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Airbnb's Secret Tool for Designing for Every Person on the Planet
By: Fast Company
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Designing an app like Airbnb's might not seem very complex. A dozen screens, maybe more, maybe less. But that's just in English. Airbnb's app also has to support 20 languages, some of which are compact (such as Korean), and some of which are extremely wordy (such as German). That increases the number of screens Airbnb needs to take into account to 2,400—and that's before you multiply for the vast array of screen sizes on the market today, or consider in-progress versions of coming app updates, or consider how an Airbnb host's site looks when viewed by someone in a different language.

By the time you're done with the math, Airbnb doesn't have 12 or even 2,400 screens to design for. It has exponentially more than that, like all the possible moves in a game of chess expanding to surpass the number of atoms in the known universe. It's a huge amount of variables to keep track of, not just for designers but for quality assurance. When you have this many possible permutations of screen sizes and languages, how can you possibly guarantee that your app design works on every single device?

That's why Airbnb built its own internal tool to handle the problem. It's called Airshots, and it allows Airbnb's designers and testers to see how the Airbnb app looks and functions in any language, on any smartphone, in any version—all in real time. But Airshots won't remain an internal tool for long: Airbnb intends on opening it up to outside developers later this year.

"If you think about it, design is historically pretty bad at creating tools," says Alex Schleifer, Airbnb's vice president of design. "Twenty years ago, someone figured out you could design interfaces in Photoshop, and that's pretty much been what we've done ever since. And while engineers have created version control and large QA systems, the way designers keep track of changes is by sharing a Dropbox folder with their name at the end."



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About the Author
This article was published on Fast Company. A link to the original piece appears after the post. www.fastcompany.com
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