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The reason why Uber’s new app icon is excruciatingly mediocre

Uber App Icon Design

Even though Uber is only about 6 years old at this point, the company last week rolled out a redesign for its entire brand. In doing so, Uber completely changed its highly recognizable icon into something that looks like it belongs on the front face of a credit card.

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Gone is the black “U” and in its place is a white circle with a blue square in the middle. The background, meanwhile, has changed from silver to something more colorful. GeekWire sums up Uber’s rationale for the new icon design:

The square is meant to represent the bit — a nod to Uber’s technology. The colors and patterns being introduced to the branding represent the atom — the people and things that Uber transports and the places where it operates.

On the surface, it may sound kind of cool and interesting, but is it really anything more than a piece of tired corporate jargon? As opposed to being a face of the company, the icon now takes on the role of telling a story, a noble pursuit perhaps, but arguably a fool’s errand in practice.

Uber’s new app icon has naturally generated its fair share of criticism. While a small minority of people seem to find the new icon a bold design choice in the right direction, others seem to think that Uber has lost its collective mind.

Writing for Brand New, Armin Vit opines:

The bigger issue with the redesign — far more troubling — than the logo redesign is the app icon. In this case the app icon gets more action than the logo itself. That’s the first interaction from most users. If I wasn’t a fan of the curl in the “U” of the old logo I was even less of a fan of the inward serifs of the old icon. But, hey, it was a “U” for Uber and it was shiny like the badge on the grill of a car. The new icon is completely unidentifiable in any way as Uber other than it saying “Uber” underneath. Let’s assume that it’s a matter of being used to poking on that icon for the last five or six years and that we just need to get used to poking at this new one but, even then, it seems like this is an icon for something else altogether. I don’t think there is enough strength in the bit as the principal (and literal) touchpoint.

It’s hard not to agree with this sentiment. Uber’s old icon was readily identifiable at a glance, something you want out of an app that is intended to be used rather frequently. Uber’s new app icon, on the other hand, seamlessly blends into a sea of other icons, barely distinguishable from any generic icon design you might find elsewhere on your smartphone.

Even if we toss aside Uber’s questionable decision to dramatically redesign its logo in the first place, one can’t help but wonder how in the world Uber ended up with their final design choice.

Shedding some light on the matter, a recent Wired article took a deep dive into the design considerations that shaped Uber’s new app icon. And interestingly enough, CEO Travis Kalanick was heavily involved in the entire process. And oh yeah, did we mention that Kalanick has absolutely no design chops to speak of?

Here’s the thing, though. Kalanick is not a designer. He’s an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. Yet he refused to entrust the rebranding to anyone else. This was an unusual decision. Most CEOs hire experts—branding agencies that specialize in translating corporate values into fonts and colors—or tap an in-house team. Not Kalanick. For the past three years, he’s worked alongside Uber design director Shalin Amin and a dozen or so others, hammering out ideas from a stuffy 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.”

Is it possible that Kalanick has some innate design sense? Sure. But when a CEO assumes control of a project that falls outside his realm of expertise, odds are that the final result will accurately reflect that fact.

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.

Wired’s entire piece on Uber’s rebranding is well worth reading in its entirety. Make sure to check it out via the source link below.

Say what you will about the end result of Kalanick’s involvement in the design process, but no one can really call into question his dedication and passion for the company.

A life long Mac user and Apple enthusiast, Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 6 years. His writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and most recently, TUAW. When not writing about and analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions, the most recent examples being The Walking Dead and Broad City.

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