Retail

Is Uber’s New Look Its ‘New Coke?’

How long should it take consumers to get used to the rebranding of a widely recognized and frequently used product? A week? A month?

Can such a facelift be so jarring that consumers never adjust to it, leading to a dropoff in the brand’s viability and even ending its very existence?

That worst-case scenario can happen: Just ask Coca-Cola. While that company was strong enough to survive by returning its flagship soda to its original formula, it would likely be pleased if everybody just forgot about New Coke — later called Coke II — and never mentioned it again (and not just because Bill Cosby was the pitchman for the beverage).

Uber, which released a new and drastically altered logo on Feb. 2, isn’t quite into “New Coke” territory just yet. But it has been over a week since the rebrand was launched, and — although we gave the news a passing mention at the time in a different Uber-related story — we still haven’t come to terms with it. Neither have a lot of people.

Fortune called it “bizarre;” The Washington Post said that “everyone hates [it],” and, just this week, The Huffington Post ran an op-ed asking plainly of Uber’s new look: “Are they kidding?”

To unnecessarily answer that rhetorical question: No, Uber is not kidding. And, to be honest, the company has little to be concerned about if some news outlets — this one included — take issue with its redesign.

The more serious issue that Uber ought to be concerned with, however, is how its rebranding is going over with their consumers — the folks who, as is the case with any consumer-facing company, effectively keep the lights on.

So far, not so good, on that front.

The day that the Uber redesign was unveiled, CNNMoney shared a few choice opinions of it that users had posted to Twitter. Those consumers used words like “underwhelming” and “disgusting;” one person on the social media platform even posited a humorous but legitimate potential outcome of the logo change: that people coming out of bars at 2 a.m. would, in their inebriated states, be unable to recognize the Uber app on their phones.

At the center of complaints about Uber’s new look — which replaced the simple, silver-on-black “U” design with something the company is calling “the atom and bit” (basically, a “U” swollen into a nearly unrecognizable circle and knocked on its side over a background reminiscent of the regrettable laser-scape used unironically in countless school photos during the 1980s) — is the question: Why?

Why would a company that is arguably one of the biggest game-changers of the last decade — not just in the transportation, technology and mobile app spaces but in the consumer product space writ large, one whose very name represents the idiomatic standard for what startups seek to emulate and whose ceiling was far from having been reached — abruptly do an about-face with its … well … face?

Wired took a deep dive into Uber’s rebranding in search of an answer to that question and basically found it to be of two, not exactly equal, parts.

On one hand, shares the outlet, Uber’s design director, Shalin Amin, had, since joining the company in 2012, taken issue with the logo on a number of fronts: He didn’t like that it was different on iOS from what it was on Android; he felt that the letters in the word “Uber” on the logotype were spaced too far apart from each other; and he thought that the standalone, stylized “U” logo looked awkward when it appeared next to the logotype.

“It read U-UBER,” Amin told Wired, “like ‘Oooober.’”

(Ooooh.)

Meanwhile, says Wired, in 2013, Uber CEO and Founder Travis Kalanick — with his company having launched UberX and with UberCOMMUTE and UberPOOL in the works — basically decided that it was time for a refresh.

Three years later, Kalanick and Amin (with help from communications designer Catherine Ray) had their “atom and bit” designed, which took its name, the Wired story shares, from a blog post that Kalanick had written in 2013.

And that was it.

Essentially, the explanation for Uber redesigning its logo is that Uber felt like redesigning its logo.

It’s worth noting that, the day after the rebrand was made public, Andrew Crow, Uber’s head of design — who was conspicuously absent from that Wired story — announced that he was leaving the company. While Crow did not make any reference to the logo in that announcement, one might infer that he was not a fan of it or the process involved.

Crow’s publicly unknown feelings on the matter aside, does Uber — or any company that implements a change like the one Uber did — owe itself any explanation beyond that it felt like making the change? Of course not. Uber is Kalanick’s company; he can do what he wants with it.

By that same token, Uber’s investors — who have lifted the company to a valuation in the range of $60 billion to $70 billion — are free to do what they want with their money. And if the largely negative consumer reaction to Uber’s new look translates into lower usage of the app, those investors might be a little stingier when the next turn for funding comes around.

Of course, it is far too early to gauge if social media chatter will have an effect on real-world spending related to Uber, and even if it eventually did, Uber would have plenty of time to pull a “New Coke” and throw out the new design in favor of the classic one.

If nothing else, though, Lyft is probably feeling less embarrassed right now about having taken so long to do away with those giant, furry pink mustaches it used to put on the front of its cars. Never mind New Coke; those things really bit the wax tadpole.

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