Carolyn Davidson is a graphic designer best known for designing the Nike logo. We all know the famous swoosh—it’s undeniably one of the most recognisable logos in the world!
Davidson studied graphic design at Portland State University. Phil Knight, an eventual co-founder of Nike, Inc, was teaching an accounting class and took note of 23-year-old Davidson’s design skills. He asked if she’d like to do some design work for $2/hour. That’s right—$2/hour! That equates to about $14/hour nowadays.
The brief was to design a “stripe” for a shoe brand that represented movement, obviously inspired by Adidas. Davidson said in later years: “Oh, (Knight) loved Adidas. That was part of my problem. He loved the Adidas stripes. Well, when you really love something, try to get somebody to look over here at something different.”
When Carolyn presented her concepts, Knight’s response was, “I don’t love it but I think it will grow on me”. Just what every designer likes to hear, right? For the project, she was paid a total of $35.
Seattle design firm John Brown & Partners took Davidson’s logo to develop an engaging first advertising campaign. The first print ad in 1976 didn’t even feature the product—it relied solely on photography, emotion and the simple logo.
Davidson eventually moved on to work with other clients, but her work on the logo wasn’t forgotten. In 1983, once Nike became a smashing success, Knight gifted Carolyn a gold Nike ring and an undisclosed amount of shares in the company. Let’s just say she eventually made more than that $35!
The Nike logo is incredible because it’s simple and versatile. It ticks all the boxes! No pun intended.
It’s fascinating to see even with many different campaigns and taglines, the swoosh has remained at the core of Nike’s brand identity. I believe it’s exactly what a logo should be: timeless, with just enough emotion to make it memorable. Most importantly, it has stood the test of time, which is every designer’s dream. Even Carolyn herself says she loves the design and she’ll “never get sick of looking at it”.
To me, this story is a lesson to all design students and young designers. Take every opportunity—you never know where it may lead!
Want to learn more about the history of Nike? Watch Fast Company’s History of Nike in 3 Minutes.
Stay tuned for next week’s #tbt design history, featuring an avant-garde creative most famous for his political work.