The secret to Airbnb’s successful rebrand

Unless you’ve been abstaining from social media this week, it can hardly have escaped your notice that Airbnb, the global accommodation finder, has undergone a rebrand, including a brand new logo.

The official name for the logo mark is Bélo, and they’d like it to become “the universal symbol for belonging”. It’s an appealing notion, even if the cynic in me realizes that Nike would like their tick to become the universal symbol for running, and Apple would like their fruit to become the universal symbol for the Internet.


The new Airbnb logo

Designed by London-based design studio, DesignStudio, the new logo is undeniably a substantial improvement on the original—which looked like the lettering from a ’90s sega video game. Despite this, within minutes of its unveiling the new design had begun to be mocked across the twitterverse.

The new mark has been likened to everything from a bear’s nose, to a stealth bomber, to female genitalia. What’s interesting is that almost everyone has an opinion on the company’s branding — it’s not a new phenomenon, the same thing happened with Yahoo — from hipster wannabe to hippie used-to-be, the whole world seems to value being perceived as design-literate.


The original Airbnb logo

But if that’s the case, why did so many people begin by mocking the new mark? Well, the human eye is a strange device: rather than record what it sees, it records what it expects to see. That’s why devoutly religious people often see the image of a saint in their toast; it’s why people who watch too much porn saw Lisa Simpson doing something unspeakable in the London 2012 Olympics logo. We expect corporate logos to flop, because so many have before.

But if we’re objective, the new Airbnb logo looks no more like genitalia than a lowercase ‘d’, or (heaven forfend) a lowercase ‘a’.

I suspect the real reason most people began mocking the design is that it was simply fun. It’s irreverent, and carries with it a small victory for freedom over the power of the mighty corporation. And that, is exactly what Airbnb were aiming for.

With admirable self-assurance the marketing team at Airbnb have embraced the idea of a logo that can be altered, not just depending on what document it’s presented on, but everytime it’s used. They’ve even created a dedicated micro-site to help you create your own version of the Bélo. Renting out a lodge near Yellowstone park? Why not turn the logo into a bear’s face? Renting out rooms next to an airforce base? Why not turn the logo into a stealth bomber? There are probably apartments in Amsterdam mocking it up as genitalia right now.

My first thought when I saw the new design was that it looked like a map pointer; my second, was that it looked like someone providing shelter with their outstretched arms; thirdly, I felt it resembled the habitat logo that I’ve admired for years. I didn’t see the heart, or the keyhole, both of which are ‘official’ interpretations. But what matters to Airbnb, is that I had both a personal, and an emotional response: if I’m lost, they’ll point me in the right direction; if I need shelter, they’ll provide it; they’ve probably got some comfy bauhaus-style furniture.

Airbnb have recognized that every single member of their community is more than just a supplier; and that just as every room, apartment, town house, or lodge is unique; so too are the experiences they offer us. Airbnb’s rebrand provides a framework for each user to redefine the brand in their own way, without detracting from the overall identity.

The logo is so successful not because it represents the brand, but because it embodies the brand’s core values. It’s a design that is simultaneously intelligent, self-aware and brave.

  • Sean Jamshidi

    The excitement is dying.

  • Air d in b

    Looks like rainbow pride minimalistic dickbutt. Also the guy who made this should retire from design after he gets the prize “laziest designer in the world”

    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Thanks for your insightful comment.

  • Shae

    I think it’s slick, although, it does look like one of those oddly shaped paper clips.

  • Ondřej David

    While that is all well and good, the mark doesn’t strike me as unique ( or strong enough. Just from the oficial picture, where the logo is finger painted on the glass, you can see how different it is and hardly retains the proper shape. With the colour being optional I don’t see the branding that succesful and in the future heavily driven by massive marketing budget, rather than design.

    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Originality is both overrated, and frankly, mythical. However in this case the claim from both Airbnb, and from Automation Anywhere is that they arrived at the shape independently, and that Automation Anywhere are in the middle of a rebrand anyway.

  • Porknaut

    I actually kind of liked the design at first, and then the entire internet saw all manner of genetalia. Unfortunately, I cannot unsee such things, so the brand is ruined for me. And every time a designer talks about how the new Airbnb logo “embodies” certain things, it makes me laugh a little.

    So I definitely would not call it a successful rebrand. Especially when the CEO himself had to write a blog post for damage control.

    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      The CEO write the blog post as part of the launch, it’s not damage control, especially as there’s been no damage.

  • Nodws

    Successful? :/

    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Their traffic is reportedly up, their brand recognition is undoubtedly up, they’ve got a simple brand that will work for them for years. Hard to see what isn’t a success.

  • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

    Plagiarism is copying a design from someone else — both Airbnb and (importantly) Automation Anywhere, have stated that they arrived at the logos independently, and that Automation Anywhere are already migrating to a different logo.

