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Amanda Billark

Amanda Billark

Akendi Alumnus

How do you know when it’s time to rebrand?

On February 2nd, popular ride sharing app Uber surprised everyone by unveiling their new brand. For a company who’s well known for controversy, the unveiling of their rebrand was no different, causing waves throughout the design and tech communities.

I myself was surprised when I looked at my phone to notice an unfamiliar white and teal badge in place of the slick black and grey one to which I had become accustomed. I quickly consulted Google where I learned that the company had indeed rebranded. My next reaction was to open the app to see what had changed (not much) and then visit Uber’s website which had been completely overhauled with the new look.

While I personally am not so fond of their new branding, I do recognize the reasoning for rebranding and agree the timing was right for Uber to conduct such an exercise. Rather than do a critique of their design decisions, I thought it would be interesting to examine the reasons why a successful company, such as Uber, would choose to rebrand in the first place.

So how do you know when it’s time to rebrand? Here are 3 good reasons, using Uber’s latest move as an example:

The Business has Evolved Beyond its Original Scope

Uber first launched in 2010 in San Francisco as a black car service for 100 or so friends of its founders. The concept of the business was to provide on-demand, exclusive transportation at the touch of a button. As the company rapidly grew and expanded world-wide in 2011, they became “everyone’s private driver” replacing the original (and lesser known) iteration of the brand with the slick black, grey and blue look we’ve all become familiar with.

Fast forward to today, Uber has changed significantly by greatly expanding their scope of offerings. I’m not just talking about the various ride options (UberX, UberPool, UberHop, UberCommute, just to name a few) but a shift from being solely in the business of transportation to expanding its scope into the business of logistics.

Today, Uber not only offers ride sharing and transportation services for people but moves everything from food (UberEats) to packages (UberHealth), to puppies (UberFreight). With a much wider scope of offerings and audience, Uber has outgrown the slick and exclusive “everyone’s private driver” aesthetic. Now available in 400 cities in 65 countries around the world, Uber is well on its way to disrupt much more than the taxi industry, and their brand needs to reflect all that they’ve become.

The Brand’s Reputation has been Tarnished

For months now, it seems like you can’t go a week (or sometimes even a few days) without hearing something negative in the media about Uber. From anti-Uber protests by taxis, to claims of taking advantage of drivers, safety lawsuits galore, and to lengthy court battles with municipalities. Uber has been accused of sidestepping laws, and in some cases deliberately breaking them. One thing is for sure, whenever you hear Uber in the news it is rarely in a positive light.

While it is possible for some brands to come out of big scandals unscathed, I’m not sure this would have been the case for Uber who has been plagued with scandal from the beginning. The timing of Uber’s rebrand was no happy coincidence. It was completely planned and intentional, a move made as an attempt to shed their negative public image in hopes for a fresh new start.

Uber’s new brand system ditches the dark, sleek and rather soulless (read more about that here) aesthetic of the former brand opting for something lighter, brighter and more approachable. Instead of using a colour palette limited to 3 colours as they did previously to represent all of Uber worldwide, they’ve created a broader colour and complementary pattern system where a unique palette will be created for all of the different geographical areas where Uber operates. Uber is recognizing and playing off of the cultural differences that exist among their users attempting to better connect with each one of them on an emotional level. These are only some of the changes, which overall project a more optimistic, inclusive and thoughtful brand image.

The Need to Create Flexibility for Future Growth

An essential thing to consider when designing any brand is not only considering what the future may hold for the business, but strategically planning for it. As a designer, it’s imperative to ask questions around how the business may change, grow and evolve over time. Uber has grand ambitions promising everything from autonomous cars to fundamentally ‘changing transportation and logistics in urban centers around the world’.

Aesthetic preferences aside, the latest iteration of Uber’s brand system has built in flexibility that allows for Uber to continue to grow and evolve without being confined or limited by their outward image. You can see evidence of this by examining Uber’s new app badges for their customer and driver apps, each uniquely styled and with their own unique icon and colours. If the recently released (but not yet updated) UberEATS app is any indication, I would predict that Uber will continue to break out their unique services such as courier service UberRush and all those that follow into their own apps and businesses. Laying down this foundation will allow them to expand their range of services not limiting them to only those revolving around cars under the same Uber umbrella.

To conclude, while consumers might not always like the shock of their favourite brands changing, sometimes change is needed for growth. Recognizing when to change can be as important as the changes you make.  I hope this helps you better understand different reasons for why a company would choose to re-brand itself.

How do you feel about Uber’s decision to re- brand? Please leave a comment and share your opinion.

Amanda Billark

Amanda Billark

Akendi Alumnus


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Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.