Uber rebrands – but where is it going?

In the first in a new series of CR columns analysing new identity design, creative director James Greenfield looks at Uber’s rebrand and the impact it will have on the company’s audience and its fortunes.

UberBonW

Instant reactions
It seems right now there’s no greater poisoned chalice in creative social media than the launch of a new logo. Some users shout louder than others, but you know which way a logo is going within a couple of hours of the first tweet. It brings out the keyboard warriors and some really don’t hold back.

Above and top of post, Uber’s new identity
Above and top of post, Uber’s new identity

As a designer and creative director on some big rebrands, I’ve very much been on the end of this instant-response tirade. In reality, a lot of these reactions are always taste-driven and knee-jerk, based on personal expectation and experience. In a way, some of these reflect the reactions of the everyday consumer, though perhaps more informed and often much more critical.

Uber Rush logo on bag
Uber Rush logo on bag
User's previous identity
User’s previous identity

Beyond taste
Beyond the furore and similarity comparisons, I’m always interested in why a company has chosen to rebrand as a criteria to judge the outcome. In Uber’s case, it seems the previous ‘premium’ feel was out of favour, to be replaced by a more democratic ‘technology-driven’ feel, in line with their ever broadening offer.

For the app icons, shown towards the top of this image, the ‘bit’ element of the identity has a background made from local colours and patterns (known as the ‘atoms’)
For the app icons, shown towards the top of this image, the ‘bit’ element of the identity has a background made from local colours and patterns (known as the ‘atoms’)

For me, beyond the frankly odd logo, this is the part of their creative endeavours that jars the most. As consumers, most of us don’t love our phones, we love what they do for us. However cool that new handset feels at first, it soon becomes invisible, as we focus on the connection and possibilities it gives us.

Bits and atoms are also invisible and mean nothing to ordinary everyday people, who are Uber’s intended audience. A good brand film should make you feel something and that feeling shouldn’t be – as in the Uber brand film – really rather confused. I watched the film thinking ‘Bits, atoms, a salt beef sandwich, what?’

The best 21st-century technology instead focuses on the benefits and positive life changing outcomes it delivers. In Uber’s case they have made their brand feel more tech and that for me is a very big flaw. Technology is inherently cold and to most normal people actually pretty dull compared with its outcomes.

The power of objectivity
It’s of no surprise to me that this project was delivered by an internal team. My most common experience with a newly delivered rebrand brief is the instant need for the shortening of the disparity with how the brand is viewed internally and externally.

Spending all day with talented people in a strong company culture, often leads to teams understandably losing their objectivity about how their customers see them. This is the power of the good external agency partner; objectivity, insight and honesty, all delivered against the identified audience needs. We need to understand where Uber are taking their brand, to understand the rebrand so we can see the springboard they are making for their future actions.

Uber App in use in London
Uber App in use in London

 

With the loss of their brand line ‘Everyone’s Private Driver’, which I personally thought was great, their communications have lost what made them feel special.

Uber arguably has to be perceived by it’s users and potential users as a mass premium product, something special, above the rest, regardless whichever it is of the current or future services they have planned. Otherwise it becomes a transactional experience, with no loyalty, the cheap mini-cab or an average take away, the delivered package from an identical company, instantly forgettable.

On one level, if we remove the premium aspect from an Uber cab in London then you might as well take the bus – it’s cheaper and often quicker.

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Local branding patterns for Mexico
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Local branding patterns for Ireland

Back to the audience
The majority of Uber’s audience will see the new brand and have an emotional reaction to it. They will spend no logical time thinking why, but it will affect how they see the company moving forward. What will it say to them? Fifteen minutes spent looking online and it’s not positive in the main. They don’t get it and without the power and structure of why, it leaves the masses confused.

Stripping away my experience and looking to my gut, I saw the identity for a large technology company brought to life in a film or computer game set in the future. Why? I’m not exactly sure, but that’s my honest reaction and I feel this rebrand will, in the long term, have no positive effects for Uber, which for me is a crying shame and some seriously wasted potential.

James Greenfield is founder and creative director of Koto. He tweets @gradiate. See studiokoto.co and @studiokoto. Uber’s new identity has been created in-house by chief executive and co-founder, Travis Kalanick, and design director, Shalin Amin. Wired has an interesting in-depth story on the involvement of Uber’s CEO with the rebranding project.

From Uber's identity guidelines
From Uber’s identity guidelines