people are. it's just branding and identity, like logos, color schemes and design languages. not really a big deal. but holy smokes do people talk a lot of shit about fonts... for whatever reason. what's going on? is it really about the company, and not the font?

> Our Latin character set has a few hundred characters but Chinese Simplified, for example, has over 27,000. We intend to expand to include script systems used by our global community including Chinese, Japanese, Devanagari, Arabic, Hebrew, Cyrillic, Greek, and Thai, and that will take time.

Good luck with that. I wonder how long that will take.

This is really cool, and I love the name and its connection to Airbnb founding story

God I wish we had “own typeface” money.

Just get Font-Forge[0] and a protractor. Give it a week or two and you'll be able to throw together some copycat LL Circular[1] derivative, to give the illusion of having 'own typeface' money, which might in turn look rather impressive to prospective investors.

(At least, when you say 'we', I presume you're speaking on behalf of a fledgling business. If you're just saying that you'd like more money for your family, well, I guess I'd still recommend making fonts because it's very lucrative work apparently.)

[0]: https://fontforge.github.io/en-US/

[1]: https://fontsinuse.com/uses/7192/airbnb-identity-website-app...

Is it just me, or is the design motif that airbnb is adopting in this post fairly similar to dropbox's? I'm also reminded of it in the new gmail interface.

and iOS 11

How so?

I‘m not at all a font expert or even geek, so forgive me if that’s dumb: Do all those new product fonts look like Circular [1]? It’s always struck me as a very unique font, but it’s becoming less unique every day it seems.

1: https://lineto.com/The+Fonts/Font+Categories/Text+Fonts/Circ...

That's a curious charge, since Circular was Airbnb's CI font until today.

This post is like the corporate version of the masterbatory Ikea scene in Fight Club.

I liken this to a hotel that decides to make their own lightbulbs. Or a department store that produces it's own bespoke cash registers.

You can't argue that typography is so vital to their business that this is a useful allocation of resources. Obviously, design is important to any company that markets itself in some way. But not every company designs their own typeface (although it seems like it, lately.)

Some are saying it's important for AirBnB to have their own distinct look, and that requires a custom typeface. BS. Plenty of successful companies managed to create a distinct brand identity using helvetica.


Some are saying it's cheaper to make your own typeface than to license one. Really? There are no cheaper typefaces that look suitable? (I'm not saying this is impossible. I'm genuinely curious. Is that how bad it is?)

We have open source typography. Are none of those fonts suitable for their purpose? Can any of them be improved by the designers at AirBnB? That sounds like it would be cheaper than starting from scratch.

I care about beautiful typography as much as the next web designer / marketer / start up-whatever. But I also know how a business runs. And this seems like something the business should not focus on. Tell me I'm wrong.

This is as much about designers and egoists jerking themselves off in the service of a new 'corporate identity' as it is about a meaningful evolution in image.

The recent HN links to articles on "bullshit jobs" come to mind.

I liken this to a hotel that decides to make their own lightbulbs. Or a department store that produces it's own bespoke cash registers.

Especially considering their customer service and product quality (read: host integrity) issues.

You're wrong, and I don't get the impression that you care as much about beautiful typography as much as the next web designer / marketer / start up-whatever. Design is about solving problems. I'd offer up the analogy of Starbucks where I happen to be sitting and working. They create much of their own everything as part of creating a consistent environment for an innumerable amount of possible circumstances in which their stores need to be successful. If it's not bespoke, it's selected which is perfectly fine to do. Sometimes that doesn't work, sometimes it does. Sometimes you want that as your constraint so the object you're making is more easily repairable with commodity parts. Sometimes you're in the market of building the most popular gadgets in the world and you're the only one maintaining them.

Having stayed in various hotels (including expensive ones) which used atrocious lightbulbs, I would’t mind if some of them decided to choose lightbulbs more carefully.

Manufacturing might be a bit overboard, as that takes running a factory, but if a hotel wanted to partner with an existing lightbulb factory to commission lightbulbs matching the hotel’s spec, that might be a nice feature.

In the case of lightbulbs, they could probably find something available off the shelf which matched whatever reasonable spec they might develop. But for a large hotel chain, ordering custom lightbulbs probably wouldn’t break the bank.

* * *

Helvetica is an awful typeface for anything but posters, logos, and headlines. Please never use Helvetica for body copy.

