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Our View: Contemplating values in potential new Durango logo

On Sept. 19, Durango City Council voted 4-1 for city staff to explore the feasibility of creating and implementing a new city logo that reflects the community’s contemporary values – and determine whether residents desire a rebranding.

Councilor Dave Woodruff floated the idea, wondering aloud “what kind of values a new logo might reflect.”

Ultimately, the community would decide what community values should be expressed. But is this the best question – one of values? What exactly would that look like? Durango means something different to each of us.

Critics have said the current logo, adopted in 2000, looks like Microsoft Word clip art. The logo invokes the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and the San Juan Mountains, and speaks to our history and scenic mountain viewscapes. But the train and mountains have been part of the city’s logo since at least 1955. The essence of the logo has stayed the same. But like any evolving city, we haven’t. Who are we now that can be artistically rendered in a new logo?

It’s a tall order.

Costs cover a wide range. Professional graphic designers said a logo with minimal work starts at $500 and peaks at $5,000. The most common stretch was $2,000 to $5,000.

Designers emphasized this isn’t just a logo, but a brand to be used on signage, trucks, buildings, stationery, everything. It must be carefully executed with Pantone Matching System colors and graphic standards guidelines on how to use the logo in each application. Much minutiae must be considered, including defining fonts for annual reports, and minimal spacing between the logo and any copy.

In essence, redesigning Durango’s logo means redesigning an entire system. And don’t forget the costs of implementing all of this.

Tom Sluis, Durango’s public information officer, said research in 2022 showed “other cities spending from $5,000 to $200,000 to $300,000 or more,” depending on whether the city asked the public to submit ideas, then vote, as what happened in Fruita. Or if a consultant was hired to spend six months developing a multi-pronged rebranding effort.

We do know it’s verboten in the design world to hold a contest because this exploits artists, brings “free ideas” and the winning designer would have no control.

What about the train? Deal-breaker or deal-maker? This may depend on the number of residents who swear the train’s whistle is louder than at any time in history and actually fill out the city’s upcoming survey. Others request a more prominent Animas River with cerulean curves and a bike. But what kind of bike? Cruiser, mountain bike or – dare we ask – an ebike?

What images best represent Durangotangs?

A few naysayers offered ideas, too, to include a logo with overpriced homes, too many tourists, weed and mounds of dog poop. Of course, that content is better suited for a racy bumper sticker, not something as serious as a new city logo.

Anyway. . .

Woodruff’s logo idea gained traction but received mixed feedback. Councilor Olivier Bosmans tentatively voted in favor but raised spending concerns as the city faces issues such as housing and financial performance. Gilda Yazzie, who voted “no,” said she was happy with the current logo and wanted a pause on spending.

“We’ve got the 9-R building coming up,” Yazzie said. “We have the $1.2 million for Big Picture (renovations). I’d like to put the damper on the (Downtown’s) Next Steps because we don’t have any idea how much that’s going to cost.”

A logo would be one more expense.

But the costs of a logo wouldn’t scale with renovated buildings. Pricing can be controlled and managed. Some residents will always want the city to spend less or nothing at all. Fair enough.

Sluis said staff is working on a rough outline on how to move forward by, ideally, October with “the most cost-efficient manner to gather feedback” with two general options. “Hire an outside firm or do it internally.”

Last year, the city accepted bids to design a new logo and received at least 15 submissions. But the process was put on hold.

To be closer to $500, some residents told us, just refresh the current logo with new colors, slap on a bike and call it good. Maybe add a dog.

Meanwhile, our contribution to the deep well of ideas is to also add a bicycle to a mountain slope and more blue to reflect the Animas River.

Durango is many things. We are a Western mountain town in a strikingly beautiful setting. We have a train. Many residents bike as much as humanly possible. Dogs may soon outnumber residents.

We also suffer growing pains and high costs of living. We attract hard-working professionals. We have cultures that are both new and traditional. With many kinds of people, we are multi-layered and complicated.

Capturing that in a logo will be quite the endeavor.