How we’re designing the future of hospitality at Sonder

By Matthew Moore, Head of UX Design at Sonder

2018 has been a year of meaningful change on the Sonder design team. We launched a new visual identity, hired the core of our team and moved from being reactive to proactive in our work. These aren’t small changes, but we’re just getting started. Next year we’ll hit our stride, and in 2020 we’ll sprint as we scale.

A piece of clarity we gained in 2018 are the 5 specific challenges/opportunities we need to solve for while we create this new category of hospitality. I’ve outlined each below:

Opportunity: Help guests become a local as quickly as possible

Because of our vertically integrated model and the fact we have employees in over 24 markets, we’re able to create products that help guests quickly familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. The Sonder guest app will soon “put the hotel lobby” on your phone and help travelers make the most of their time in the neighborhood they stay in.

The faster we’re able to help travelers comfortable with the basics, the more we can help them have unforgettable local experiences. Just like a travel agent helps their customers have confidence they’re making the most of their vacation, we believe we’ll be able to do the same for all Sonder guests.

The aim to create a stay experience that’s so compelling, you feel like something is missing when traveling without us. There’s a lot of work ahead to realize the vision, but we’re ready for it.

Opportunity: Help people have their best travel experiences

Vacations start with the anticipation and fun of planning the adventure. Deciding where you and your travel partners will head off to is often more fun than the trip itself. But for some, choosing a place to stay is an anxious moment. Recommendations from friends or family members can give much needed confidence. How can technology help here?

Since Sonders are spread across multiple neighborhoods in the cities where we operate, we’re able to do something helpful — match you to an experience that’s right for you, not just an available hotel room. We envision a world where the type of journey you want to take — whether a quick business trip or a week-long jaunt with your family — will shape the recommendations you receive throughout your travel. And as we learn more about guests through their direct feedback, our recommendations will improve over time.

Opportunity: Use internet connected hardware to improve the stay

Our business model — and the fact we lease our physical spaces — presents the opportunity of using internet connected, hardware-based technologies to enhance the guest experience. We’re already far along the path of installing smart-home technology across Sonder’s portfolio. Soon we’ll be expanding these features to include building-level access as well as luggage storage options.

Beyond unit access, there are incredible possibilities with entertainment, climate and lighting controls. Imagination is the limit with how we enable guests to control their physical surroundings in a Sonder. Controlling all of these from a tightly integrated mobile experience is something that’s easy to get excited about building (and using!).

Opportunity: Create the heart of the operation

Like so many modern services, the consumer side is just a small piece of the puzzle. Think of Uber and their driver app. Think of Grubhub and their delivery app. Think of Square and their point of sales software. All of these apps allow service providers to help deliver the real-life experience to customers.

At Sonder, we’ve been using off-the-shelf project management software to run our operations as we’ve grown from 1 city in 2014 to more than 24 at the end of 2018. With our 2019 growth projections, bringing more intelligence to our service provider tools is essential. Scheduling, dispatch, and inventory management are parts of this complex problem space where design thinking leads the way.

Beyond striving for efficiency, we aim to make work more rewarding for our service partners. Just like so many tech-enabled service companies, we’re actually designing the jobs of the future with the work our team does — this isn’t something we take lightly.

Opportunity: Build on the foundation and start to mature more design functions

As a design leader, products and campaigns get me excited, but I’m even more motivated to create an environment where creative professionals can excel, advance their craft and dramatically impact the business.

In 2018 we’ve done a good job building the foundation for user-centered design at Sonder. In 2019 we’ll continue to grow and mature our organization. Besides UX and product design, we’ll start to build the foundation for other design functions including UX research, content strategy/design and brand design. The hope is to create one of the best environments for any creative professional to do their best work and have it embraced across the organization.

Sonder is a rapidly growing company, so these opportunities will continue to evolve over time. This also isn’t an exhaustive list as we have many brand, marketing and more opportunities. But, hopefully this list gives you a glimpse into some of the bigger challenges we have to face as we work hard to bring better travel experiences to all of us.

Interested in our mission? Please reach out or take a look at our careers page. We’re looking for incredible designers to create the future of hospitality. Happy New Year!

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