What Is Airtable and How Does It Work? + Use Cases

By
Christopher Pinski
Published
January 17, 2024
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What Is Airtable and How Does It Work? + Use Cases

If you struggle with organizing data or drawing meaningful insights, Airtable could be for you. What is Airtable? It’s a relational database allowing you to organize data in a logical way, making it easily readable, searchable, and updatable.

In this post, we’ll dive deep into what Airtable is, what it does, examples and use cases, and much more.

What Is Airtable?

Airtable is a cloud-based data management tool — but its applications are so much bigger than that.

It harnesses low- and no-code technology, offering an easy-to-use interface to help any business organize data, streamline processes, and improve collaborative work. 

But arguably, the best thing about Airtable is that it’s a relational database, helping you categorize, dedupe, and draw conclusions from your data.

Airtable grid view with sample data for a CRM — lead names, status, contact info, notes, and source of the lead
Airtable's standard grid view looks a lot like a spreadsheet — but the functionality goes much further.

Database vs. Spreadsheet: How Is Airtable Different From Traditional Spreadsheets?

Is there any difference between Airtable and spreadsheet software? Absolutely.

While databases and spreadsheets can appear visually similar — text and numbers in grids and tables — that’s about all they have in common.

Spreadsheets have the basic building blocks to hold information and perform basic calculations, but relational databases categorize and store the relationships between each piece of data. 

You can import data stored in spreadsheets (like Microsoft Excel files or Google Sheets) into Airtable, and export data from Airtable back into a CSV file or spreadsheet as needed.

And even though Airtable offers a spreadsheet-like interface, it isn’t only for storing, categorizing, and analyzing data. You can also manage projects, assign tasks, automate repetitive tasks, sync data, and so much more.

Airtable grid view with filters applied for viewing specific data sets
Highly customizable filtered views allow you to see specific data sets. You can do this in spreadsheets, too — but spreadsheets can’t do everything else that Airtable does!

Airtable vs. Excel vs. Google Sheets

While Excel and Google Sheets allow you to format, store, and make basic calculations with your data, Airtable can do that — and much more.

With advanced reporting, app building, AI, APIs and platform integration, scalability, and fine-tuned custom permissions, Airtable is an enterprise-grade database tool that takes data entry, storage, and reporting to the next level.

Put simply:

  • Excel creates spreadsheets
  • Google Sheets creates cloud-based spreadsheets
  • Airtable turns spreadsheet projects into automated relational databases with features that spreadsheets can only dream of

There is no comparison!

Why Is a Relational Database Like Airtable Useful?

A well-organized data set that effectively links related records creates vital business insights. 

By seeing the links between key pieces of data, businesses can develop strategic action plans based on data patterns. They can even streamline workflows since relational databases reduce the manual work of locating and categorizing data. 

Ultimately, this allows businesses to make improvements across the board — for their employees, customers, and bottom line.

Airtable interface showing the process of linking to records in a given table.
Linking records in Airtable can deliver automated data insights to help you make better business decisions.

What Is Airtable Used For?

Airtable offers a wide range of uses for businesses (and personal use, for that matter).

You can use it to:

  • Organize product or service information
  • Share relevant data across teams
  • Track projects across teams
  • Manage inventory
  • Connect different platforms and tools
  • Augment or replace other tools in your tech stack

It’s hard to understand the use cases for an Airtable database without first understanding its capabilities. So let’s explore what this tool can do.

Airtable Databases in Action

Let’s look at a concrete use for Airtable — product and service information. Take cars, for example. Every automobile has tons and tons of data associated with it. 

So how can you organize and track every new record — and its relationship to other linked records?

Here’s what an Airtable data model for tracking car inventory might look like:

Airtable grid view showing unique information for car inventory
Airtable’s inventory management capabilities make complex data tracking simple.

This base could include a huge array of information about your inventory as a whole, as well as each individual car and owner. 

With Airtable, you can track, categorize, and analyze all of this:

Individual Car

  • Car ID (Unique Identifier)
  • Model ID (Links to Model)
  • Owner ID (Unique Identifier, Links to Owner)
  • License Plate
  • Purchase Date
  • Color

Model

  • Model ID (Unique Identifier)
  • Make 
  • Model
  • Year
  • Engine Type
  • Horsepower

Owner

  • Owner ID (Unique Identifier, Links to Individual Car)
  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone
  • Email

Service

  • Service ID (Unique Identifier)
  • Car ID (Links to Individual Car)
  • Date of Service
  • Type of Service Performed
  • Service Notes
  • Mileage

With connected tables in a relational database, you can locate major pieces of relevant data across multiple tables in just a few clicks. 

