Uber just rolled out a brand new icon for its app, logo for its company, and overall design refresh for its brand. You can argue about its quality down in the comments. Some will undoubtedly love it, some will hate it. It may grow on you over time or stick in your craw. But as you reflect on this new piece of corporate iconography, remember that it's very much a reflection of one man, Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.
According to a lengthy feature in Wired magazine about Uber's design overhaul:
Kalanick is not a designer... Yet he refused to entrust the rebranding process to someone else. This was an unusual decision, on his part. When overhauling the identify of their company, most CEOs hire experts—branding agencies that specialize in translating corporate values into fonts and colors—or assign the task to an in-house design team. Not Kalanick. For the past three years, he’s worked alongside Uber design director Shalim Amin and a dozen-or-so other folks, hammering out ideas from a poorly ventilated space they call the War Room. Along the way, he studied up on concepts ranging from kerning to color palettes. "I didn’t know any of this stuff," says Kalanick. "I just knew it was important, and so I wanted it to be good."
"Light smirks ripple across the room."
Kalanick's personal preferences played a big role in shaping the new design. The company wanted to replace its metallic black and silver palette, which was hard to adapt for holidays and soften to appear less aggressive. The design team had to grin and bear it. Here is Wired's description of Shalin Amin, Uber's design director, and his team, working on the new color scheme:
"Kalanick became engrossed, evaluating pixels and colors according to what he euphemistically calls his "unique" set of preferences. Light smirks ripple across the room. "I basically gave up understanding what your personal preference was," Shalin tells him. "I was like, ‘he’s got this pastel thing going with, like, bright colors.’"
In the end, the team realized it didn't make sense for a company doing business in 65 countries to have its look defined by a single 40-year-old white guy in San Francisco. So the redesign will allow each regional arm to have its own "country-specific color and pattern palettes" alongside five global ones.
"This happens, when you start to know who you are."
Uber's CEO took this work personally, and the redesign cuts both ways. Wired's Jesse Hempel wrote, "For Kalanick, who turns 40 this year and has picked up a few more shades of silver in his spiky, salt-and-pepper hair, this rebrand has been an act of self-exploration; it’s his attempt to define who he is, and to give himself the flexibility to evolve alongside the company he started." And Kalanick agreed. "'The warmth, the colors, those things,' he says, nodding to the new brand. 'That happens, when you start to know who you are.'"