Nike Logo Evolution — The $35 Swoosh

When you think of American brands that are iconic, there are a few companies that spring to mind …and to name a few. Apple, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Google are some of the most well-known. In fact, you only need to simply see the logos of these companies to identify who they are! Nike is another company that has achieved that specific high-level branding that allows consumers to quickly make a visual identification of their business and has become a well trusted and established brand for sports shoes, clothing, and athletic expertise. But, as iconic as their logo is, did you know that Nike’s “swoosh” originated as a $35 design?

What Makes a Brand Iconic?

In the year 1971, Portland State University graphic design student Carolyn Davidson was sitting in the hall when she mentioned not having enough money to take a class. She was then approached by accounting professor Phil Knight about working freelance for his company, Blue Ribbon Sports. They decided to launch their own brand of football shoe, called the Nike. Knight once again asked Carolyn to create a design for the new brand.

Nike Logo Evolution - The $35 Swoosh.
Nike Logo Evolution - The $35 Swoosh.

Over 17 and a half hours were spent crafting the design. Carolyn wanted to convey the message of motion in a design that would look clean and classic when placed on the shoes. It was Important that the design needed to differ from rival company Adidas. The Nike tick/swoosh mark is created using two curved lines, depicting motion with onomatopoeia attached also. If you say “swoosh” aloud. What do you imagine? Even the word has an element of movement included. Carolyn worked by sketching design concepts on tissue paper and then placing those designs over a shoe drawing.

Nike-Football-innovations-The-Nike_native_1600
Nike-Football-innovations-The-Nike_native_1600

At first, Knight was not impressed by the swoosh design symbol and told Davidson that he didn’t love the design, but it would grow on him over time. He decided to move forward with the Swoosh. Now, the logo represents so much more than motion. For a multi-billion company that has established itself as an authority in the world of sports, that Swoosh refers to a lifestyle rather than a specific product its logo mark has become one of the worlds most recognisable icons.

Nike Logo Evolution - The $35 Swoosh.
Nike Logo Evolution - The $35 Swoosh.

Until the year 1995, Nike wording was written in Futura Bold within the Swoosh. Futura is a sans serif font based on geometric shapes that have achieved widespread use throughout the 20th century. It is intended to imply forwardness and efficiency. After 1995, Nike removed their name from the design and therefore the font, but their brand was established: Carolyn Davidson’s Swoosh is the key identifier of the Nike brand.

Nike Logo Evolution - The $35 Swoosh
Nike Logo Evolution - The $35 Swoosh

Swoosh Logo Symbolises Greek Goddess of Victory’s Wing

‘Nike’ is named after the ancient Greek Goddess of victory, Nike. Greek folklore has it that Goddess Nike influenced countless brave warriors to win battles of their motherland. The wings of Goddess Nike is called swoosh and is said to have brought motivation and audacity to the warriors heading to the battlefield. A fair share of experts believe that this was actually the inspiration behind Nike’s ‘Swoosh’ logo design.

swoosh-logo-goddness-of-victory
swoosh-logo-goddness-of-victory

The Swoosh was established and for her design efforts working on the project, Carolyn received $35 (that’s around $2 per hour). Following the huge success of the Nike brand, Carolyn was awarded a ring with an embedded diamond and an envelope containing 500 shares of Nike stock.

Nike Logo Evolution - The $35 Swoosh..
Nike Logo Evolution - The $35 Swoosh..

It’s no question that developing a brand takes a lot of thought, time to plan and research, about your business it’s a lot of hard work trust me, but it is a misconception that creating your brand needs to cost you a lot of money. After all, Nike’s iconic brand was created by a broke design student needing a few extra dollars who created a memorable and recognisable design. Don’t get me wrong times have changed since then and you will need to invest more than the cost of the Nike logo but it does not need to cost thousands!

The video below is a nice watch as Nike founder Phil Knight say’s the Nike swoosh logo was not a ‘Eureka!’ moment.


The Logo Creative™ ✏

Written by

Award Winning International Brand Identity Design Studio: Creating Adaptable Visual Identities that are Memorable & Timeless. Working With Clients Globally.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade