So, the new Uber ident has been described as an asshole (or as we would say in the UK, an arsehole, or as LBJ would have said, a bunghole). I must admit, I can’t quite see the asshole myself, although it’s pretty funny and I suppose fitting to those who have attacked Uber’s tactics and corporate traits. Still, I’ve tried hard and I still can’t see an asshole/arsehole/bunghole.
I can see some practical issues and design traps though.
Firstly there’s the issue of recognition. I can’t imagine it will be very high, since there’s no relationship with the brand name or service. Of course it’s not unusual for a logo to be fairly abstract, but in this case the logo has an important job to do (without the support of the wordmark) in pulling taps on a crowded mobile home screen. With such an abstract icon there’s going to be a fairly significant cognitive leap required, with the associated lag. When that home screen is increasingly going to feature competitor app icons, that’s something I would want to avoid. Admittedly it needs a tidy, but my home screen currently has 65+ icons on it, and when I’m looking for an app I really want the icon to describe it quickly.
Secondly, there’s the trap of designing for geographies, but with the eyes of an outsider. The new localised patterns are very pretty, but they’re misplaced. Local motifs are of far more relevance to visitors to an area than to those living with them daily. So, for a travel company, where your audience is exploring places to visit, geo-specific identities might make sense. But for a service which is essentially local (from an individual user’s perspective) they just don’t make sense. Why should my taxi app feature a pretzel just because I happen to be a user in New York, or a pearly king because I’m a user in London. Surely I want the identity of a service I use to relate to it’s function and values, rather than simply reflecting back my own location.
The geographic skins only make sense if you’re within Uber HQ looking down at the reach of your globalised startup (what you might call the God View). But that’s not the perspective of a user, standing on a city street corner catching a ride a couple of miles across town. Adjusting your view to get the user’s perspective isn’t just important, it’s central. It’s why empathy is often cited as the most useful tool in brand communications. It’s unsurprising that this rebranding was an inside job – an agency would have helped to bring the user into the design process. Perhaps Uber needs to buy in some empathy.