Sunday, February 7, 2016

An Uber-Confusing Rebrand

Not only did Uber unveil a new logo on Tuesday, but a total overhaul of their global brand and identity system—including a completely unrecognizable new app icon. At first glance, it appears that everyone on the Internet is just about as confused by this as I am (and some people seem down right angry).

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I won’t argue that I was necessarily a huge fan of the old Uber logo, but at least the icon made some sense. “U” stands for “Uber”. Ok, sure, I can make this connection. Which is far more than I can say of this new mark, which feels far more evocative of a bank or financial institution.

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See what I mean?

The conceptual narrative behind the Uber rebrand is actually somewhat interesting, especially to a design geek like myself. However, for the millions of Uber consumers around the world who may not necessarily consider themselves to be design enthusiasts, I’m not sure they will be as willing to read a 700-word press release from the company’s CEO, a 2700-word article in Wired and watch a cheesy 2 and a half minute brand video just to try and make sense of the indistinguishable new app icon that has mysteriously appeared on their smartphones.

From the CEO, Travis Kalanick: The unique aspect of Uber is that we exist in the physical world. When you push a button on your phone, a car moves across the city and appears where you are. We exist in the place where bits and atoms come together. That is Uber. We are not just technology but technology that moves cities and their citizens.

So, apparently, this new system was inspired by the idea of connecting bits and atoms. This is certainly an interesting concept, but I sincerely struggle to make the connection with the visual designs. (And c’mon, a logo that requires an lengthy explanation pretty much the defeats the purpose of the logo in the first place.)

Another aspect I find somewhat surprising, is that Uber—a 65-billion dollar company that some investors believe to be more valuable than Ford Motor Company or FedEx—attempted to undertake this rebrand entirely in-house, with design efforts essentially lead by their CEO. No outside branding agency was involved, and according to Wired the logo creative review took only 10 minutes! Corporate identity is an incredibly precise design niche, and I might argue that just because you are a successful CEO for one of the biggest tech companies in the world, it doesn’t necessarily make you an expert in translating corporate values into a cohesive identity package of fonts, colors, and icons (and perhaps you should at least consult with an expert or agency somewhere in your design process.)

In my opinion, where the design team was the most successful, however, were with the changes to the Uber wordmark itself. The original font weight was so paper thin, and the extreme letter-spacing meant that lots of horizontal real estate was being wasted, resulting in a serious lack of visual impact. They also got rid of that weird curly bit in the “U” which didn’t match the logomark in the old icon in any way (and always kind of drove me crazy). The new logotype is definitely cleaner, more distinctive, and feels more modern (even though there are a few odd curves I could probably criticize if I was going to nitpick...)

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Another component of the identity system that is really quite nice in theory, are the 65 or so distinctive patterns and color palettes that Uber is launching to brand each of their major markets around the world. According to Kalanick , Uber is “a transportation network, [that is] woven into the fabric of cities and how they move.”

To draw inspiration for representing this concept, the design team studied local architecture, fashion, art, and textiles, and the result is stunning. I mean, just look at these gorgeous mood boards! I’m drooling.

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Image source: Uber.com

However, no functional design is able to exist in a style-tile alone, and unfortunately, I think this concept falls flat in execution, both on the app and on the web.

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That green box apparently is a representation of the “bit.” The thin strip of pattern down the side is supposed to exemplify the idea of the atom. And the logo is not really connected at all. The whole thing feels somewhat disjointed, like the sum of the parts is just less than the meaning of the whole.

Overall, I think Uber has done a great job at crafting the story of their redesign, but I’m afraid the design itself just falls quite flat. After all, a picture is supposed to be worth 1,000 words, but in this case, I had to read about 3,400 words just to begin to understand the strategy behind this confusing new iconography.