Nike is not just a brand–it’s a global icon of athleticism, determination, and innovation. Since its founding in 1964, Nike has become a powerhouse in the athletic and streetwear industry and is one of the most famous brands of all time.
At the heart of the Nike name is the legendary ‘Swoosh’, which came to life in a 1971 sketch by a graphic design student, Carolyn Davidson.
In this post, we’re going to take a deep dive into the history of the Nike logo. We’ll explore its evolution over the years and how it became one of the most recognizable logos ever made. (We’ll also give you tips on how to come up with your own iconic logo!)
Get ready to be inspired as we take you through the story of one of the most recognizable logos ever created.
The creation of the Swoosh
The iconic Nike “Swoosh” was created in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University. At the time, accounting instructor Phil Knight (Nike’s co-founder), asked her to design a logo for his new shoe company, originally called Blue Ribbon Sports (real catchy, Phil.)
Overall, the Swoosh took Davidson around 17.5 hours to design. And get this– she was paid $35 for her work (what a rip-off!)
At the time, Phil Knight wasn’t entirely satisfied with the design, but he thought it had potential and kept it. Eventually, the Swoosh became the official logo of Nike, and it has remained so ever since!
Logo history: The evolution of the Nike logo
Over the years, the Nike logo has undergone several changes, reflecting the company’s growth and its role as a touchstone brand of sports culture. The evolution of the Nike logo is a testament to the brand’s ability to adapt and evolve with the times while remaining true to its values.
From its humble beginnings as Blue Ribbon Sports, to one of the most recognizable logos ever created, here’s a breakdown of the major changes in the Nike logo history:
- The original logo for Phil Knight’s Blue Ribbon Sports was designed in 1964.
- Davidson’s original 1971 Swoosh logo for Nike Shoes featured a simple, curved line.
- Back in 1978, the Nike symbol was refined with a bolder, thicker design. This is the first time we see the addition of the new wordmark, which featured Davidson’s modified Futura Bold font.
- In 1985, the logo was further modified by introducing a square surrounding the wordmark and logo emblem. The primary red color was also introduced.
- In 1995, Nike’s pared back the wordmark and surrounding box and opted for a single, Swoosh-only logo symbol, which has been the primary Nike logo since.
Key elements of the Nike logo design
Currently, the Nike logo typically uses a color combination of black and white. The logo usually features a solid black swoosh, with the wordmark solid white, although the logo color varies depending on the product line and marketing campaign. Generally, however, the ‘standard’ Nike logo usage is its iconic black or white.
Font-wise, the Nike logo font features a custom-designed font called “Futura Bold Condensed,” which was included in Davidson’s original 1971 brand identity. The font is a modified version of the Futura typeface. The letters are more tightly spaced and the angles of the letters are adjusted to create a more dynamic feel.
Finally, there are several variations of the Nike logo in circulation. The most common variation is the Swoosh-only logo. However, you’ll often find this above the Nike tagline “Just Do It” in bold, sans-serif font. Another variation is the “Air Jordan” logo. It features Michael Jordan’s silhouette leaping with a basketball in hand, with the Nike Swoosh on his sneakers.
Nike also uses variations of the Swoosh image, with or without the wordmark, in different sizes, orientations, and colors (depending on the application). The brand occasionally creates limited-edition logos for specific products or collaborations featuring unique colors or designs.
Nike logo controversy
Nike’s iconic Swoosh logo has become one of the most recognizable logo emblems in the world, but the brand has faced some backlash and legal battles over the years related to its brand.
Here are a few notable controversies relating to the Nike brand:
- Nike faced criticism in 1997 due to its use of a flame-shaped logo that some critics have suggested bears resemblance to the word “Allah” in Arabic script. The company apologized for any offense caused and discontinued the sale of shoes featuring that particular design. Nike maintains that the logo was simply a stylized representation of the Air Max brand.
