In corporate America, the most persistent refuge of outright charlatanism is “branding.” The only thing more offensive to honesty than a “rebranding” campaign is a breathless feature story about a rebranding campaign.
What do we have in Wired today... ah, it’s a breathless feature story about a rebranding campaign! “The Inside Story of Uber’s Radical Rebranding Campaign.” If I were to give you an honest summary of all of the important facts about Uber’s rebranding campaign, that summary would just be an empty box. There are no important facts about Uber’s branding. It is not an important subject. Uber’s effective dismantling of the modern concept of “employee rights?” That is an important story. Uber changing its logo from a “U” to a little kind of bluish sideways ass? Not an important story.
Theoretically it could be an amusing story, in the right hands, because Uber’s billionaire boss clearly took this exercise in kindergarten-level picture drawing very seriously. But Wired, having been granted access for this story, is somehow compelled to try to dress this up into a story with meaning. “Does it work?” the magazine asks rhetorically. “Do you like it? Are you freaking out? Be honest.”
The story of how Kalanick and his design team came to replace the ubiquitous “U” logo is about more than a corporate rebranding effort. It’s a coming-of-age tale.
It is not. It is, in fact, about a corporate rebranding effort.
It’s about Uber’s attempt to transform its purpose and cement a new reputation—to change not only how it is perceived throughout the world, but how it perceives itself.
If Uber wanted to change how it is perceived around the world, it could treat its drivers as employees, taking a concrete step to prevent the most destructive consequences of the “gig economy.” Instead, it got a new logo.
Here’s the thing, though. Kalanick is not a designer.
Words are incapable of communicating how irritating this grating, attention-starved “Here’s the thing” writing construction is. I apologize for this digression.
Kalanick’s involvement makes more sense when you understand the rebranding was personal. “There’s an evolution here, for the founder as well as for the company,” he says, “because really, they’re very connected.” During Uber’s early years, Kalanick came across as a bellicose bro, a rebel-hero always angling for a confrontation—with regulators, the taxi industry, and competitors. Reflecting on this image, Kalanick says it was all a misrepresentation by the media. When you don’t really know who you are, he explains, it’s easy to be miscast—as a company, or as a person.
Uber was misrepresented by the media, says Uber’s CEO, unchallenged. Uber’s CEO was on a journey of personal and professional evolution, you see. On his journey of personal and professional evolution, did he find, I don’t know, workers’ rights? No. He found a new logo.
A long and very boring story of font and design minutiae ensues, which we shall skip. The primary finding of this feature story is that the process to redesign Uber’s logo from a “U” to an ass shape took years, complete with an entire team of deep thinkers doing extremely tough work.
It took them a year and a half to agree on five pillars they thought best described the company Uber aspires to be: grounded, populist, inspiring, highly evolved, and elevated.
What do you do for a living? Drive a car, while receiving no benefits? I work as a branding designer conceptualizing one “brand pillar” every three months. I get paid much more than you.
Anyone can draw an icon, he told them. What’s the story behind it? As they sketched on the wall and sifted through materials, the group began to focus on a blog post Kalanick had written, in which he described Uber’s culture as the combination of bits and atoms. Bits represented the machine efficiency involved in Uber’s mapping and dispatch software. The atoms represented people.
Travis Kalanick is a billionaire several times over and worth every penny.
We won’t ruin for you the drama of the thousands of subsequent words expended on who exactly decided to make Uber’s logo a little sideways ass, and why. I will only tell you—with no fabrication or exaggeration—that it all ends with this:
It’s a question Kalanick is beginning to answer for himself. “The warmth, the colors, those things,” he says, nodding to the new brand. “That happens, when you start to know who you are.”
Anyhow they changed their little logo.