    In addition, the Automation Anywhere’s is clearly derived from the capital ‘A’, and reflects none of the brand values that Airbnb’s does.

  • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

    Go to art college, they’ll teach you that on day 1. If they don’t quit the course and re-enrol in a decent school.

    Everything is derivative—that’s what makes it culture.

    • Tim

      Well, sorry, but you just lost any respect I had for you. You’re basically saying that Hollywood should keep remaking Spider-Man over and over and no one should try to write an original script for any other movie… ever. That is what you’re saying with this comment, “Originality is both overrated, and frankly, mythical”.
      That is ridiculous. What if Steve Jobs thought that way?

      • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

        You need to reassess what you consider to be original.

        Apple, under Steve Jobs, did nothing original. What they did, was take existing ideas, and refine them. Apple is the antithesis of originality.

        And I’m certainly not suggesting that Hollywood should remake Spiderman ad infinitum, what I’m stating is that the first Spiderman film (and every other film ever made) was derived from the same story-telling pattern that extends back millennia, to the likes of Herodotus or Beowulf, which are in their turn derived from earlier works.

        There are two options: either everything is original, or nothing is original. My inclination is for the latter, but in either case originality does not equate to quality (or lack thereof).

      • Tim

        I still fail to see how anyone can think originality is overrated. If you are saying that everything is derived from something else, then clearly something that is completely original (in your eyes) would be earth-shattering for you, would it not?

      • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

        Well, we’re entering the realms of semiotics now, but…

        If a logo (or any other design work) was genuinely original, then I would probably not be capable of recognising it as a logo, because I’d have no frame of reference for it.

      • Tim

        Yes, but let’s go back a few years… Leonardo drew sketches for a contraption that no one had ever seen before – a helicopter. It was an original concept. No one had ever seen a helicopter before. He created it. You’re saying that originality is mythical. It is not. Period.

        If everyone thought that way, there would never be any new discoveries. We’re not just talking about design here. Science is all based on original ideas that are then proved or disproved. Go to any school and they’ll teach you that on day 1. If they don’t quit the course and re-enrol in a decent school.

      • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

        Da Vinci based his designs on observations of sycamore seeds I believe. But more importantly, he was clearly influenced by windmills, kites and the concept of the screw. What really matters is that he didn’t invent the helicopter, he drew a picture of something that didn’t work, which was later ascribed to be a forerunner of the helicopter by historians. The helicopter itself wasn’t invented until the twentieth century.

        History is all either evolution or revolution. To paraphrase Isaac Newton “If I have seen farther it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants” — which I believe, appropriately, he pinched from elsewhere.

      • Tim

        Regardless what you believe, there is always an original idea available. Not believing that will cause you to fail in life, even if you don’t believe you’ve failed. Here endeth the lesson.

      • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

        Can’t say I agree Tim, but thanks for sharing your views, it was interesting.

      • Plyphon

        Well written and thought out rhetoric, which seems to have been missed completely by Tim – never mind!

  • Tim

    What I find really interesting about this whole post, as well as your comments, is that you are vehemently defending this logo, yet you completely slam the PayPal logo:

    This logo redesign is basically just as bad, if not worse, than the PayPal logo.

    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      I’m not defending this logo; I don’t think it needs defending. But yes, I consider the PayPal to be poorly executed.

      It is, just my opinion. You don’t have to agree, or even take it seriously. What a dull world we’d have if we all had the same preferences.

      • Tim

        Well, clearly you are defending it because many other sites that are design-related are slamming it (and even some sites that are not design-related).

        The font is a poor choice. It should be an inviting and friendly font. This is not. The icon gives no clue as to what it does. It does not invoke a sense of community either.

        I suppose if your idea of success is how much publicity a logo gets, then this logo has done its job. It is still a failure from a branding standpoint.

      • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

        Perhaps I’m just an original ;p

      • Ed Walker

        The reason I think the PayPal logo works and the new AirBnB doesn’t is that a logotype is a mark that is recognisable, it doesn’t have to embody ethos or culture, it just has to remind people about the company that they know. AirBnB’s new mark is so derivative of so many other icons used today online that it’s not unique enough to stand on it’s own, there is no culture or ethos is this mark. Where as the PP logo is clean, forthright and reminds you of the company, it’s simplicity is it’s strength.

        Another example of this new approach to logotype design is the BP logo which paints itself as a flower and backfires so spectacularly because we know they are an earth raping oil company. They are trying to change opinion with a mark and it’s a. difficult to do and b. often reminds us of the wrong things.

        By coming up with this over thought paperclip, vagina, map pin concept they have just muddied the message, the old logo was stronger.

  • Sean Jamshidi

    There never was a secret. It is called shock value.