It’s kind of amazing to realize that we’ve all been collectively talking about the Tesla Cybertruck for over four years now, and it’s still not in regular production yet. It’s impressive that the sharp-angled truck-like thing still manages to get people’s attention, so it’s a success in that regard if nothing else. It’s been in the news lately because in Tesla’s very recent investor call, Tesla’s rarely-seen or heard CEO Elon Musk admitted that getting the Cybetruck into production is extraordinarily difficult and will take about a year and a half before any money gets made. A few may trickle out in late 2024, but real production likely won’t happen until 2025. Anyway, everyone’s talking about Cybertrucks at the moment, which made me look at more pictures of them, which in turn presented the Cybertruck logo in front of my eyes as well. And that’s what I want to talk about today. Specifically, why does it suck so much?
Also, I can’t help but take a moment to note something Musk said in the investor’s call:
“That is why there have not been new car start-ups that have been successful for 100 years apart from Tesla.”
This is, of course, a ridiculous thing to say, and I think it’s probably best to show how silly and ill-informed this statement is by just listing a few successful car brands that have formed within the past century, in no particular order: Honda, SEAT, Tata, Volvo, Plymouth, Ferrari, Datsun/Nissan, Volkswagen, Toyota (they made looms before, but no cars until 1934), Kia, Hyundai, and then there’s a ton of Chinese brands and smaller niche but successful companies, and so much more. Maybe he meant in America, in which case that is closer to the truth, though Chrysler wasn’t founded until 1925 and if we say AMC was successful – and I’d say they were, for a while – they weren’t actually established under that name until 1954, and Jeep started in 1941, and, of course that’s not counting recent companies like Rivian or Lucid which, to be fair, I think it’s too early to say they’re “successful.”
Other than that, though, sure, he’s right. Sorry for the tangent, but it’d be asking a lot to just ignore that.
Okay, back to the logo. Let’s take a look at the Cybertruck logo here:
Let’s just describe what we’re looking at here. I think the most notable thing that first strikes you about this logo has to be how impressively illegible it is. Out of context, not knowing it says “Cybertruck,” how long do you think it would take you to figure out just what the hell it does say? It’s not easy, but if I drink enough washer fluid so I can temporarily forget what this says, maybe I’d see this and read it as “CAERRTVKK?” That’s kind of how it looks.
Now, I get that this is supposed to be a sort of graffiti-inspired logo design, and legibility isn’t exactly a hallmark of the genre, but when it comes to logotypes for a given product, I think it’s generally a plus to know what the logo actually says.
We’ll address the graffiti inspiration itself in a moment, but you’d think if you were going to draw from the vast and rich visual world of graffiti design, you’d pick something that didn’t look like a tag on the back of a Wendy’s dumpster done by a rushed suburban 15-year-old in the dark, while desperately nervous. Is it cool? It doesn’t feel cool. It feels like it’s trying to be cool, in a really ham-fisted way, or cool in the way that your aunt pictures cool, the “urban decay” equivalent of a dog in shades playing a saxophone on a skateboard.
It’s not like a graffiti-inspired logo is breaking any new ground, either, especially for trucks. It seems like in the 1990s almost every carmaker had at least one graffito-inspired badge or decal for some trim level of an SUV or truck.
I’m not saying any of these were particularly great, but they generally were legible, at least.
Then there’s the whole question of why. Why did Tesla pick this design aesthetic to go with the Cybertruck, which doesn’t feel like that at all, being all straight lines and sharp angles and polygonal precision? What about the name “Cybertruck” suggests the rough, rapid, messy look of spray-painted graffiti? I mean, look at these two objects together:
That ugly mass of messy black lines really doesn’t mesh with that ugly mass of precise steel polygons, does it? I mean, I understand an urge for contrast of some kind, but I don’t think that’s what was being gone for here, because it looks like there has been some half-assed attempt to capture the design vocabulary of the truck by limiting the graffiti logo to angled lines and no curves.
In fact, the first Cybertruck logo that was registered in 2019, before the Cybertruck was revealed, was dramatically different. It looked like this:
This does seem to fit the aesthetic of the truck better, I think. It’s not an amazing logo, but it’s not bad, and, interestingly, it looks like the original spelling may have been a much more phone-app-style vowel-less thing: CYBRTRK. I’d probably have complained about that, too.
Is there a way to take the graffiti Cybertruck logo and maybe make it feel more in tune with the Cybertruck’s actual look? I guess you could start with the basic shapes in the graffiti logo, but make them into Cybertruck-style wedge shapes:
That’s more legible, and I think sorta fits the look of the truck better, but it also looks more Cuneiform than anything, really, and I’m not sure ancient Sumerian is the image a tech-focused automaker wants to invoke [Ed note: Well… “Snow Crash,” a cyberpunk book I’m sure Elon Musk loves, actually features a decent amount of Sumerian Cuneiform references in it. – MH]
I do have one theory about why this type logo was picked; I think it’s possible that Elon was influenced by the Cyberpunk 2077 video game. This game was announced, with its logo, long before the Cybertruck was announced, and Elon is definitely aware of the game, as he demonstrated it being played in a Tesla:
Could this be the genesis of it all? That sort of scrawled text in the Cyberpunk 2077 logo is sort of similar, though it really feels more like a ’90s design callback than straightforward, drippy, spray-paint-on-drywall graffiti like the Cybertruck logo. But beyond that, I’m still pretty baffled by why anyone thought those angular, drippy scribbles would be a good logo.
Of course, I’m curious to hear what you think in the comments, but from where I sit, this logo is hard to read, confusing in tone, feels cynical and, worst of all, is just kind of ugly. It feels like all of two hours of thought was put into this, at most. Even if it’s too late to redesign the truck before launch, it’s not too late to take another crack at the logo. Logos are important! Tesla is a huge, rich company. There’s no reason to have such a shit logo.
Well, now that I think about it, maybe it does kinda make sense?