Uber-designed. Under-considered?

On first seeing Uber’s new app logo on my phone…

My first reaction was a twinge of sadness

Just a twinge. The previous logo recalled a fun night out during a tube strike and the simple joy of hitting the app and being Ubered home. It was my first time and I loved the eerily fast arrival of the white car, the friendly driver and the way I didn’t need to fret about payment. So that minimal, squarish black on white U already had brand equity in my head.

My second reaction was bafflement

What exactly did it mean? Truth be told, I’m still not sure. It reminds me of lots of things: a trendy sink in some continental bathroom, a mallet hitting a timpani, an auctioneer striking his gavel, iron smelting…

What it didn’t remind me of was Uber.

And I’m not the only one

From what I can gather online community sentiment isn’t too positive.

A senior art director friend of mine took it apart: “If you look at the other logos on your phone, let’s see: Dropbox, My Fitness Pal, YouTube, WhatsApp, Drinkaware (oops!) it’s fairly clear what the app and the company behind it do. But when you look at the new Uber design, someone has to explain it. That explanation might make sense, but they’ll still have to explain it”.

So I roused myself to see what the company itself thought they’d done

A long, eulogising article in Wired explained that the company’s CEO Travis Kalanick played a big part. Not encouraging, I thought, because the designers will feel subtle pressure to please him rather than do their job.

I also found out that the concept was based on a blog post Kalanick wrote stating that his business was about bits and atoms. That’s not good either, because after reading it I was none the wiser.

The article also said that one of the designers got the idea from her bathroom tiles. And indeed, the design really does bring to mind the kind of décor you see in one of those apartments that ‘needs some updating’. What’s more, we all know good creatives shouldn’t be getting ideas from what’s just in front of them.

But what really bothered me was this

Where did the customers come into all this thinking? Uber seem to have mainly been concerned about expressing their boss’s vision and their designer’s interior decor. Don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly feeling the unrelenting obsession with customer satisfaction expected of such a people-intensive business.

So, in summary

Okay, Uber’s logo needed to change to reflect the scale of a company that’s now more valuable than the ones that manufacture their driver’s cars. Maybe I’ll get used to the new app logo and, after all, it’s still a good experience, as I again found out recently.

But this stuff matters. After all, the company’s head of design is now taking time off to ‘rest, reflect and recharge’… which reminds me of when scandal-ridden politicians announce that they will be ‘spending more time with their family’.

Despite this, Uber themselves claim to be upbeat. They believe they now have a brand that can take them forward and one that is sympathetic to the cultural values of the cities where they operate. I still preferred the old app though.

Is it too late for a U turn?