You can track the relationships between each piece of data, increase accuracy, and prevent duplication, painting a unique and complete picture of your product and business.

4 Core Functions of the Airtable Platform

These are the main uses for Airtable in business.

1. Connecting Relevant Data

Import critical data from your key platforms — Salesforce, Softr, Jira, Make.com, Google Drive, Zendesk, Microsoft Excel, and so much more — thanks to built-in Airtable integrations. Plus, real-time data syncing ensures your whole company has access to each new record for the most up-to-date information.

Make.com website showing native integrations with Airtable, such as creating and deleting records, searching, API calls, and more
Softr website showing Airtable integration capabilities for Softr's client portals and internal tools
Many incredible tools and platforms feature Airtable integrations, including workflow automation tool Make.com (top) and app integration software Softr (bottom).

2. App Building

Thanks to no-code technology, building custom apps with Airtable is simpler than ever. Use Airtable’s templates and highly visual interface to create unique business solutions for your team. It’s easy to integrate your new app with other tools, too! 

We believe that the future of software development relies on innovative solutions such as Airtable’s app-building capabilities.

3. AI

From product teams to marketing teams, HR, and finance, Airtable’s AI capabilities are built for every area of your business. You can generate product descriptions, creative briefs, blog posts, budget categories, and much more.

4. Automation

Automate tasks and processes to streamline work throughout your company. Airtable automation saves you time and money and helps your teams get back to their most critical tasks.

Airtable visual interface showing the process of building an automation with no-code technology
Airtable’s no-code visual interface simplifies automations and saves time.

5 Essential Airtable Features

Airtable’s unique app-building and reporting capabilities set it apart from the competition. Here’s what you can expect when bringing Airtable into your business.

1. Interface Designer

Use Airtable’s Interface Designer for an intuitive visual way to build custom apps using your own data. The tool even offers templates for faster creation. 

Solve your most pressing problems with a customized Airtable app and never compromise on features or functionality again.

2. Views

Having your entire organization’s data available in one place is great — but only if it’s presented in formats that are useful to you. And with so many types of data and varying uses for Airtable, having just 1 or 2 view options wouldn’t cut it.

Airtable's customizable no-code Kanban view showing sample task management organization
Kanban view is one of several Airtable views that are great for project management and task tracking.

That’s why Airtable offers a ton of visually appealing interfaces, including:

  • List view
  • Grid view
  • Calendar view
  • Timeline view
  • Gantt view
  • Kanban view
  • Gallery view
  • Airtable form view

All these interfaces and the wealth of additional customization rules let you truly make Airtable your own.

3. Reporting

Along with different ways to view your raw data, Airtable’s reports are also highly visual. 

Build custom dashboards with charts, graphs, and data highlights to share your most important insights. You can even customize the way Airtable groups and sorts your data.

Sample of customizable no-code Airtable reporting interface featuring task progress, bar graphs, and pie charts
Airtable makes it easy to customize dashboards and reports so you see all the info you need, displayed exactly how you want to see it.

While all of those are no-code features, developers can access additional customization using scripting, Airtable’s extensions SDK, or APIs. 

4. Apps By Airtable

Enterprise users can start with preconfigured apps for efficient launches. It’s easy to go back and modify or add features to these apps later on, so you can improve and scale as needed without front-loading too many resources.

5. Data Governance Scalability

Airtable is designed to scale with you. 

With the Enterprise plan, you can store up to 500,000 records per database. Plus, you have access to unlimited Airtable bases, users, and API calls. 

And you can easily control permissions and access while enjoying enterprise-grade security with data loss prevention.

5 Best Airtable Use Cases

Airtable is so much more than a spreadsheet. Here are some smart ways to leverage its extensive capabilities in your organization.

1. Budget Management

If you’re managing budgets in a traditional spreadsheet, you probably wish there was a better way. Airtable can be that solution for you! 

Let’s say you have high-level budget categories along with budgets for individual line items in each category — and the budget for one of those line items just changed. 

With your Airtable base, a line-item update can automatically ping the high-level budget category. You can even set up your database to trigger warnings if your overall budget or line-item budget reaches a certain amount.