Agreeed on Helvetica. I was just using it as an example of a typeface that's popular in branding despite it's ubiquity. But I'd never set body copy in helvetica. The letters are hard to distinguish at small sizes.

Why do you presume to say what AirBnB "should not" do? You get to run your business according to your priorities, as does AirBnB's CEO.

> Plenty of successful companies managed to create a distinct brand identity using helvetica.

You could use this logic to criticize basically any company expenditure as frivolous. Plenty of companies do things that probably aren't strictly necessary for their survival. I for one am grateful to live in a world where companies sometimes do interesting and creative things, even if it isn't an obvious and immediate win on the balance sheet.

> Why do you presume to say what AirBnB "should not" do? You get to run your business according to your priorities, as does AirBnB's CEO.

If we followed your reasoning, most CEOs would be immune from criticism.

I, on the other hand, have a different rule of thumb. If a company does something in public, it's fair game for the public to talk about it.

>You could use this logic to criticize basically any company expenditure as frivolous.

I hope not! That's not my intention. I'm just refuting the idea that branding requires a unique typeface.

The reason this is frivolous is because the company's core business is in writing the app and matching vacationers with short term rentals. Designing a typeface seems unrelated to their core business, and is probably best left to someone else, while they focus on what they're good at.

Their core business is making two private parties feel good enough about each other in order to conducts a higher value transaction.

Friendliness, trust, professionalism are all part of the image AirBnB wants to convey to guests and hosts. I would say that a font is extremely a part of their core business as anything that even slightly improves the feeling of confidence you want your customers to have when they book a room — improves conversations, perceived satisfaction and a whole host of other intangible, but still very real aspects of the AirBnB experience.

Spend some time as an AirBnB host and you’ll quickly understand their core business is beyond just being a transaction engine but more around almost being a therapeutic interface between hosts and needy, insecure and hesitant guests. Remember also that AirBnB is growing rapidly — a large number of hosts and guest have never “done this sort of thing” before. So AirBnB’s design motifs have to be psychologically perfect to make those people, like your Aunt Edna, feel safe.

For the average HN reader, certainly Menlo, Times New Roman or Comic Sans would be suitable.

Design matters and it matters a hell of a lot when you are dealing with the “normal” public.

The problem is you can apply your logic to anything and any business. I bet having a nice comfortable pencil makes the experience of filling out a form better too. Or maybe businesses should design their own paint since the texture of the paint is the first thing that anyone notices when entering a an office room, and having a nice perfect personal paint that minimizes speculars is ideal for a friendly atmosphere. Or maybe Enterprise should design their own leather since car rental is so so personal, and the feel of the leather enhances everything about renting a car.. or maybe they should make their own tires since tires affect the entire experience so much.. and on and on...

Is a font the number one thing? Number two? number three? Or maybe number 62? Ofcource a company is "allowed" to do whatever they want. I don't see why anyone should be forced to take their actions seriously.

>Design matters and it matters a hell of a lot when you are dealing with the “normal” public.

Sure it matters, just like everything matters, just not to the degree that designers think it does. Like I said in another post about UX - I'd bet half a paycheck that the only people who really really care about the new "cool" designs are (1) Bosses looking to take credit (2) Bored tech writers looking for content (3) UX Peers looking for validation (4) Tech people looking for new toys.

Anything a company does, in private or in public, is legitimately subject to criticism.

I'd actually be moderately surprised if there were no extant hotel companies that have commissioned a typeface. They might not have bragged about it, and you might not have heard about it, but it's not like it's an unthinkable thing to do.

It doesn't say anywhere on the page that Hilton commissioned that typeface. Could just be named Hilton. Can't find a source anywhere else, either.

Can you provide a source that Hilton commissioned it?

My mistake. I confused it with "SimpleJoys" which they're using all over their website. SimpleJoys oddly enough can only be downloaded from the official Hilton Dropbox account.

Edit: In a bit of an ancillary note, it looks like they are serving the font directly from their wp-content folder as a static asset. This might indicate that they either came to own it or commissioned it.


What about a hotel making its own mattress? Westin did this with massive commercial success.

> I liken this to a hotel that decides to make their own lightbulbs.

The key differentiator between AirBnB and a hotel is the community. By adopting a more flippant variation of the well-known humanist sans-serif fonts, they're communicating that their experience is more about the people and the connections than just the physical infrastructure of a boring old Helvetica hotel.

Having their own typeface is good strategically because it helps to create a moat around the product experience.

