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Airbnb Founder on Vagina Logo: "Go Ahead, Laugh All You Want"

Tech's new Rorschach test.


Airbnb launched a new corporate logo yesterday, and everyone — including their dinner guests last night — had an opinion about it.

At the Verdi Club in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, many of the guests, chosen for their prominence within the Airbnb hosting community, seemed to think the squat, circular pink shape looked like female body parts, though there was little agreement which one.

Dinner was catered by Nopalito, Bi Rite, Delfina, Rice Paper Scissors and Mission Pie. Airbnb co-founder and CTO Nathan Blecharczyk stood up, welcomed everyone and told the story of a father turning to Airbnb to pay the medical bills for his ailing son. Over his head was a neon sign that glowed: “belonging.”

He sat down for pulled pork, guacamole and refried beans. Curious about the logo, I asked the woman next to him if I could have her seat. How was he doing tonight?

“It’s just like: Go ahead, laugh all you want, guys,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to design a logo that caters to the lowest common denominator. This was a yearlong undertaking for dozens of people, it’s something meaningful, and no one pauses to really understand that.”

AirBnb rebrand launch party

The new logo, created by U.K. design firm The Design Studio, drew comparisons to various body parts now only because it didn’t have the Airbnb brand attached to it yet, said Blecharczyk. Bélo, as Airbnb is calling the shape, will soon mean something new.

“If you looked at the Nike swoosh, you might say it’s a check mark, but once you understand the context, it means something else,” he said. “The symbol is not supposed to be a symbol, it’s supposed to be something with meaning. The bélo is a vehicle for rich, deep, emotional, human stories.”

He picked back up the conversation he’d been having with his tablemates. Hosts were irate about the potential for legal regulation, which Airbnb is constantly battling. A muscular man in a t-shirt said, “The tenants union is a poison pill.” A clean-cut blond added, “Politicians are just taking money from [hotel] lobbyists.” Blecharczyk offered compromise positions like, “What if landlords and tenants split the earnings?” No one was interested.

A mariachi band came marching out.

AirBnb rebrand launch party

The conversation returned to the logo. In the jocular world of tech bros, hearing any circular shape being called a vagina is not the most surprising thing. But last night was Airbnb’s community dinner — for hosts young and old, for world travelers, for tastemakers — and even they made some genitalia jokes.

“You heard about the woman 3-D printing her vagina? People are just so focused on vaginas already, so that’s probably it,” said 25-year-old Christy, who works in marketing. “No one could have predicted this.”

AirBnb rebrand launch party

“It’s a little weird, the rebrand. I think it’s pretty obvious what it looks like,” said Angelo Maddox, who manages more than 10 Airbnbs. “But maybe continuous loops are in right now?”

Next to him was a graphic designer, who weighed in agreeing that, yes, loops were in. (The new logo looks quite similar to the one sported by Automation Anywhere.)

“I’d say it’s female because it’s curved, not just that the overall thing is, you know, what we’re not saying,” said Justin Beaver, a graphic designer who told me his name with some hesitation. “It’s very feminine. The triangular shape is stable. It’s pink, so it feels safe. The interior loop, there’s home.”

Some wondered if maybe Airbnb’s internal office culture was so strong, no one bothered to ask for outside opinions.

“I wonder if there was maybe a sense of insular thinking there,” said Jeff Snell, who works in security research. “It’s about these high-minded ideals, and when you believe in it, you see it as the ideals, you don’t see a scrotum or boobs, you see togetherness and belonging.”

Servers dropped off giant fortune cookies at each table. Each contained quotes like: “You belong somewhere you feel free,” from Tom Petty.

AirBnb rebrand launch partyAs the dinner wrapped up, Jay, a middle-aged man in a suit, and Sue, an older woman in turquoise earrings and a tunic top, sat at a table in the back eating pie and doing a Rorschach test with the logo.

“It looks like my 4-year-old daughter’s version of a female body part,” said Jay.

“No, no. It looks like buns,” said Sue.

“Buns?” Jay asked. “Buns?!”

“Buns,” Sue said. “Like my grandson running away.”

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