History of the Nike Logo Design Evolution – The Famous Swoosh
In the creative world of design, the Nike Swoosh is undoubtedly a haloed brand logo with a simple, clear message.
The notion behind the swoosh is thoughtful – elegance lies in simplicity.
It is almost half a century earlier in 1971, that a female student of Portland State University, Carolyn Davidson, created history by designing her now globally recognised Nike logo design, the ‘Swoosh’.
The Nike logo design, today is one of the most formidable and recognised brands in the world .
The story of this awesome logo design is straightforward and clean as the image itself.
As one can expect, there goes a lot of hard work, consistency and funding behind every successful enterprise.
Nike Swoosh, the iconic brand was the brainchild of a broke student of graphic design who created this fantastic piece for a few extra dollars that would pay for her oil painting classes.
It took the Nike logo creator 17.5 hours of brainstorming and drawing samples to come up with the final logo design .
An amazingly few hours of creativity at the dirt-cheap price of a mere $35!
A trailblazer of sorts makes this story both interesting and unique.
A decade later, the company recognised her seminal contribution to the success of the now world-famous brand of sports apparel and awarded her a ring, fashioned like a swoosh, with an embedded diamond and an envelope containing 500 shares of Nike stock.
Making of the Nike Swoosh Logo – The Iconic Design
Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, earlier worked as an Assistant Professor of Accounting at the Portland State University where Carolyn was a student of graphic design.
He also had a side job running Blue Ribbon Sports, which was then the West Coast distributor for Tiger shoes, a Japanese brand made by Onitsuka Co. Ltd.
One fateful day in 1971, a graphic design student Carolyn Davidson was sitting in the hall of the Portland State University when she mentioned not having enough money to take a class of oil paintings that she so dearly wanted to.
Aware of her potential, she was then approached by her Accounting Professor Phil Knight about freelance work for his company, Blue Ribbon Sports.
He often used her services to create charts and brochures for his company and paid her at the rate of $2 per hour for her work.
After a fallout with his Japanese partners, he decided to launch his own brand of football shoes.
Knight once again asked Davidson to create a logo for this new brand .
Her only brief was that the design must convey a sense of motion and most importantly must differ from the rival company, Adidas.
After about three weeks of brainstorming, she perfected her work by sketching designs on tissue paper and then placing those designs over a shoe drawing.
As the legend goes, it took her just over 17 and a half hours to make the iconic Nike logo design.
Initially, Phil Knight and his business partners Jeff Johnson and Bob Woodell were not overly impressed by the design but decided to move forward with the Swoosh.
Created using two curved lines, the symbol depicts motion with onomatopoeia attached as well.
The Swoosh in its pictorial depiction symbolises the wing of the Greek Goddess Nike to suggest the sound of speed and movement.
The sound of the word includes movement and Swoosh in the design also relates to the fibre they use in their shoes.
Another interesting analogy can be found in Roman history.
Nike’s equivalent in Ancient Rome was the Goddess Victoria.
The checkmark ‘V’ can be perceived as an abbreviation for ‘veritas’ meaning ‘true’ and victorious.
This is also an affirmative symbol and stands for ‘correct’ and ‘yes’ for athletes.
With usage and speed of writing, the right ascending stroke got extended to denote tick mark, as written with pen crow quill to indicate ‘completed‘ or ‘success’.
This holds true in other cultures and variants as well.
Today, the Nike logo design represents not only motion but is also symbolic of a lifestyle rather than a specific product.
The universal appeal of this affirmative Nike logo is such that every athlete or sportsperson aspires to achieve the vision behind it.
This makes it a truly global American brand.
Zeroing on the name ‘Nike.’
Nike in Greek mythology is the winged Goddess of Victory.
In the Greek pantheon, her parents are God Titan Pallas and Goddess Styx, and she plays with Greek God Zeus, along with her siblings – Kratos – Power, Bia – Force and Zelus – Zeal.
Nike, also called Victoria, is the divine charioteer, flying above battlefields and bestowing glory on the victors.