- In 2005, Nike Skateboarding issued an apology to the hardcore band Minor Threat for using one of the band’s album covers in an advertising campaign (which was then pulled). Although intended as an homage, the band’s record label Dischord was angry at its iconography being used without their permission.
- In 2019, Nike faced backlash for a line of sneakers that featured an early version of the American flag designed by Betsy Ross. Critics – including Nike frontman Colin Kaepernick – claimed the flag was associated with slavery and racism. Nike ultimately decided to pull the shoes from shelves.
The impact of the Nike logo
Nike’s logo has played a significant role in key moments and campaigns throughout the brand’s history. From the rebranding of Blue Ribbon Sports, to the iconic “Just Do It” campaign in the late 1980s, and the 1992 “Dream Team” Olympics campaign, featuring basketball greats Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley.
In 2018, Nike took a stand on social justice issues by launching a groundbreaking campaign with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and the now-iconic tagline “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Although polarizing at the time, the campaign was a huge success for Nike commercially.
Ultimately, the Nike logo has profoundly impacted the success and recognition of the brand. The iconic Swoosh symbol has become synonymous with athleticism, aspiration, and innovation around the world. It’s helped elevate Nike as one of the most valuable and influential brands of all time.
The future of the Nike brand
The Nike Swoosh is likely to evolve to keep pace with the changing times and trends in the athletic industry. Just recently, Nike’s brand story has been paid homage to in the recent movie Air (2023), featuring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who plays Phil Knight.
The company has a history of collaborations with other brands. It’s possible that major reiterations of the logo will only appear during joint campaigns with other iconic brands (like Gucci’s recent collab with The North Face and the resulting shared logo). Nike has also used different styles of the logo in a number of recent campaigns, such as their 2023 Chinese New Year ad.
Additionally, as sustainability continues to grow in importance to consumers, we’re probably going to see Nike incorporate more eco-friendly elements into the design of its logo and branding. The company’s already made significant strides in this area, such as its “Move to Zero” initiative, which aims to create a more sustainable future for the industry.
The initiative has used the Swoosh in a new logo emblem. It features the Swoosh in a circular, eco-centric repetition pattern and new wordmark.
In terms of the underlying design, however, the Swoosh is probably here to stay. (After all, it cost $35 to design!)
Frequently asked questions
What is the meaning behind the Nike logo?
The Nike logo, also known as the Swoosh, depicts motion, speed, and success (in the form of a positive checkmark). It was inspired by the wings of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike.
When was the Nike logo created?
The Nike logo was created in 1971 by a Portland State University graphic design student, Carolyn Davidson. Davidson’s accounting instructor was none other than Nike’s co-founder, Phil Knight!
Who designed the Nike logo?
Carolyn Davidson designed the Nike Swoosh logo. She was inspired by the wing of the Greek goddess of victory. It took her 17.5 hours to design, and she was paid $35 for her work.
Why is the Nike logo so iconic?
The Nike logo is iconic due to its simplicity, recognizability, and association with top athletes like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Tiger Woods. It also has a ubiquitous presence in a wide range of elite-level sports, like soccer and athletics. It’s one of the most iconic logos in the world and has become a symbol of excellence, perseverance, and quality products.
Be like Nike: How to design your own iconic logo for your brand
If the history of the Nike logo teaches us anything, your logo doesn’t need to be insanely complex and convoluted. In fact, the simpler, the better.
Here are a few key takeaways that you can apply to your own logo design after learning about the Nike Swoosh:
- Select a memorable symbol for your brand that will reflect your values in a simple, pictorial way.
- Prioritize clarity, minimalism, and visual impact when designing your logo.
- Take inspiration from everywhere. Nike is one of the most forward-thinking and modern brands ever, but its logo was inspired by a statue that’s thousands of years old!
- Explore our logo maker and start playing around with ideas for your own logo!
If you’re looking to create an iconic logo of your own, we’ve got three words for you:
Just do it!