Calculate values in any way that’s helpful to you. You can use Airtable to build a pivot table, manage budgets across teams with collaboration features, and link records. In short, Airtable budget management is a huge upgrade from traditional spreadsheet software.  

2. Project Management

Create customized project management systems by using Airtable as a project tracker. From project planning to the final stages, you can track and communicate in one place. 

  • Assign tasks
  • Create and view deadlines
  • Share project statuses
  • View progress in multiple views: calendar view, Gantt chart, timeline view, list view, gallery view, or any view that works best for your team

Imagine the time and confusion you’ll spare by having your data and your project management system together in one tool. 

From your content calendar and marketing campaigns to promotions, client projects, and more, the possibilities for project management in Airtable are endless.

Airtable calendar view set to show the month of January with daily milestones
Airtable features several interface views that are great for project management, including Calendar view.

3. Inventory Management

No matter your industry, you can use Airtable to store, categorize, and track inventory while viewing detailed information about each item at the same time. Remember the car example we shared earlier? 

Airtable even has inventory tracking templates to make it easy. Store SKUs and product IDs, product images, categories, price, colors, styles, locations in your warehouse, remaining inventory in stock, manufacturers… every detail that’s pertinent to your inventory management.

4. DAM (Digital Asset Management)

Instead of searching computers or shared drives for disorganized files, use Airtable’s digital asset management (DAM) templates to simplify your life. 

A successful DAM helps save time and money by making digital assets easy to produce, track, and locate. So use Airtable’s project management features to create original assets, then take advantage of the DAM templates so teams can locate and reuse each asset whenever they need it. 

Organize, collaborate, and control access to your digital assets across teams for simple and secure use. Categorize images, PDFs, videos, and more — so your teams never have to spend hours looking for one record or recreate an asset they can’t find. 

Your content calendar just got a whole lot easier to manage!

5. CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

While not built as a CRM tool, Airtable does have CRM capabilities and templates. 

Plus, by integrating with more robust CRMs such as Salesforce, you can format customer data to be as simple or as detailed as you need. And with so many view options available, you can track client and vendor relationships and deals by grid, calendar, Kanban, Gantt, or any view that best suits your teams. 

Airtable is also scalable and flexible, allowing your sales team to add or remove features as needed and then extend the CRM through Airtable’s robust open API.

Airtable interface showing the creation of a new linked record — in this case, a company with contact information and notes
When creating new CRM records in Airtable (like a new client), the ability to natively link records helps you categorize, track, and store related information for ease of use.

Top 5 Benefits of Using Airtable

Every business has unique needs — but all too often, teams find themselves compromising. Pre-built tools feature either too few or too many capabilities.

But by using Airtable, you can create a truly customized experience that offers everything you need — and nothing you don’t.

When you connect platforms and tools with Airtable, you get:

1. Improved Experience for Customers and Employees

When employees have to learn and use a huge number of platforms to get their job done, a few things happen. 

For one, they waste time jumping between platforms to find critical information. It’s also harder to become an expert on any one tool since they’re spread thin across so many others.

And when those employees are responsible for the customer experience, the frustration and inefficiency of juggling multiple tools can impact customers, too.

One single, simplified platform results in massive productivity boosts and improved experiences — creating a streamlined workflow while improving ROI. That’s what Vimeo found when they built a custom Airtable app to solve their multi-platform problems. Read about Vimeo’s experience here.

2. Lower Monthly Costs

How many tools does your team currently use? Think project management, CRM, sales, reporting, inventory management, collaboration, budgets, spreadsheets, asset management… it really adds up!

But instead of paying high monthly fees for many different tools (sometimes 10+), with Airtable’s custom apps, you can consolidate all of that down to 1 platform fee.

3. Streamlined Data Access Controls

Every tool has its own access controls, but even enterprise-grade tools have limited options. This gets tricky when you need to offer highly customized permissions. 

You want teams to take advantage of a tool’s incredible collaboration features, but you also need to restrict access to sensitive data. This can leave team members unable to access critical features or data sets. 

Compromise creates bottlenecks in this scenario. Managers may need to relay data and insights to team members with fewer permissions, or manually shift read-only access to higher permissions in real time.

But thanks to custom apps using the Interface Designer, each Airtable workspace provides fine-grained access controls. You’re no longer limited to 3-5 generic permission levels; instead, you can customize access all the way down to individual data fields. 

