I hadn’t noticed the new icon on my phone, but the email that popped up in the wee small hours of the day certainly caught my attention: Introducing A New Colorful Uber. Having just reviewed Uber’s elegantly simple brand guidelines with some of our creative directors who are working through a massive rebranding project, I eagerly read on.
“The Uber you know isn’t changing, our brand is just catching up to who we are.” Made sense to me. At Grafik, we routinely preach about the need for authenticity, and the value of evolving your visual identity to reflect the spirit of your brand. But we also tell clients that their brands belong to the loyal badge-wearing customers who identify with everything the brand represents. This is where everything went south for me: As one who’s loved this brand for a long while, I feel like Uber stole something that belonged to me. And a glance at the response on social media tells me I’m not alone.
Uber should not expect us to fall head over heels for the flashy new identity. We weren’t quite prepared for such a radical shift. Ultimately, we’ll all get over the shock to our systems, and none of this will keep users from Ubering to the airport next week. But for a while at least, we’ll wonder what they were thinking.
In his interview with WIRED, Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, says this was a very personal effort. He says he was very involved in the process, and that the entire rebranding initiative was managed internally. In other words, no one from any brand consultancy or design firm was on hand to offer guidance or structure. Note to Travis: one of us could have shaved about a year off your project. It shouldn’t take 18-month lead-time to arrive at brand pillars. And if you had asked anyone on the outside, they might have added that an objective viewpoint is essential for efforts like this.
So what about the work? Well, some is good. I admit that freely. But some of the design is heavy-handed, and the brand video looks and sounds a bit too much like Apple — nothing fresh or original there at all.
It’s important for every brand to hit the reset button. But the strategy and care with which that button is pushed is extremely critical. Uber has poured a lot of time and money into building a tribe. And their investment has paid off. If estimates are right, there are nearly 9 million Uber users today. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s nearly 9 million people who are now left trying to figure out what happened to their brand.