She symbolises victory and is depicted with a branch of palm and crown denoting peace and success.
She also carries the staff of Hermes as the messenger of victory.
The name Nike was appended to the logo later when the first two names, Falcon and Dimension Six, suggested by Knight did not cut much ice among the employees.
So he decided to hold a poll of all the names amongst his employee and Nike was suggested by Jeff Johnson, the first employee of the multimillion conglomerate.
As Greeks would describe, their battle cry is ‘Nike’, and the swoosh symbol signifies that the battle is won.
For twentieth-century athletes, this footwear embodied the spirit of the winged Goddess to achieve goals.
This can easily be described as an intelligent and smart adaptation from folklore to everyday usage in building an American global brand .
It was a perfect fit.
Representing the wing of the famous statue of the Greek Goddess of victory, Nike, who motivates the distinguished and audacious warrior successfully conveyed on the battlefield, the logo was earlier to be regarded as “the strip” but was later termed as “Swoosh”, describing the fibre used for the Nike shoes.
Davidson had successfully conveyed motion in a design that would look clean and classic when placed on a shoe.
Reminiscing about the process behind the scene, in a rare interview Carolyn Davidson recounted:
When the Nike pioneers caught their first glimpse of the black, curvy checkmark, the graphic designer waited patiently for a reaction. There was none. Phil asked, “Then, what else you got?”
Swallowing her dismay and disappointment that spring day in 1971, she presented forth a few more of her sketches.
Finally, the three men, Knight, Johnson and Bob, pinned on the checkmark, even her personal favourite.
Phil remarked nonchalantly, “Well, I don’t love it, but maybe it will grow on me.”
While referring to the core team for the final nod, he wrote a small note: “We liked this one slightly more than the others,”.
The real challenge was to outdo Adidas’s stripes, Phil’s personal favourite.
Carolyn perfected the swoosh, but Knight was still refusing it.
Eventually, she gave up and submitted the invoice of $35 for payment .
Birth of the Legend
Stephen A. Greyser, a Harvard Business School professor and sports management expert, says, “The Swoosh has become the living, vibrant symbol of the firm. It is totally recognisable as the company, everywhere. It is global, without a doubt.”
In the annals of the Fashion industry, the Nike logo design is a perfect example of a simple yet classic and iconic symbol.
The Nike swoosh symbol was first used by the company in June 1971 after it was registered and patented with the US Patent Office.
The name written in Futura Bold was later added to the swoosh symbol by Carolyn Davidson.
This was how Nike and Swoosh got together and thus was born a legend.
The first product was cleated shoes for football or soccer to be made at a factory in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Today, Nike is a flourishing fashion brand which manufactures every item that falls under the sports fashion category from clothing to footwear.
The brand uses a checkmark in its design.
It used the words Nike written within the swoosh symbol until 1995.
After 1995, the name in the written font has been removed from the logo design.
Now, only the symbol of the Nike swoosh remains.
Carolyn Davidson’s swoosh is the key identifier of the Nike logo design, implying forwardness and efficiency.
The story of the Nike logo creator appeals to every student of graphic design and advertising since it was the design element that is the most inspiring since the logo was not an instant hit at the outset.
Even Davidson had described it as a fair piece for the money she was paid.
The Nike swoosh logo is undoubtedly one of the biggest assets of this massive sportswear brand. The Nike logo is one of the most prominent during sports events. Gregg Popovich , NBA Coach is often seen in Nike shoes.
The recognition that the company accorded to the designer after a decade speaks about the professional respect and importance of good design in the success of a brand .
Along with the famous advertising slogan of ‘Just Do It’ which has been adjudged the top ad slogan of the entire twentieth century, Nike continues to be at the top of the sports fashion world.
Actually, I want to tell you that you share a great historical post with us. I know a lot of things which was not in my mind. Thanks for sharing with us.
Thank you for the story –
I worked for 21 years as a designer at Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
Nike takes it’s corporate history and culture seriously.
Wow, great to hear from you Ken!
You must have some incredible stories working ‘in’ such a Brand as Nike.