When Aspen Skiing Co. teased its new logo on social media last week, several observers said they had to call a spade a spade. What they saw was the Ace of spades from a deck of cards.
Skico chief branding officer Erin Sprague said Thursday she wouldn’t tell them they are wrong. “Everybody sees something different in a logo,” she said.
But in reality, the new logo is rooted in the company’s original iconic aspen leaf emblem designed by Herbert Bayer, the famed Austrian-American graphic designer who contributed so much to Aspen’s rebirth after World War II.
“This is the fifth iteration (of the logo),” Sprague said. “We really went back to the roots, the very beginning. We actually didn’t set out with the goal of making this change.”
The company hired Sprague three years ago and her team immediately embarked on a long process to assess Skico’s branding strategy. They dug into “who we are” and what Skico stands for.
“We were trying to understand what makes us special,” Sprague said. “We’ve been a company for 75 years, that’s a really big deal in this world.”
They interviewed 80 people within the company and from institutions elsewhere in the community. The process reinforced an image of the company as value-led and purpose-led.
“We sort of knew that,” she said, “but we decided we needed to express it more tangibly.”
The assessment of the branding strategy led to a reexamination of the company’s “visual identity,” Sprague said. That ultimately led to a decision to move on from the fourth iteration of the aspen leaf logo — one with a more clearly defined aspen leaf that subtly incorporated an “S” for Snowmass — at least in some observer’s eyes.
There was never a doubt that an aspen leaf would remain part of the logo.
“The leaf is an important part of who we are and where we come from,” Sprague said. “Design has always been an important part of the Aspen ethos back to Elizabeth Paepcke and Herbert Bayer. Great design is a part of the fabric of our resort and community experience.”
She added, “It had to be a leaf and it had to honor that heritage but we also wanted to simplify it.”
The new logo is an outline of a leaf that represents the natural world, according to Sprague. The open interior is “a window, an invitation to connect,” she said. “We’re really the outline and we want to enable any participant to have their own discovery and journey.”
R.J. Gallagher has helped conceptualize branding and refreshed brands for 40 years as the owner of an Aspen-based public relations and advertising firm. He has worked with everything from mom-and-pop stores to Fortune 500 companies. It’s complex work, he said, because you must engage old-timers, excite newcomers and “make what’s next the gotta have now. Many try, most fail.”
When contacted by The Aspen Times, he provided his opinion of Skico’s new logo with the understanding that he wasn’t part of the process and didn’t have insights into the team’s thinking.
“My first impression when I saw the refreshed ASC brand was that I’ve seen that before,” he said. “Not a bad thing and not really a negative. It’s an Ace of Spades to me. Again, not a negative, just a first impression.”
He said the logo is simple and clean, sexy with flowing lines of interconnectivity and grace.
“I am not a fan of ‘safer than sorry’ when it comes to a branding refresh,” Gallagher said. “I think the powers that be at ASC accomplished that challenge here.”
He said only Skico officials know how the new logo will reflect and represent their future business model.
“It hits me as a fashion brand,” Gallagher said. “It does not hit me as a great outdoors, adventure, energetic, wide open spaces brand. Again, not a negative.”
Skico opened itself up to comments Aug. 13 when it posted on Facebook a short video of the logo’s transformations over time and the teaser, “The leaves are changing early this year …”
One observer wrote, “Went from an Aspen to a spade? The old logo was more unique. The new has too much empty space.”
Another critic said, “I saw the logo go from Awesome to What?!?!”
But another urged observers to “Settle down.”
Sprague said she was prepared for a variety of reactions. Skico is fine leaving the logo to interpretation.
“I think when there is innovation and change, for some people it just takes them a little bit longer to see it,” she said. “Change can be good and bad but it’s inevitable. We think this is a change at the right time that sets up an optimistic future and one that is focused on how can we have the most positive impact possible. The logo is the foundation of that work. The logo is step one.”
The new emblem is emerging. It has been affixed to the cabins of the Elk Camp Gondola at Snowmass already and will soon adorn the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain. The logo will be on all on-mountain and base area way-finding signs, new uniforms for 2021-22, hotels, a new retail store and Skico’s new brand of luxury clothing and products called ASPENX.