Carolyn Davidson – She just did it!

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When I see it on TV – and I turn on a game and both teams are in Nike, I mean, I just get a good feeling.

Carolyn Davidson

The Nike ‘Swoosh’ is one of the most well-known and recognisable logos on the face of the earth.

You’d think, then, that whoever designed this logo would’ve been paid by the bucket load for such a notable and memorable design. Well, you’d be wrong.

Carolyn Davidson is the designer of the Nike Swoosh. Davidson was studying graphic design at Portland State University in 1971 when Phil Knight was also working there as a young associate professor of accounting. Knight would in the future go on to become a co-founder of Nike.

Knight was running a fledgling company at the time, which distributed sneakers made by Japanese brand Tiger. It was during this time that the paths of Davidson and Knight crossed. Knight passed Davidson in the hallway at PSU one day while she was working on a drawing assignment, talking about how she didn’t have the money to afford to take oil painting. Hearing this, Knight decided to offer her some design work for his company.

After some initial work, Knight had Davidson work on a project for a new brand of cleated shoes he was having designed. He needed a logo for this new brand that would become Nike. He told Davidson that he really like the 3-stripe logo of Adidas and felt that his brand needed a stripe too, but that it also needed to convey motion and couldn’t be too similar to the existing logos of Adidas and other popular sports brands.

These were some difficult requirements to stick to for Davidson, but she went away to work on creating something original. She spent two or three weeks coming up with various designs to show to Phil and his team. After presenting a handful of final concepts to them, they were decidedly underwhelmed, asking “what else you got?” However, as they were short on time, their team decided to opt for one of the designs, which just so happened to be Davidson’s favourite as well.

Carolyn Davidson worked on these logo designs for a total of 17.5 hours at an hourly rate of just $2, meaning she made just $35 for designing a logo that would be revered for decades afterwards. Her work was appreciated by Nike, however, whose executives threw her a party in 1983. She was also awarded 500 shares of Nike’s stock, worth almost $1 million today.

Carolyn Davidson’s story certainly is an unusual one, but it’s an inspiring one that we’ll never forget.