Nike Swoosh: The History of Iconic Sneakers Logo Design

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Nike had the Stripe before anyone called it the Swoosh. And the Swoosh, with its classic boot-training history, has served more as a roadmap for shoe designers than a hard and fast rule. As we see new Nike models hitting the market ahead of the Swoosh’s 50th anniversary, such as the READYMADE x Nike Blazer– with a funky Swoosh adornment – and the original Swoosh design feature prominently in the new book Virgil Abloh Icons, it is reminiscent of the early days of Nike, when designers could tell who designed a shoe simply based on the shape of the Swoosh . These days, the Swoosh stands for everything about Nike. It is a brand in itself, signifying both the brand and the culture. The Swoosh is more than just a logo.

Originally named Blue Ribbon Sports, Phil Knight’s new Nike in 1971 needed an official brand. So Knight, then an accounting professor at downtown Portland State University, turned to enthusiastic graphic design student Carolyn Davidson to create a logo for a brand named after the Greek goddess. of victory.

Davidson, earning $ 2 an hour, spent 17.5 hours working on the project, according to Nike’s story, for a total bill of $ 35, all in an effort to showcase the movement across the Stripe. . The goddess served as inspiration. With Nike the goddess, not the brand, known for her flight and stature in Greek mythology, Davidson crafted curved lines reminiscent of a wing, shaping a “check mark” design while testing the look by layering tissue paper with logos on the shoes.

Nike Swoosh
Carolyn Davidson’s original Nike Swoosh design from 1971. Image via Nike

While Davidson offered six variations of the new brand to Knight and executives Bob Woodell and Jeff Johnson, it was the curved check mark with the “Nike” wordmark in a hand-drawn script that led the pack, even so Knight said at the time he was not in love with the design. This quickly changed, however, as the logo became the official trademark of Nike through the United States Patent Office on June 18, 1971. The brand got its name, the Swoosh, thanks to the “whoosh” sound produced by shoes when running.

Michael Raisch, now a senior designer at the NFL, says the Nike brand has a simplistic nature that brands seek out today.

“It was aerodynamic in form, in its gestures and in its daring,” he says. “It’s absolutely efficient and so tidy and clean. I think that’s what is so efficient about it, and it’s been through the ages.

The Swoosh made its mainstream debut on the Nike Cleat, one of the brand’s very first shoes, and appeared on the famous Nike Waffle Racer during the United States Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, but consumers could not get their this model until 1973. The Nike Cortez, produced in time for the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1972, was one of the first to adopt the Swoosh. The birth of Nike Basketball in 1972 via the Bruin featured the new logo, and the first high-top Nike shoe adorned with the Swoosh was the Nike Blazer in 1973. While “hot red” quickly became the color of choice on the official logo, not the black we often see now – the Swoosh on the shoe was meant to blend colors for maximum visual identity.

Todd Radom, a seasoned sports logo designer who has created brands for countless Super Bowls, NBA events, World Series events, and teams at all levels of professional sports, says that while the Nike Swoosh isn’t necessarily the perfect logo, the extreme horizontality defies best practice in some ways – half a century after its creation, it has become one of the few immediately recognizable brands, known around the world.

Davidson’s original 1971 Stripe-to-Swoosh design with script lettering remained stable as an official Nike brand, but early on, designers used it more as a template than a set design.

Readymade x Nike Blazer Mid CZ3589-001 Side
Image via Nike

Davidson’s design remained stable until a change in 1976, when the font moved to Futura and the lettering was officially discontinued in 1995. The company replaced the warm red with orange, the color of the mark today.

“He was a pioneer,” says Radom. Nike ditched the bold italic Futura letters that locked with the Swoosh in the mid-90s, a bold statement that really paved the way for a bunch of very important consumer brands that eschew exclusive words and even colors. in favor of a simple icon. ”

Raisch says that if you look at other logos created in 1971, be it the original Starbucks mermaid or even PBS, they appear to have been created in 1971 and have undergone changes over the past 50 years to simplify. “How did the Nike Swoosh survive? It’s just in its sheer simplicity, ”says Raisch. “It just wasn’t contemporary and therefore was timeless.”

While legal and marketing reasons have kept today’s Swoosh generally consistent across all Nike shoes, special edition opportunities, such as the READYMADE collaboration – we may see more OG Swoosh play out later in 2021 as Nike celebrates the anniversary of the Swoosh – offer the chance to play with design and coloring. In this case, the Swoosh takes on a very slimmed-down appearance at each end, but has a plump middle, giving this version of the Blazer a truly singular interpretation of an enduring shoe symbol.


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