That means you can allow team members to access one field in a base, but hide the rest. Teams get access to all the relevant data they need — and nothing they don’t. 

You can set up your Airtable workspace so that each team only sees the Airtable base or bases that are relevant to them. But business leaders can access all databases for reporting, analysis, and strategic business planning.

Airtable admin controls for workspace-level sharing
Airtable grid view showing field permissions, customizable for different access levels and even individual team members
Airtable’s highly customizable admin controls let you adjust access for each workspace by permissions level or individual (top). You can even customize access for individual fields within a base (bottom).

4. Built-in Automations and Integration

Airtable can do a lot, but it doesn’t do everything! 

For example, it doesn’t have an SMS message feature. Plus, you’re limited to 100 emails per day from its native email system. 

But that doesn’t mean Airtable won’t work for teams with robust communication systems. Instead, enterprise businesses can leverage Airtable integrations to link their existing communication platforms. 

Compared to other tools, this is where Airtable really shines. Many tools have limitations on automation, including limited support material and even inconsistent performance. But Airtable’s automation engine features easy-to-use, built-in operations. You also have the ability to create additional customization rules using advanced functionality via the "Run script" action.

With custom scripts, developers can write JavaScript and leverage the advanced Airtable API to create even more customized automations.

Airtable also has a dynamically generated REST API for base and table data. This makes it even easier to integrate unique data structures in Airtable with other third-party services and applications. 

Airtable's Web API documentation for list records. The documentation describes requirements, parameters, example request, and example response.
Airtable Web API documentation is comprehensive to make things simpler for developers.

While it’s common for platforms to share predefined data models via their API, they’re often rigid, lacking support for truly custom objects to interact with other applications. But you don’t have to worry about that with Airtable integrations. 

5. Data Visualization and Dashboard Creation

Tools often limit data visualizations to just a few formats. Some platforms don’t offer data visualization at all.

But Airtable lets users create fully customizable dashboards with unique visualizations. You can show the exact stats, graphs, and visuals needed to best analyze the data, including:

  • Bar charts
  • Line graphs
  • Pie charts
  • Donut charts
  • Scatter plots

You also get all of the project tracking visualizations we covered in other sections, such as calendar view, Gantt charts, Kanban view, grid view, and much more. 

With all of these features, businesses can easily use Airtable to build out KPI dashboards to:

  • Monitor the health of the business
  • Analyze campaign performance
  • Identify opportunities and threats
  • Improve business forecasting 

How to Import Content From Other Apps Into Airtable

There are many options for importing your content. 

For integrating existing tools, you can use Airtable’s native integration features or leverage your development team to use the Airtable API along with tools like Make or Zapier. 

Importing data is even easier. You can upload CSV or Microsoft Excel files in just a few clicks, and it’s easy to connect your Google Drive account to Airtable so you can import your entire Google Sheets library (or pick and choose which files to upload or omit). 

How Much Does Airtable Cost?

There are 4 pricing tiers for your Airtable workspace. Since prices may vary, check Airtable’s site for current pricing.

Airtable's Free, Team, Business, and Enterprise Scale plans with pricing and details
Airtable’s pricing tiers allow for flexibility at any stage of business. Prices current as of January 2024.

What Is the Airtable Free Plan?

Great for individuals or those just looking to try out the platform, the free plan includes unlimited bases and access for up to 5 editors. You do face limitations on attachment storage (1GB per base), automation runs (100), and Airtable records per base (1,000), so you might outgrow the free plan quickly. 

But it’s a great way to get acquainted with this relational database tool.

What Is Airtable’s Team Plan?

The Team plan gets you significant upgrades over the Free plan, including more attachment storage (20GB per base), automation runs (25,000), and Airtable records per base (50,000). 

The Team plan also features extensions, extra visualization and view options, and standard sync integrations. It’s a great option for small businesses since it balances value and scale.

What Is Airtable’s Business Plan?

The next level up is the Business plan, featuring additional attachment storage (100GB per base), automation runs (100,000), and Airtable records per base (125,000). 

The Business plan grants access to premium sync integrations along with verified data, an admin panel, SSO, and more. 

What Is Airtable’s Enterprise Plan?

The limits on Airtable’s Enterprise plan actually feel limitless, with ample attachment storage (1,000GB per base), automation runs (500,000), and Airtable records per base (500,000). 

