The story behind the Nike Swoosh

One of the most recognizable symbols in advertising turns 40

Topics: Imprint, Advertising, Design,

The story behind the Nike Swoosh

Funny how 40 years swoosh by: June 1971 is the date the Nike Swoosh was launched. Designed by Carolyn Davidson for $35 — a “Bargain Brand,” the Dept. of Nike Archives notes in its extraordinarily understated tabloid-size newsprint history of the mark (produced for the “benefit of Nike employees”). What others might take an entire book (and many trees) to convey — explaining the origin and history of the Swoosh logo — the “DNA” accomplished in a mere 28 pages.

Included are commentaries by designers, design critics and former employees and recollections by Phil Knight, the co-founder of Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) that evolved into Nike.

The origin of the mark goes like this: Knight wanted to differentiate BRS’s custom product from the ones they were importing from Onituska in Japan: “… so Knight turned to a graphic design student he met at Portland State University two years earlier.” One day in 1969, the student, Carolyn Davidson, was approached by Knight and offered $2 per hour “to make charts and graphics” for his business. For the next two years Davidson managed the design work on BRS. “Then one day Phil asked me if I wanted to work on a shoe stripe,” Davidson recalled. The only advice she received was to “Make the stripe supportive of the shoe.” Davidson came up with half a dozen options. None of the options “captivated anyone” so it came down to “which was the least awful.”

Well, the rest is history. And the Swoosh emerged from “the stripe” and is one of the most recognized logos in the world.


Nike Swoosh Sketch


Nike Swoosh Sketch


Nike Shoe Stripe




Nike Policing the Swoosh


Nike Swoosh Guideline


Nike Swoosh Sunburst

Copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Salon is proud to feature content from Imprint, the fastest-growing design community on the web. Brought to you by Print magazine, America’s oldest and most trusted design voice, Imprint features some of the biggest names in the industry covering visual culture from every angle. Imprint advances and expands the design conversation, providing fresh daily content to the community (and now to salon.com!), sparking conversation, competition, criticism, and passion among its members.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    "Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>