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’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?
“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)
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.
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 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.
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 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.
It's probably mostly keeping all interfaces to payment vendors working.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?
This expense goes under marketing not R&D.
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".
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.
Paging the gang over at Twitter.
> 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.
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.
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.
The same can be said about software engineers. What is code craftsmanship?
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.
Keeping up with the ever changing requirements of service design, marketing and sales, I suppose.
Type design is a subtle thing - they are clearly similar, but definitely not identical
Let's be honest here, Netflix Sans and Airbnb Cereal are pretty much identical except for the grotesk details.
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'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.
Good catch. They obscured the most noticeable difference. Pretty cheeky.
And unnecessary. To the casual observer Netflix and Airbnb have the same new font.
We talk about reasoning for Cereal in the article and in my case study too. 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 ) 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
>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.
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.
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.
The font looks almost identical to a lot of other sans fonts.
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.
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.
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.
Can it? How many people-hours went into this, and which fonts have higher licensing costs than that?
But usually web & (mobile) app licensing is separate from designer workstation licensing.
Too much money, too much time on their hands, too much ego-driven decision-making.
Was Netflix Sans the determined starting point?
Good luck with that. I wonder how long that will take.
(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.)
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.
Especially considering their customer service and product quality (read: host integrity) issues.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
Can you provide a source that Hilton commissioned it?
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.
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.
Also, Wal-Mart's logo is set in Myriad Bold. They made slight alterations to the W, A, and T characters.
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.
To me this seems like a pretty cheap (and effective) marketing play by Airbnb.
I'm surprised they don't have a static site up for this kind of thing.
Well at least they did not give them the usual entertainment for bored designers: redesigning stuff that does not need a redesign.
I bet it's great for recruiting though. Kind of like google letting researchers waste half their time writing papers and going to conferences.
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.
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.
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.
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.