You get on-premise sync integrations at this level, along with the most customizable security and admin controls, Enterprise API, and audit logs. 

What Is Airtable? FAQs

Airtable is simple to use, but the highly customizable nature of the platform means you might still have questions! Here are a few of the most common questions about Airtable. 

What is Airtable used for?

At its most basic, Airtable is used for storing, organizing, and analyzing data in the cloud. But it’s not just a spreadsheet or file management tool. 

A clean reporting dashboard with customized data sets, charts, and graphs.
Present clean and customized reports to your teams for ease of understanding and targeted insights.

Airtable’s relational database structure, API, and integrations let you modify and scale the platform for a diverse range of business needs. Its robust features can lead to happier teams and more satisfied customers.

From data entry to project tracking, inventory to CRM, budgeting to business forecasting, Airtable is a truly unique tool. It’s designed to:

  • Streamline your operations
  • Reduce your overhead
  • Simplify business processes
  • Improve analysis and forecasting 

What is Airtable: a spreadsheet or database?

Airtable does offer a spreadsheet-like interface, but it’s much more than that. It’s a cloud-based relational database. 

You can:

  • Customize views to any type of chart, graph, calendar, project tracking approach, or other reporting view you need
  • Organize and automatically categorize data based on relationships
  • Update and sync in real time with advanced collaboration features
  • Create powerful automations to streamline workflows in all areas of your business

Airtable isn’t a spreadsheet — it’s a powerhouse for platform integration and productivity.

Is Airtable similar to Excel?

Sort of! 

Both Airtable and Excel feature spreadsheet functionality and a spreadsheet-like interface. 

However, an Excel file can only really store data and perform calculations. Excel can’t automatically deduce relationships between data sets (at least, not without tons of complex formulas and heavy lifting). Excel also can’t store digital assets or help teams collaborate.

The best way to explain it is that while Airtable can do everything that Excel can, Excel can only do a tiny fraction of what Airtable can do for your business. So which would you pick?

A closeup of a bunch of numbers in a spreadsheet; about half of the numbers are out of focus and too blurry to see
Do your eyes glaze over when looking at endless data in a spreadsheet? Us, too. But Airtable’s customizable views makes data interesting, visually appealing, and simple to understand.

Why do companies use Airtable?

Businesses love Airtable because it’s highly customizable. 

It can be as robust and complex as the costliest enterprise-grade software, or as simplified and easy to use as you want. It can integrate with existing platforms and eliminate the need for others. 

Airtable’s fine-tuned permissions and access controls are another attractive feature. No more compromising over who can access what data — Airtable permissions let you control access down to a single line. 

Chances are, Airtable can reduce the number of tools in your business’s arsenal, cut costs, and simplify operations.

What is Airtable: SQL or NoSQL?

Of the two, SQL is more commonly used for relational databases. We don’t know exactly what underlying tech the team at Airtable is using — but it doesn’t really matter to users. 

That’s because Airtable focuses on providing an incredible user experience with a robust and easy-to-use UI, dynamic REST API for each base and table, custom query language for your data, and more. 

So users don’t need to dive deep into the backend technology to take advantage of these incredible features. 

That said, Airtable’s custom script editor is available for teams that want to take things a step further.

Airtable's custom script editor shows script customization with tabs for documentation, examples, and API
While Airtable is mostly low- to no-code, the custom script editor lets developers get even more creative.

Why do people like Airtable?

People like Airtable because it:

  • Is easy to use
  • Is extremely customizable
  • Seamlessly integrates with over 30 common platforms (and can connect with scores of others through API)
  • Reduces the number of tools businesses often rely on
  • Simplifies workflows for employees
  • Can improve customer satisfaction 
  • May cut costs by eliminating additional tools and platforms

What can you create with Airtable?

Airtable can be used for:

  • Reports
  • Custom apps
  • AI-assisted processes
  • Project tracking
  • Inventory management
  • CRM
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • File management
  • Digital asset management
  • Budget management

Basically: if it’s related to information, you can build it with Airtable.

Conclusion: Airtable Is Part of Our No-Code Movement

We love Airtable because it provides seemingly endless customizable options for our customers. It’s so versatile that we use it in every area of our business:

By leveraging the low-code and no-code technology of tools like Airtable, we spend less time managing enormous teams and clunky servers. 

And that leaves more time for what we truly love: building relationships with our customers.

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Last updated
November 25, 2023

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