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.
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
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.
The first visual identity of the company consisted of three interlaced letters, “BRS,” with the wordmark placed under it. The Blue Ribbon Sports logo faced legibility issues; however, the logo looked unique due to the stripes and shape.
The company changed its name in 1971, and with it, changed its visual identity. The iconic “Swoosh” logo made its debut and instantly gained popularity. Phil Knight, one of the company founders, got the logo unexpectedly. Carolyn Davidson, who was still a college student, designed the logo for an unbelievable low amount. Little did she know that her design would become one of the most popular visual identities in the world.
A cluttered version of the Nike logo was also released the same year. The logo consisted of the Swoosh along with Nike written in lowercase on top of it. This version of the logo did not have the same splendor and charisma as the original one.
1978 – Present
Nike’s design team experimented with the Swoosh logo every now and then, adding or removing the company name from the logo. The italicized font is perfectly balanced with the Swoosh, making it look more dynamic.
Nike Logo Design Elements
The Nike logo is known for its simplicity and relevance, which has stood the test of time. The minimalistic logo design is a textbook example of how a simple-looking logo can create maximum impact. The Nike logo has several design elements that are perfectly balanced; let us take a quick look.
Shape: Like colors and sound, shapes impact our brains in various ways. Numerous studies have been conducted on how shapes impact emotions. According to a study published on National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Studies indicate that geometric properties of visual displays convey emotions like anger and happiness…curved contours lead to positive feelings and that sharp transitions in contours trigger a negative bias.”
Inspired by the Greek goddess of victory, the Nike logo is shaped like the wings of the deity. The shape indicates swift movement and triggers positive emotions.
Color: The Nike Swoosh logo has had many avatars over the years. Apart from the black logo, the Nike emblem was redesigned in red, orange, and green.
Typeface: Fonts are as important as colors, shapes, and symbols when creating brand identity. Nike has carefully picked a geometric sans-serif typeface, Futura Bold, which was in perfect harmony with the rest of the design. The geometric typeface looked energetic and victorious, perfectly in line with the company’s core values.
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.
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.
Head of Design at DesignBro and is responsible for UI/UX Design, managing the global designer community, and ensuring quality levels of both designers and designs remain high.