Designing the Next Generation of Property Management Systems


By Ekrem Elmas

Smartbnb Product Designer

Not too long ago, Airbnb emerged and gave ordinary people a channel to become short-term rental landlords. The most entrepreneurial of those people have become technically savvy and are either wanting to grow their business or looking for ways to spend less time managing their rentals. It’s only human to want to keep improving, and that’s where Smartbnb comes in.

When I joined Smartbnb, I was quite thrilled. It’s not often one gets to work with a platform that’s so loved by its users.

The scope of the Smartbnb redesign was three-fold:

  • Maximize usability: Using known design patterns
  • Increase consistency: Make actions repeatable, predictable and clear
  • Focus on accessibility: Property management systems have a lot of functionality packed into them, so it’s key to make them visible and accessible through, for example, careful grouping.

From a technical point of view, the ultimate goal was to design a modular, consistent platform that can grow in time.

Applying design thinking

Design thinking is the process of solving problems by putting people at the core of the solutions. As such, the first step to designing anything using that approach is to empathize. We began that process by doing something that sounds simple, but actually is a pretty transformative exercise: listening.

Through hundreds of hours of meetings, chats, calls, and reading feedback, we put ourselves in the shoes of the short term rental hosts using Smartbnb to manage their properties. We rid ourselves as much as possible from subconscious biases, particularly confirmation and perception biases, by recognizing and questioning our opinions on people’s feedback.

Then, we moved on to defining the specific problems hosts have on a daily basis: lack of time, having to hire assistants or manage co-hosts, troubleshooting guests, repetitive tasks, and more.

The next step was to ideate: We discussed multiple scenarios on how hosts’ problems could be solved. We iterated. A lot.

After ideation, we moved on to prototyping. Typically large companies will spend a lot of resources putting together multiple interactive prototypes. Instead of doing that, we put together a modular version of the new Smartbnb, built to be redesigned and rebuilt very quickly and easily according to our needs. Who needs prototypes when you can have a functional product straight from the start? We called this environment ‘alpha,’ and we used it as a space to test new ideas with customers and get feedback quickly.

Then the longest process began: testing. I like to say that app design is like painting on a canvas where the paint never dries. We tested and tested until we felt things were so solid they were basically bulletproof. But even the most bulletproof design doesn’t last very long! So the testing process will never end. People, trends, and industries change, and we want to be there through that transition in real-time.

Wants vs. needs: The eternal struggle

The most challenging thing through the Smartbnb redesign process was to find the right balance between customer needs, their ongoing habits, and setting an achievable scope. The list of features that customers came up with was endless. We had to think really hard, often fighting our own wants, to prioritize designs and developments that catered to what most customers would need and actually use. It was hard, but we found the sweet spot where we ended up with a foundation that can handle all the incredible functionality extensions that we’re planning for the future.

For now, we’re confident that the next generation of Smartbnb is a product that, through usability alone, will save the majority of short-term rental hosts more time than any other product in the market. It’s a bold claim, but we’re nothing but bold at Smartbnb 😉

About Ekrem

Ekrem is a product designer with ten years’ experience working on digital products that are loved and used, instead of looked at. He’s a part of the Smartbnb team since 2018, and focuses on the look, feel and usability of our product.
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