LINK: A Smart Key Ring for Couch Surfers


Designed by 2nd year students Judy Chi, Marianna Mezhibovskaya, and Belen Tenorio, Link is a smart key ring that gives travelers access to an app with a personalized digital guidebook. Link is targeted to the members of Couchsurfing—an international traveling community of 5.5 million people who connect through the website’s online platform and app. In addition to having a free couch to crash on, travelers, or “surfers”, also have a chance to see a city through the eyes of their host.

Inspired by the spirit of adventure and generosity embodied by the Couchsurfing movement, the designers wanted to celebrate the exchange of trust between the host and surfer. The language of the campaign they created captures this optimism: 

This is for the wanderers, the explorers, the drifters, the risk takers, the nomads, the strangers, and the gifters.

Researching this community, the designers found that many cited a desire to “give back” to the community that had hosted them during their travels by turning around and becoming hosts to other surfers.

 

Link holds a physical key to the home...and a digital key to the city. The curved form of the key ring also references the drop pin on a map, further tying it back to the theme of travel and hospitality.

 

The team also discovered that hosts often have work schedules that don’t allow them to show their guests around. With Link, hosts can create a curated digital guidebook of their favorite places to share with their guests, becoming a gift that hosts can give to guests even if they're tied up at work.

“The greatest demonstration of trust happens when the host gives the key to their home to the surfer—so we felt that Link should be the same key ring that the home key is on” Judy argues. “Link holds a physical key to the home...and a digital key to the city.” The curved form of the key ring also references the drop pin on a map, further tying it back to the theme of travel and hospitality.

Link works using NFC (Near Field Communication) technology through a chip embedded in the key ring. When exploring a new city, surfers simply tap Link to their phone and are prompted to download the Link app. 

Once in the app, guests receive exclusive access to a list of favorite restaurants, museums, sights and bars—all annotated with personalized comments from the host and previous guests. The guests can then add their own recommendations of places to visit for future guests.

Since the target users of Link are ecommerce-centric millennials, the smart key ring is sold exclusively online. Buyers can find Link through the Couchsurfing website—when they click on the Link advertisement, they are routed to the Link landing page featuring the unique offerings for both hosts and guests. Here's a screenshot: 

Link would also available for purchase through two other online outlets—Canopy, a curated Amazon shop, and Flight 001, a travel store for young jetsetters.

The Link branding continues through to the package design. “We recognized that there are two user experiences that need to be considered," explains Marianna. "The first is for the host—the actual purchaser of the key ring, and the second is the guest, the actual user of the guidebook.” As a consequence, the box is split into two triangular sections.

The top portion is geared towards the host with directions on how to set up the digital guidebook. This top then tears off, leaving the bottom portion to serve as a holder and display case for the key ring. The bottom is intended for the guest’s use, and has a pull out tab which reveals directions for downloading the app. The host can set this display box out on a coffee or end table by the couch for the guest’s arrival.

“We chose bright, friendly colors and fonts to project the personality of the brand," comments Belen. “We wanted the buzz and excitement of the promise "Be a Local Anywhere" to feel very tangible.”