On Uber and the re-brand no one asked for

by Isioma Daniel

I’ll try and separate my personal use of Uber from the rebrand which has got everyone talking.

It’s a service that provokes heated debate and almost every opinion I’ve read on the logo has begun with:

“I like Uber”

“I hate Uber”

“I’ve never used it”

“I lost my Uber virginity on so and so date”

None of that matters. The key question is: Uber had the world’s most famous U and ditched it “casually”. Why? And has it worked?

For a brief overview on the why, do check this great Wired article on the inside story behind Uber’s rebrand.

Reading it quickly reveals why the rebrand has suffered such a disconnect with users of the service and just generally anyone who’s interested in design and branding.

Now, on to the “Has it worked?” part. Hmmm…

CEO driven, not user driven

I’m a huge believer in content and design that puts the user, the audience, and the customer first. If you read the Wired article, you’ll see that Uber’s rebrand did none of that.

The new Uber wordmark is actually just beautiful. The problem is the logo and the process behind creating it. Uber’s rebrand was done entirely by its in-house design team, and from reading the Wired article it seems little or no user research was behind it. You can either see this as bold, innovative, focused, visionary or foolish.

Change direction first, then rebrand

CEO Trevor Kalanick drove the rebrand to reflect his vision of the Uber brand identity — a transportation and logistics giant connected by systems and people. The new rider and partner app logos are meant to reflect this network of local markets, a connection of bits and atoms.

However, pre-empting their journey robbed Uber of a huge storytelling opportunity. The rebrand is a bit like jumping to the last page of a novel halfway through. Because it’s premature the re-design has had to be explained over and over again. I think that says a lot.

Loss of visual equity

The logos take Uber away from the tangible concrete solid U that anchored the brand, and maybe held it too accountable? Maybe.

The Uber U stood out amongst the many apps on my phone. Now it doesn’t and that’s grating and worrying. By cutting the old brand Uber’s cut the link between the company’s name and one of the world’s most recognisable visual assets.

What exactly is it?

The new logos seem almost opaque and with a service that already struggles from accusations of poor ethics surely increased transparency and recognisability is the way to go?

A lot went wrong but most importantly, no one asked for it. Like, really, no one did. There are a lot of things Uber’s passengers and drivers are asking for: greater security, openness on data tracking, more money to drivers — I don’t think a rebrand was one of them.

So what can be done?

Content can save the day

Reversing the rebrand is absolutely not an option, and undoubtedly not one the business is even remotely considering. Uber’s made its bed and now needs to think strategically about how to lie in it. What they should do now is what they should have done — get their employees and partner drivers internationally to tell the story on why change is happening and let them be the ambassadors of the Uber story.

On the day the change happened, my Uber driver couldn’t care less. “I have no idea why they did it. Didn’t even know it was happening. What route would you prefer m’m?” Where’s the connectivity in that?