Airbnb launches Tyrus, a toolkit to guide freelance illustrators and creatives through a collaborative project

Just as Jony Ive is announced to be working with the brand, it has unveiled this new resource for creatives, tackling subjects such as “nail the brief” and “demystify feedback” illustrated by the likes of Manshen Lo and Sarula Bao.

26 October 2020

Airbnb has launched a free, open-source toolkit aimed at illustrators and freelance creatives, intended to guide them through the process of collaborating with a client. Named Tyrus, after artist Tyrus Wong, the resource comes in the form of case studies and downloadable templates for creatives to use throughout a project. It tackles the four landmarks of a commission: Nail the brief, Champion originality, Outwit deadlines, and Dymystify feedback, and is brought to life through vibrant artwork by illustrators including Manshen Lo and Sarula Bao. The big question is, though, why is Airbnb – a holiday home rental tech brand – doing this?

“Airbnb is a design-driven company and design is core to everything we’ve done since inception, with a huge emphasis on helping creators make a living and pursue their passions through hosting,” Jennifer Hom, head of illustration at Airbnb, explains to It’s Nice That. The company also has a history of building free tools for technologists and creatives, such as Lottie, which allows apps to use animations more easily, and Another Lens, a tool that helps creatives avoid bias in their process. “We created Tyrus to continue supporting the creative community, who have been a cornerstone of our business from day one, and more specifically, to address the current client and artist collaboration challenges surfaced to us by our global illustration community.”

Lately, Airbnb has been using illustration a lot more, and the idea for Tyrus came from former illustration art director on Hom’s team, Naomi Bensen, who wanted to help improve understanding and collaboration between illustrators and their clients. Bensen developed an early concept, then Airbnb conducted a global survey of illustrators to shape the “curriculum” of the resource. What came back was a list of key themes: briefing, staying aligned with clients, advocating for style diversity, managing timelines, and guiding the client feedback process. The team them refined this into Tyrus, a set of tools that aims to help illustrators and creatives navigate these issues and improve their freelance business.

Each of the four templates includes an introduction to the challenges and potential solutions covered, a deep-dive case study that explores real-life client scenarios, and the aforementioned downloadable templates, which features checklists, email templates, and more to help put the lessons into practice.

All this is brought to life fittingly through collaborations with a list of brilliant illustrators, comprising Sophia Foster-Dimino (animation above), Molly Mendoza, Kaitlin Chan, Manshen Lo, Sarula Bao, Maggie Chiang, Camily Tsai, Marisa Seguin, Alexis Franklin, and Chiachi Yu. “The heart of this work champions style diversity and creative inclusion, so it was important to develop a look and feel that amplified their work and our community,” Hom says. “Our identity system is stylistically diverse and showcases how multifaceted an illustrator’s approach to storytelling can be.” This entails everything from comics, minimalist compositions, abstract conceptualism, bright still lifes, hyper-colorful portraits, and dreamy surrealism. “Our vision is to celebrate both their talent and honor our larger mission of showing how vast and varied our industry is,” she adds.

Airbnb has, unsurprisingly, suffered in the pandemic as a result of travel restrictions and appears to be repositioning and diversifying its offer in the creative realm. Last week founder Brian Chesky announced that Jony Ive – former design chief at Apple – and his design consultancy LoveFrom would be working with Airbnb in a “multi-year” partnership to design “the next generation of Airbnb products and services” and help further develop its internal design team. Tyrus was built in-house and launched before all that, and in conclusion of her explanation of Tyrus, Hom can offer some context as to the future of the brand and its approach.

“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the creative, arts, and design industries. As a result, more creatives are pursuing freelance work and launching independent businesses. Our hope is that this learning tool becomes a resource to any creative who needs tips and coaching on client management to take their business to the next level. Ultimately we want to support work that champions style diversity and expand people’s perspectives of what illustration can accomplish. It’s not just pretty pictures, but a deeply impactful way to tell stories.”

GalleryAirbnb: Tyrus (© Airbnb, 2020)


Illustration: Sarula Bao


Illustration: Alexis Franklin


Illustration: Molly Mendoza


Illustration: Manshen Lo

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Airbnb: Tyrus (© Airbnb, 2020) Illustration: Manshen Lo

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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