History of Nike Logo; They Didn’t Just Do It

by Mike Jansen
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History of Nike Logo

We humans chase evolution. No, I am not talking about ape to human evolution – but about how our thought process evolves with time. And as marketers, we ensure that we leverage these evolving sets of thoughts, and turn them into a welcome mat for our brand. On the other end, as customers, people have certain – possibly, subconscious – thoughts about a brand, product, design, and everything else in between. Nevertheless, only a few can decode these thoughts and read the emotions behind them. The history of the Nike logo proves the importance of doing so for every designer, brand manager, and entrepreneur. 

In order to leave an impression on a customer, it is crucial to step into their shoes – well, metaphorically, and literally. With a combination of the right color, text, and overall graphics, a logo could be the fastest and most effective step in imprinting your customers’ buying process. 

Read more: Logo Design: How it Sets The Foundation of Company Design

Logos and Evolution

Before we understand how and why the Nike logo’s history holds an important lesson for every designer, let us start from the beginning: the evolution of logos. 

Well, the first logo ever created may or may not be in the artifacts, but we have been coming across the importance of a well-designed logo since the beginning of time. For perspective, the coins from ancient times – which we still collect and exhibit in museums – tell us about the era and currency of that time. This has been made possible only because the rulers during the time wanted to leave an ever-lasting legacy through a symbol. 

It goes without saying, a symbol – now, a logo – can affect a brand identity in unimaginable ways. Of course, it is not something that one can understand during their first attempt at designing and branding. The leading footwear company, Nike, has been no different. 

The Beginning of The $35 Swoosh

History of Nike Logo; They Didn’t Just Do It

The brand which covers more than 62% of the entire shoe market, certainly did not reach this success in a one-step jump. Zooming in, one of its most essential elements of visual branding: the Nike logo, came to its fruition in 8 years – well the rest is history. 

To unfold it, let us look into the year 1971: 6 years after Phil Knight started building the soon-to-be empire, now called Nike. 

Working as an accounting professor, Phil discovered that one of his students, Carolyn Davidson, a journalism enthusiast student, who got into the design industry after she took a design course as an elective, did not have enough money to enroll in a class. He offered her to freelance for his company: Blue Ribbon Sports. 

Moving ahead, Knight decided to launch his own footwear company, which initially seemed like a brand focused on shoes for soccer or football players, with a factory in Mexico. 

Related: The Extraordinary History of Nike 

Once again, he approached Davidson for a stripe: a term used for a shoe logo. Also, they decided that they wanted the logo to hint motion but be nothing like three stripes: logo of their competitor, Adidas. 

A Dream Come True

As per lore, the name of the company, Nike, got a spark mostly because it appeared in Jeff Johnson’s, Knight’s colleague’s, dream. To be specific, a Greek Goddess Nike put in an appearance in Jeff’s dream – also, became the reference for the Nike logo design. 

Greek lore has it that Goddess Nike, the Goddess of triumph, impacted endless bold warriors to win wars of their country. The wings of Goddess Nike are known as the swoosh and are said to have carried inspiration and boldness to the fighters going to the war zone.

While there is no evidence, as per some experts, all the elements: the name “Nike,” the term “Swoosh,” and the tagline “Just Do It,” depict the hidden inspiration from the Greek Goddess.

Davidson started working on the logo by outlining and sketching on tissue paper and afterward putting those sketches over a shoe drawing. The Nike tick/swoosh mark was made comprising two curved lines, portraying movement with onomatopoeia connected too. Moreover, if we hear the word “swoosh,” what do you envision? Indeed, even the word has a component of the motion incorporated. From about six choices, Knight and BRS executives, at last, chose the one currently, internationally referred to as the Swoosh. 

Also, read: The $35 Nike Logo and the Woman Who Designed It

All in all, more than 17 hours and $35 were spent designing the universally adored swoosh. Initially, Knight was not too impressed with the design, but he presumed that it would grow on him with time. Little did he know, it grew on people all over the world. 

Nike Logo History: Not a Eureka Moment

While the Nike logo creator got a significant, though delayed, grant in the form of a valuable ring with the Swoosh as an appreciation reward, along with 500 shares of the company, it was not the final logo. 

For Davidson, the logo portrayed the Goddess Nike wing, shareholders considered it associated with a ribbon, however, now we all know the company links the logo to their motto – and we interpret the logo as a symbol for speed and energy. Nonetheless, this viewpoint took its sweet time to come to life.

History of Nike Logo; They Didn’t Just Do It

After BRS and the first version of Swoosh, the company made its fair share of subtle changes to the logo. 

The 1971 Swoosh designed by Davidson, was combined with the company name in all lowercase and cursive letters.

Moving further, in the year 1978, the company landed on a logo with a tick/swoosh beneath the company name in all capitals and bold. Another change this version showed was a hint of strength portrayed via increased geometric shape. 

Major changes were noticed in the year 1985: the logo was in a box, the logo color palette changed from black and white to red and white. Also, it was in the late 1980s when Just Do It made its appearance for the first time. 

It goes without saying, the company switched back to its original colors, the one used in its current logo. Compared to the previous versions, the lone Swoosh, designed in 1995, symbolizes speed and athleticism in a more simplistic way. 

Given the humble beginnings and attention to every detail, when Phil Knight commented on the history of the Nike logo, saying “Swoosh logo was not a ‘eureka’ moment,” we now understand the same. 

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