It's similar to how Wal-Mart created their own typeface to double down on their American-as-apple-pie branding. Now every time you drive past a Wal-Mart, the font tells that story before you even walk into the store.

Typography doesn't feel like a moat to me. If a competitor offered better service than AirBnB, nobody would stick around solely because of the typeface. Best you can say is, good design could contribute to a moat, and typography is one part of that.

Also, Wal-Mart's logo is set in Myriad Bold. They made slight alterations to the W, A, and T characters.

> Now every time you drive past a Wal-Mart, the font tells that story before you even walk into the store.

If so for me, then it must be subliminal, as I had not even noticed the typeface. If the message is 'bland' and 'unexceptional', then at least I have not been subliminally misled.

Bland and unexceptional is the brand. Walmart isn’t trying to be fun or cool, they’re trying to signal “cheap stuff inside.” If bland and unexciting came to your mind, it’s working.

I don't really know much it costs to buy a custom font by these designers (Google suggests 150K USD and up).

To me this seems like a pretty cheap (and effective) marketing play by Airbnb.

No need to reinvent the wheel. There's already Comic Sans.

Error establishing a database connection

that serves up garbage.

I'm surprised they don't have a static site up for this kind of thing.

Sad that an article on Airbnb’s font gets more attention than most startups could ever hope to get.

Well, Airbnbs font will be seen by more people than most startups...

I find it profoundly stupid for Airbnb to have their own typeface. It's like they have lots of designers around and have to keep them busy with something.

Well at least they did not give them the usual entertainment for bored designers: redesigning stuff that does not need a redesign.

It probably took a week just to put together this post.

I bet it's great for recruiting though. Kind of like google letting researchers waste half their time writing papers and going to conferences.

Recruiting who though? More designers?


It's a prestige thing. The current wave can probably be traced to Microsoft in the early 2010s, with its bespoke Segoe type family. Google followed with Roboto, then Apple with SF, and now you've got everyone from Coca-Cola to CNN commissioning their own type families.

(Large) companies & publishers have had their own typefaces designed since long (centuries) before that.

It got cheaper since the same electronic font can be used for (almost) all sizes, design purposes, etc. though, so it's also happening more often now.

Creating a typeface which you own is cheaper than licensing a third-party typeface, at scale.

If they just said that I'd respect it more than I do after 1500 words of self aggrandizing nonsense about how no other typeface reflects "their brand's personality".

This is why people make fun of silicon valley. Your new font isn't changing the world and it's not adding value to anything. Certainly not adding value equal to its cost.

>> Creating a typeface which you own is cheaper than licensing a third-party typeface, at scale.

The cheapest fonts are the ones installed on a users system. Web sites and apps do not need to include fonts at all. In fact it's easy to argue that the users should be selecting the fonts on their devices in most cases.

Never let the user control your brand. System fonts should always be thrown away.

Every company web site & app needs to include their own font. Otherwise, you become a commodity, and you can be replaced by your competitors.

Business is about being different from competitors, not the same. And people buy things that look good.

Companies that have crappy branding lose money, because they lose customers to other companies.

If your major differentiating factor is mainly branding, you are already a commodity. Customers will often use shitty looking products if there's something in it for them.

Not for a network effect business. A network effect business doesn’t need a strong advantage or even any advantage if the network is strong enough. Note that eBay has barely changed in 20 years yet is still the only place to go to get Hamburglar sunglasses or whatever.

Good point.

There are lots of really great open source typefaces. In my experience, these choice tend to be more about branding than cost savings (not that cost savings isn't a nice potential benefit).

This is likely the reason. I forget the article/post, but I recall reading about this on HN a while back. Basically the licensing for fonts across all platforms can become very costly, so developing a typeface in house becomes an appealing choice once your designs are in front of X number of people (commercial/web/print/etc).

This is definitely the reason IBM invented Plex -- they have designers aplenty after the IBM Design initiative a few years back and they discovered that unfortunately Helvetica Neue costs money.

Why do you think it's stupid? Having your own typeface makes your brand subconsciously recognizable at a glance.

Given how similar it is to Netflix Sans (and probably many other Sans fonts) I highly doubt that this is something you would prove if you were to test it.

Yes, which is why I said subconsciously.

Must be nice to have enough millions (by taking away apartments from city-dwellers and avoiding laws) to afford a custom typeface.

Please do a major rehaul of your crappy user interface instead of that stuff

This font is the definition of frivolous corporate idiocy.

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