Back Story: Airbnb wanted a single font that would cover all its typesetting needs, from website and apps to billboards. The goal was to present a unified front to the world and help consumers see Airbnb as an accessible company no matter where they saw its brand. With a unique business model of providing an online platform that makes offline experiences possible, Airbnb commissioned its own font when it couldn’t find a typeface that ticked every box on its wish list.
The company found an ideal collaborator in Dalton Maag, says Karri Saarinen, Airbnb’s design lead in design language systems. “We’re inspired by their work with clients who’ve created many script systems across various mediums—from low-res phone displays to large marketing campaigns—because that’s the kind of scalability and brand continuity we strive for as a global company.” Airbnb services over 191 countries, and looked at the font development as a way to further its own cohesive design, as well as a sense of trust on a local level.
Why’s it called Cereal? During some lean times in 2008, Airbnb founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia hit upon a novel way to raise some cash for their then-struggling startup. As a Hail Mary play, they created and sold collectible Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain branded cereal (repackaged Honey O’s and Quaker Puffs), riding the wave of excitement surrounding the 2008 United States presidential election. Cereal quite literally saved the company. “It inspired a core value to think about unexpected methods of problem-solving,” ”says Saarinen. “It was a natural choice when naming our own font.”
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Cereal is a scalable font, with adjustments to qualities such as stroke width and x-height built in depending on type size and media environment, resulting in excellent legibility across the board. It resembles any one of a number of other transitional sans serifs and as such is not especially distinguished-looking; its virtue lies in its adaptability. The Book and Bold weights are optimized for UI and screens, while the heavier weights add variety for print and environmental uses. Cereal can be used across all of Airbnb’s product platforms, including Android, iOS, and Web. “There’s not really a single universal system font that does this,” Saarinen says. “That can cause a lot of problems—cross-platform design language management, varying user experiences, or a mix of fonts if brand marketing uses product images in their work. We looked closely at UI, because 90% of UI is text.”
What should I use it for? The font is proprietary to Airbnb, so your ability to use it is limited to booking some vacation lodging.
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? The typeface is extremely neutral in appearance overall, meaning it will remain visually in the background no matter what other type choices are matched up with it.