Designing for Value Systems – Part II

In Part I, I spoke about the conversation and activities I facilitated around making value assumptions of our partner organization, JUST, and the clients they serve.

Wanting to plumb this a little further, I’m speaking tonight about trust. JUST lends, not on credit score or collateral, but on trust. Tonight, however, I’m doing a 5 minute presentation on another company that’s built around the value of trust – Airbnb. Notwithstanding current news, we had been reading Laura W. Murphy’s report from 2016 on Airbnb’s Work to Fight Discrimination and Build Inclusion.

Yesterday, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky issued an email,  subject: In the business of trust. This was in response to the Orinda shooting that happened at an Airbnb rental last week and a Vice report on predatory scams.

Chesky wrote, “People need to feel like they can trust our community, and that they can trust Airbnb when something does go wrong… We intend to do everything possible to learn from these incidents when they occur.”

I initially wanted to pose the question of what does trust mean to you?, and I realized that might get us into a definition space. So I’m pivoting slightly because trust is really a product of relationship. When you trust someone, how does it feel? What is the quality of trust that lingers? 

To help us answer this question I’m asking the class to engage in a quick one-minute exercise – rapid ideation! free association! Go!

Activity Prompt #1: Quick Draw

Draw someone you trust – your lover, your mechanic, your friend, your colleague, your dentist. How do they make you feel? Write it down. What is the quality of trust that lingers, that allows you to build a relationship with them?

Keeping that person in mind, I want to show you my Airbnb profile:

Screen Shot 2019-11-06 at 5.44.23 PM

Here you can see I live in Austin, Texas. I have 1 review. I have verified checks and I can be pretty cute when I’m not at wits end. But damn if this doesn’t feel lacking. How does this convey trust worthiness? How does this build trust with another person?

Activity Prompt #2: Build a better profile

Keeping in mind the person you’ve just drawn – hopefully you’ve tried this at home as well! – think about what you would want to build around that person. How can you design something better – to honor and extend the quality of trust they provide to you?

For all the trappings of the site – the branding, the experiences, the promises, the bottomless scroll of beautiful places – the profile page is severely basic. For a company built around the value of trust, they do little to bake that into the first interaction a host might have with my profile and, vice versa, that I would have with a potential host.

It seems Airbnb’s idea of trust revolves around the way people interact with the platform. Which implies that I’m trusting a corporation – something that feels entirely unreasonable to me. As I understand it, corporations = bodies of people operating within structures of power.

It makes me wonder if the powers that be understand what trust means outside of the way they consider trust as a tool of business – part of a practice, part of a transaction. Because the most critical point of establishing trust – between two actual people – is completely overlooked.

Possible Futures

When I think of my friend, Erica, I think of her as an easy person – an easy person to be with. I think of trust as having a quality of feeling and being at ease with another person.


I don’t mean to imply that everything I love about Erica should be built into or shared with a broader audience. But considering a real person helps me understand what it means to have, and appreciate, trust.

If I were to redesign profile pages for Airbnb, I might consider how I could build in opportunities to establish a trust connection in a more meaningful, considered way. I would include some of the things my friend likes to do – drink coffee, go for bike rides, look at art, travel.

Maybe it would make the profile picture a moot point. Maybe it could be another way of matching her to hosts who could personalize recommendations based on her interests or abilities. Maybe hosts would have their own version of this. I think there are lots of ways to consider how to shape this.