Nikos Pappas • Crafting Digital Products & Impactful Experiences
Nikos Pappas • Digital Product Designer

Notes on UX

This blog is about documenting interesting ideas, opinions and findings around user and customer experience, product design, design tools and processes.

The Collaboration Gap

Airbnb's DLS

"Technology companies are expected to move at an incredible pace, and building software is complex. Add ever growing teams to the mix and you often end up with disjointed experiences. This has led us to try to better understand how multiple teams can efficiently collaborate to build great, cohesive software.

Software design has unfortunately not evolved at a similar pace. The gap between designers and engineers has only increased. Design teams can often struggle to reach a cadence that balances the creative process and cycles of continuous innovation. Quality suffers, the experience becomes less cohesive, and talented people spend an inordinate amount of time simply managing communication across disciplines."

Here’s the simple truth: you can’t innovate on products without first innovating the way you build them.

This led Airbnb to the development of its new Design Language System (or DLS), as well as a suite of internal and third-party tools that allow Airbnb's teams to not only work smarter, but also closer. The DLS is a collection of components defined by shared principles and patterns. This allows for rapid iteration using a shared vocabulary across design, engineering, and other disciplines. The structure of the DLS is simple and coherent, easing communication across teams.

Christopher Alexander, who wrote the seminal The Timeless Way of Building, states that “when language is shared, the individual patterns in the language are profound.” For this to happen, these patterns need to be fundamentally simple. “Nothing which is not simple and direct can survive the slow transmission from person to person.

So Airbnb's DLS focuses on common ingredients that follow Airbnb's core design principles: unified, universal, iconic, and conversational. Universal and Unified define the system’s approach we apply when defining patterns. Is it part of a greater whole? Does it work across devices? Iconic and Conversational help define the character of the system — its unique human qualities that tie back to Airbnb's community and brand values."


An article by Alex Schleife, VP of Design at Airbnb