History of the $35 Nike Swoosh

March 22, 2016


When you think of iconic American brands, there are no doubt a few different companies that come to mind. Apple, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and Google may be some of the most well-known. In fact, you simply need to see the logos of these businesses to identify what they are! Nike is another company that has achieved a specific branding that allows consumers to quickly make a visual identification of their business, and has become a trusted and established a brand for their 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 an Iconic Brand?

In 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 freelance work for his company, Blue Ribbon Sports. Blue Ribbon Sports decided to launch their own brand of football shoe, called the Nike. Knight once again asked Davidson to create a design for this new brand.

Over 17 and a half hours was spent making the design. Davidson wanted to convey motion in a design that would look clean and classic when placed on a shoe. Importantly, the design needed to differ from rival company Adidas. The Swoosh is created using two curved lines, depicting motion with onomatopoeia attached as well. Say “swoosh” out loud. What do you imagine? Even the word has an element of movement included. She worked by sketching designs on tissue paper and then placing those designs over a shoe drawing.

At first, Knight and his business partners were not impressed by the design but 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.

Evolution of the Nike Swoosh Logo

Until 1995, Nike 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: Davidson’s Swoosh is the key identifier of Nike.

So the Swoosh came to be. For her efforts in the project, Davidson received $35. Following the success of Nike, Davidson was awarded a ring with an embedded diamond and an envelope containing 500 shares of Nike stock. It is no question that developing a brand takes work, thought, and consideration about your business 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 recognizable design.

Still curious about the history of design? Check out the History of Times New Roman!