Happy Birthday Swoosh!

By Mash Bonigala

This month marks an anniversary of one of the best known images in modern marketing and logo design—the Nike Swoosh. Although it looks as young and fresh as the day it was born, the Swoosh is celebrating its fortieth birthday.

The Nike Swoosh is not just one of the longest-used modern logos, but one of the ones with the most interesting story. While a design student at a local university, Carolyn Davidson was approached by the founder of Nike and asked to create a logo for the brand new company. Phil Knight was enamored with the Adidas logo design and wanted something similar—something simple that followed the lines of the show while making a huge visual impact.

Carolyn Davidson created several prototype logos, which were presented to a group representing the company. Phil Knight was not happy with any of them, but needed a design quickly as the shoes were already in production. He ultimately chose the Swoosh as the ‘least awful’. Yes, that is a quote. The cost for the logo design services was $2 per hour, which came to a whopping total of $35.

The other designs have since been lost, but it is safe to assume in retrospect that the Swoosh was the right choice. Nike is currently the largest global producer of athletic shoes and other gear. They are one of very few companies in this industry that saw a profit last quarter. This growth and market dominance is due, at least in part, to the simple and memorable logo design that graces almost every item leaving the company factories.

Indeed, the Swoosh is one of the most recognized logos on the planet and also one of the most valuable. Many of Nike’s competitors, including the founder’s favorite Adidas, would love to have an image that is this simple, this memorable, and this successful over an astounding four decades of use.

In addition to her $35 payment, Davidson was later presented with Nike stock as well as a gold Swoosh ring to thank her for her contribution to Nike’s long term success. In addition, she has one very powerful design to place on her resume.

For us, the most interesting part of this story is the fact that Davidson initially disliked the Swoosh logo design. In fact, if this had not been a rush job, it is probably safe to say that Davidson would have been sent back to the drawing board or even fired from the job. Sometimes business owners reject simple, graphic designs because they see them as too simple. It is not unusual to see a client stare in shock at a logo prototype and gasp, “… my four year old could have drawn this!” Indeed, some of the best designs—and the ones that take the most skill to design—are the simplest. Designer knows best?

  • We are sure that Phil Knight now appreciates the power and timelessness of a simple logo design. This image has been more important in building the company than any other factor.