The Nike Logo, the Simple History of an Icon

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The history of the world’s most famous logo begins in the middle of the 20th century. The year was 1971 when Phil Knight, creator of Blue Ribbon Sport and future distributor of Nike, sought to define a visual identity for his company. Some time earlier, he had met a graphic design student at a college in Portland. Her name was Carolyn Davidson, and she would never imagine that she would be the one to design one of the most emblematic logos in history. In the meantime, Phil Knight approached her with plans for a new line of sports shoes – the entrepreneur was looking for a graphic artist that was creative enough to create a simple and easily readable logo. Phil Knight, who was then working at the university’s bursary, would use the following line: “Excuse me, aren’t you the one who couldn’t afford to register for the oil painting class?”

Carolyn Davidson rose to the occasion and accepted to work for him for the modest sum of two dollars an hour. It took her less than 20 hours to imagine her logo, a sort of upside down comma that was then tipped horizontally. The effect was all there: efficient, dynamic, memorable. But Phil Knight wanted more, so Carolyn Davidson submitted several other versions of the logo as well. None of them were very memorable. But the time to go to market was soon approaching; Phil Knight ran out of time and chose the upside down comma. The Swoosh was born.

Philip Knight tried to convince himself: “I don’t like it, but I’ll eventually end up liking it.” Davidson would continue to be Nike’s graphic artist until the firm eventually grew too much and switched to an agency. In 1983 Nike gave Carolyn a gold ring in the shape of the logo she had created, as well as an undisclosed number of Nike stocks. In the meantime, the logo would evolve until it took on the definitive form we know in 1995: a plain and simple comma that represents the DNA of one of the hottest brands on the planet.

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