WIRED Magazine’s Jessi Hempel recently covered Uber’s rebrand, calling it radical. I couldn’t agree more.
A chorus of critical backlash by creative directors and media companies alike is overshadowing the brand’s refresh, calling it “seriously wasted potential” and a “wrong turn.”
But what I’m excited about has less to do with logo design and more to do with the fact that it had the courage to rely on pattern as the cornerstone of its brand refresh. Spurred by the same pioneering spirit that fuelled its disruptive business model, Uber went where most other brands have not, embracing pattern design as a way to communicate with a vastly differentiated and growing consumer base. As a fashion designer turned pattern maker turned branding enthusiast, I think the approach is well-timed and on-point.
Patterns have an ability to affect humans on a visceral level, evoking familiar memories and feelings, allowing brands to connect with consumers in a way that logo alone can’t do. Patterns are also one of the most adaptable and flexible tools in a brand toolbox. They can create variety while maintaining consistency, because the elements can be rearranged many times over and scaled to fit any surface, product or media. So for Uber, a company operating in more than 400 cities across 68 countries, pattern design seemed like a smart choice for unifying and differentiating its brand in the ever-expanding global marketplace.
But something got lost in translation. Uber set out to create a pattern design strategy that would make its consumers feel more valued and special. But instead, it seems to be leaving them disenchanted. Uber says its design team researched art, architecture, fashion, textiles and the environment to uncover regional nuances in aesthetics, but the way those unique differences came to life ended up looking much the same. The task the designers gave themselves was certainly not easy. Creating pattern collections that connect to your brand and to your consumer is hard work.
Sure, the bright, friendly colour palette is a strong contrast to the black-and-white identity of the past. But if Uber’s goal is to add patterns as it adds markets, it will need a highly flexible tool that allows it to focus on the overarching story while creating variety. Most people think pattern is just a shape put into an expected repeat, but it has the ability to be much more textured, multi-layered, and artistic. These are the kinds of patterns that stoke desire, strengthen brand loyalty and increase brand longevity.
Although I’m offering Uber shadow high-fives and saying, “Well played, Travis Kalanick, well played” for its use of patterns, I do have one key piece of advice for the brand: write a pattern narrative. Tell the story of pattern coming from the user’s point of view. This narrative serves as the foundation for keeping the overall style and aesthetic cohesive across multiple touch points. It builds relationships between brand attributes and pattern attributes to communicate strong reasons to believe via an emotive story. Uber’s patterns convey a sense of reliability and predictability, which is important when earning consumer trust, but the patterns also feel cold, static and unemotional. Those patterns may resonate with the head, but they don’t talk to the heart. A successful brand pattern speaks to both.
The pattern narrative would also help them answer questions in the future about the lifespan of their newly-launched pattern collections. Uber may be hoping its patterns can hold iconic status over time, but I believe, to stay relevant in this age, the brand’s patterns will need to evolve maybe even more quickly than expected.
By Jenny Sauer, Creative Director, LPK