The architecture of information:

Last month, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced a significant new redesign for the app. The headlining change is a new organization scheme based on categories.

Previously, if you were a guest, you started your interaction with Airbnb as in most other travel apps: by picking where and when you want to go by selecting a location and travel dates from a set of form fields.

The new version still provides affordances to enter a destination. But it does so alongside a set of categories representing travel experiences such as cabins, tiny homes, design, arctic, and OMG!, which highlights especially interesting places to stay. The result feels less transactional and more curated: Airbnb becomes a facilitator of unique experiences rather than a mere lodging provider.

Writing in Medium, Daniel de Mello explains that it’s important for designers to understand how this new organization scheme represents a shift in business strategy for Airbnb:

Designers are comfortable understanding how design decisions impact user behavior.

In this particular case, what fascinates me is how seemingly small design changes have the potential to deeply impact a business and likely the travel industry as a whole.

De Mello’s post focuses on the primary change around categories, which he calls out as a different organizing principle for the app. The post identifies potential business impacts on revenue, host incentives, and long-term shifts in guest travel behavior. And given Airbnb’s prominence, this redesign could influence the travel and hospitality industry more broadly.

This is yet another example of an app redesign that is primarily a change in its information architecture. But as with the Apple Home app redesign I highlighted last month, the phrase “information architecture” doesn’t appear in these posts. All we know is that the app has been “redesigned,” with major structural changes lumped together with more superficial UI changes.

But they’re not the same. As de Mello points out, structural changes have a significant potential impact on the business — much more extensive, I’d argue, than any changes to the app’s aesthetics. Why not call out structural changes for what they are: changes to the app’s information architecture?

The business power of design: understanding Airbnb’s redesign