Upgrading Uber’s 3D fleet

Erik Klimczak
Mar 4, 2019 · 5 min read

15 million times a day, tiny 3D cars travel across screens around the world helping Uber riders and drivers connect. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of them, but we realized it was time for an upgrade. We gave our iconic 3D cars a complete design overhaul. Here are some of the highlights.

The original 3D cars debuted as part of our Rider app redesign in 2016. They started out as functional map elements showing location and availability. Each one was painstakingly optimized for use on maps — the proportions, detail (or lack thereof), and shape had been designed for a top-down view at 64x64px.

The original 3d vehicles were optimized for maps, and intentionally low-detail

Since then, our rider app has grown in complexity and the needs for the 3D assets expanded. When scaled up for marketing campaigns, the lack of detail in the cars was a problem. Someone once described them as “soapboxes on wheels”. Because they weren’t intended to be used outside of the map, they weren’t designed for it. But this was now a clear need. We decided to revisit them.

Playmobil meets Porsche

Image credit: BMW, Porsche

Designing car fascia is tough…really tough. In digital design terms, creating fascia is like establishing a visual design system. It’s essentially how the features of the front (grille and headlamps) and rear (tail lamps) connect with the interior and overall shapes found throughout the vehicle.

Naturally, we turned to brands that have a strong heritage in this space. We found inspiration in two places: the powerful aesthetics of German car manufacturers, and the masterful miniaturizations of toy brand Playmobil.

Image credit: Playmobil

Taking the lead from these seminal brands, our goal was to create a universal language uniting the range of vehicles in our portfolio.

The world’s first car designed from a logo?

Our new brand is largely built around themes of transportation. The colors, typeface, iconography, and logo are inspired by the universal language of transportation found throughout the world. This seemed like a good place to start.

Early study deriving the vehicle from our Logo

These early studies didn’t necessarily pan out, but they helped us understand the role of geometric shapes in the overall system. In retrospect, some of these early iterations were pretty esoteric. 🙃

We tried to use shapes in the logo to create car geometry

After settling on a handful of unifying elements to drive our visual system, the next step was to apply them to the entire fleet.

From cars to vehicles to people

After sourcing the complete list of travel options from our operations partner, we were surprised to learn Uber offers over 50 distinct products globally! This project provided a broad perspective into all of the unique ways people move around the world.

Behind the scenes Q&A

Your full-time job isn’t making 3D vehicles, how did you end up in this gig?

What was the most challenging part of the project?

What was your workflow and tooling?

👾 💻 Bonus — interactive WebGL garage 👾 💻

Try it out for yourself here: http://t.uber.com/3dGarage. *Sorry, desktop only*


Special thanks to

Brian Wong, Vinny Catricala, Lori Mann, Alissa Sanchez, Didier Hilhorst, Mike Gaynor, and our friends at Wolff Olins for helping make this happen!

Uber Design

We are passionate about the pursuit of ideas that put people first. Work with us: uber.com/design. Follow us on Twitter: @DesigningUber.

Thanks to Christopher Starr, Marco Paglia, and Remon Tijssen

Erik Klimczak

Written by

Principal Design Director @Uber | Author, Design Educator, Public Speaker

Uber Design

We are passionate about the pursuit of ideas that put people first. Work with us: uber.com/design. Follow us on Twitter: @DesigningUber.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade