In A Swoosh, Nike Changed The World Of Marketing
I love this story. It is basically about a graphic design student who created one of the most iconic logos in the world. However, that was not how it was initially conceived. The story revolves around two main people, the student and an assistant professor who had both met at Portland State University in 1969.
Carolyn Davidson – the student – was in need of some extra cash to help her cover the costs of oil painting classes. The assistant professor was Phil Knight. He had hired Davidson on to help him with a few projects he had percolating on the side and paid her $2 per hour. By this time, Knight and his partner, Bill Bowerman had already established Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) and were about to launch a brand of sports footwear.
BRS quickly became Nike, named after the Greek goddess of victory. In 1971, Knight went to Davidson with a request for a design that would be applied to the side of the athletic shoes. The idea was to set the Nike brand of shoes apart from all other existing brands. Knight was looking for a stripe or a design that would fit on the side of a shoe and one that would stand out.
Davidson took the concept and worked on it creating a shape that she eventually tweaked and then tweaked again. The final design she submitted was the ‘swoosh’ we know today as being the visual logo of the Nike brand. Her reasoning for the shape of what could only be described as a rounded check mark was easy to understand. She said it was fluid and indicated movement and speed.
Talk about the subliminal message you want to get into the minds of potential shoe customers. “Buy our brand as they will make you fast!”
Now here’s the real kicker.
What do you think Davidson made for her contribution to the branding of Nike’s first issue of sport shoes? Remember, the company earned $4.24-billion USD in revenue in 2017 alone. Well, you are probably thinking that in 1971 a freelance logo design job would not pay too much and you would be right. Davidson’s invoice was for the amount of $35.
However, there’s still a lot more to this story.
The Nike logo (Swoosh) launched Davidson’s career as a freelance designer as she continued to work for Nike until 1975.
To show their appreciation for the success of the iconic brand design, the company eventually threw a party in Davidson’s honour. Plus, since the company had by this time grown and was becoming a force in the world of athletic sportswear, she was presented with a diamond and gold ring that featured her stunning ‘swoosh’ design.
And that’s still not the end of the story.
You know how it is wise to give credit where credit is due? Well, Knight and Bowerman were truly benefitting in a big way with how the Swoosh Logo was increasing the brand awareness of all things Nike. So, in addition to the party in her honour and the ring, Nike presented Davidson with 500 shares of Nike stock. Estimates put that gift at the $1,000,000 range in recent years. I can tell you that not all companies are so generous to their graphic designers.
What about the reaction to the Nike Logo Swoosh logo?
Well, this is also an exciting part of the story. Back in 1978, 7 years after adopting the Swoosh on his products, Knight admitted that he was not particularly fond of the Nike logo. He did state that he hoped to eventually learn to love it.
The designer had a very different take on her work. In 2011 Davidson stated that although her design appeared to be on display virtually everywhere she looked, she still liked it. In fact, she went as far as to say that she enjoyed seeing the Swoosh Nike logo wherever it showed up.
There was once a controversy over the originality of the Swoosh. In May of 2010, a report was filed that stated Nike’s logo had been copied from the one used by Newport – a brand of cigarettes. The Newport logo, introduced in 1957 is similar in that it is shorter than the Swoosh and is upside down. There was proof to support the Davidson creation but not enough evidence to support the Newport claim and it was dismissed.
The wordmark part of the Nike logo is the only thing that has seen any changes over the years. For example, in 1971 the word ‘Nike’ appeared on top of the Swoosh in a cursive slanted font. By 1978 the word mark was moved to sit above the Swoosh and became all-caps in Futura Bold.
In 1985 the Nike logo/brand was switched to white in a red square to make it stand out even more than it already did. The final change took place in 1995 where the word mark disappeared altogether leaving the Swoosh to represent the Nike brand. This is considered the official Nike logo and even Nike branded stores feature just the Swoosh in their street signage.
Talk about an iconic branding.
I have stated many times over that the more dynamic a logo is, the more likely it will be noticed. It doesn’t hurt if that logo is also on the simplistic side as simple is far easier to understand at a glance. There are many great examples out there in the world of logo design that back this up. However, the Swoosh Nike logo stands alone in the top five (my Number One choice, actually) as a brand that inspires greatness.
It has all the critical elements of a great logo. It is simple, it is easy to identify, it has excellent brand awareness and it speaks of the product it represents without the need for additional words or even a word mark. The Swoosh is most definitely the most iconic of the logos that currently exist.
And to think it was created by a freelance graphic design student.