Uber just killed off the most recognizable U on the planet. Unlike the black and white U that has emblazoned itself in the minds of millions of Uber users around the world – including myself – the new logo bears no obvious relationship to the company name.
We all know that Uber isn’t alone in leaving a loyal customer base dumbfounded – if not outright offended – by such a seemingly misguided departure from one of the most sought after icons in the world. Over the past couple of years, we have seen AOL, GAP, Pepsi, Tropicana and even Apple be indicted for similar blunders.
The most recent of these was Spotify’s stealth attempt to brighten the tone of its green that literally drove its most devoted users berserk to the extent that some even thought there was something actually wrong with their phones. What Spotify learned from this is that it was not simply about the color or even that the company changed the color, but more that it did so without clear communication to its community of users – and more importantly – not involving them in the design process.
While we can only assume that Spotify learned something about branding through this process – it appears abundantly clear by our near unanimous and collective disaffection with its head scratching visual analogy of “bits & atoms” – that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick did not. While the dust is still settling – what’s also become clear is that he simply refused to entrust the rebranding process to anyone else – and in his attempt to use “bits & atoms” to bring out the human side of the brand in contrast to the starkness of the monochrome U – he has managed to strip its personality altogether – leaving us cold and disconnected from a brand that is suddenly as abstract as it is unfamiliar.
David Shantz sums up the problem perfectly in a comment he left on this VentureBeat article:
“When building a brand – and the visual identity around that brand – the most important audience is the audience. The millions of people who will use Uber day by day. As a semi-regular Uber user, the output of this imaginative and time-consuming re-branding exercise totally leaves me cold. I don’t see or feel anything “Uber” in the logo. I don’t know what I’m looking at.”
At Bluetext, we preach brand simplification – if you have to launch into a detailed explanation of the logo – you have already failed. We strive to create an icon that is instantly recognizable and just as quickly evokes an emotional connection with the brand – through the lens of the customer. To that extent – I have to say that I do love the bolder look of Uber’s new wordmark.
But let’s flash forward three years from now – is it possible that we could look back on this and declare Kalanick a genius by identifying the perfect inflection point in consumer branding which signaled that no one really cares about the logo anymore? A future where people are more interested in what a brand can do for them than how it makes them feel when they see it?
The most powerful thing Uber has going for it that might actually fulfill that prophecy is the sheer might of its social brand platform – its ability invite participation and create value by reinventing itself and its usefulness in authentic and relevant ways is uniquely rare and clearly absent from brands that fail to impose their will to evolve without a strong social foundation.
At the end of the day – will any of us really care what their icon looks like next time we stumble out of our favorite restaurant and order up an Uber Black?