airbnb / snow white storyboards

The Snow White storyboards are a set of illustrated sequences that depict the experience of Airbnb's primary customers: hosts and guests.

The project was a collaboration between Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky, Head of Insights, Rebecca Sinclair, and Storyteller, Nick Sung, and takes its name from Walt Disney's pioneering use of storyboards as an organizational framework for the first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Drawfs (1937). A landmark motion picture, it required extensive collaboration, technological innovation, and massive change management.

Snow White offers a dramatic narrative of the Airbnb user journey. It emphasizes the emotional highs and lows of using the service, giving care to include nuanced human moments that a purely pragmatic causal model might ignore. Because of its emphasis on character, Snow White elicits an emotional response, compelling employees to approach their work with empathy for the users whose lives they influence. The careful images encourage the humane, user-focused thinking that informs the company's design approach.

The storyboards are prominently displayed within the Airbnb headquarters as a point of reference that transcends language, reaches across cultures, and unifies organizational vision. They're shared with every new employee and can be found in the company's offices around the world, playing a role in Airbnb's continued growth into a global superbrand.

But Snow White's lasting impact might be its introduction of storyboarding as a design thinking process. Today, storyboarding finds application across the company's units — from product to recruiting to marketing to finance — laying the groundwork for more thoughtful, innovative, creative, and humane work across the organization.

"Storyboards show us what words can't." Joe Gebbia, Airbnb Co-Founder & CPO 

 

"The storyboard was a galvanizing event in the company. We all now know what 'frames' of the customer experience we are working to better serve.

Everyone from customer service to our executive team gets shown the storyboard when they first join and it's integral to how we make product and organizational decisions. 

Whenever there’s a question about what should be a priority, we ask ourselves which frame will this product or idea serve. It's a litmus test for all the possible opportunities and a focusing mechanism for the company." Nate Blecharczyk, Airbnb Co-Founder & CTO


Airbnb's Snow White has been profiled in FAST COMPANYHBR, Sequoia Capitol's GROVEINC. MAGAZINE, and in the recent film, DESIGN DISRUPTORS.