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Siobhan Kennedy

Siobhan Kennedy

Senior Designer

Trust Me, Visual Design Matters

A look at how sharing-economy giants, Uber and Airbnb, differ in their approach to garnering trust through messaging and visual design.

We’re hearing it in the news more and more, the sharing economy is growing and despite consistent pushback from governments and industries, the advantages and level of demand are keeping tech disruptors such as Airbnb and Uber with a steady foothold in the marketplace.

Like most companies, both Airbnb and Uber face a key brand challenge: creating trust. However, their challenge is further amplified by the fact that their grassroots existence began by publicly breaking rules in the effort to establish themselves and their relevance in their respective sectors. For this reason, they are interesting examples to examine in terms of their approach to visual design.

Even more interesting is that we can see they’ve taken very different approaches.

Airbnb Gets Warm and Fuzzy

I’ve personally embraced Airbnb as one of my primary options for vacation rentals and have had very good experiences using it over the past four years. It simply took a recommendation from a friend for me to begin exploring the online tool. If it weren’t for that first hand recommendation, though, I doubt that I would have ever given Airbnb a chance. Renting someone else’s home or renting my own out to strangers through an online service seemed risky.

Since then, the company has come a long way in making their name and presence as a viable rental option known.

The recent Airbnb rebrand has transformed the company image from its initial friendly yet utilitarian existence to a full and engaging brand experience, and they’ve achieved this by fully harnessing the community angle.

This approach creates trust by putting a heavy focus on developing a human connection.

Let’s look at the logo, messaging, fonts, colour palette, and imagery to better understand how this approach comes together…

A Logo With its Own Name

The new logo features a simple form whose shape is influenced by the themes of “people”, “places”, “love” and “Airbnb”. They named it the Bélo and declared it to be the universal symbol of belonging.

Many design industry critics have found this positioning to be a bit too forced, and I tend to agree, but there’s no question that they’ve managed to connect with their customers through the new design.


Inviting Messaging

With words like “Welcome Home” and “Belong Anywhere” on the homepage of the website, it’s hard not to feel a sense of comfort and authenticity.


Friendly Fonts

Modern bold rounded geometric fonts, LL Circular and LL Brown are easy to read while still having a distinct personality.

A Varied Colour Palette

Warm greys with a mix of several vibrant accent colours help to support the community feel and differentiate the brand.


Stylish Locational Imagery

There’s no better way to set a mood than through the use of photography. It speaks directly to the human experience. Airbnb plasters its site with stylish and candid photos that look as though they are pulled straight out of Instagram.

Additionally, there are slice-of-life streaming videos and quirky illustrations that help to support and highlight content. Adding more brand personality in this way helps to position Airbnb as a thoughtful, and detail-oriented brand.

Uber Puts You in the Driver’s Seat

Unlike Airbnb, Uber seems to focus less on the fact that their service is by people for people and more on its value to drivers and users alike: a sense of convenience, control and empowerment.

With this approach, Uber has been able to develop a visual language that brings technology and quality to the forefront. This approach puts the focus on the company itself rather than its users. A smart move, perhaps?

My own personal experience with Uber has been limited, and I do partially attribute that to a sense of disconnect with the brand, but there’s no denying that they’ve managed to assert a sense of quality in their design choices which helps to garner trust.

Let’s look at how Uber approaches the same five key areas of visual design…


A Sophisticated Logo

A slick and simple wordmark with subtle curves to reflect ‘the road’ gives Uber a more distinguished look and feel, aimed to instill confidence.

A sense of human connection only comes when the logo is paired with its tagline “Everyone’s Private Driver”.


Direct Messaging

At the time of this post, the first two titles found on the Uber website are “Your Ride, On Demand” and “Drive With Uber”. The feeling this creates is direct, uncomplicated, and perhaps a tad robotic.


Limited Colour Palette

A simple palette of black, grey and turquoise helps to reflect Uber as a premium brand, and although less adventurous, this promotes a sense of consistency which helps to drive trust.


A Futuristic Font

Clean and corporate font, Clan Pro, is reminiscent of a typeface we might see used on a car dashboard. There is a sense of technology and stability in the more squared style.


Posed Photography

The photography used on the Uber site has a more staged appearance which can work against the desired sense of authenticity and connection that enables trust.

What Can We Learn?

Developing brand trust is no small feat, but for companies like Airbnb and Uber, it’s paramount to their success in the tumultuous landscape of the sharing economy’s early days.

While Uber lacks in personality and human connection, the brand does manage to portray an image of reliability and stability in its steady and direct design tendencies.

My vote is for Airbnb as the bigger winner in this comparison, though. The value of establishing an emotional connection through design is paramount to building and retaining trust.

Siobhan Kennedy

Siobhan Kennedy

Senior Designer

A graduate of OCAD University with a degree in Advertising Design, Siobhan brings over 14 years of design experience to her projects. A strong proponent of clean and contemporary design, Siobhan’s work creates tangible results with stunning aesthetic foresight. With a keen eye for detail and a deep awareness of project goals, she strives for targeted and effective communication in everything she does. Her long list of clients include Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, Gallery 44, The Theatre Centre, 407 ETR, Environics, Workers Arts and Heritage Centre and Open Studio among others. Adding to her breadth of skills, Siobhan studied Film at Ryerson University for two years before starting her degree at OCAD U in Toronto, Ontario.


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