Not all companies start out with the right name. A case in point is Nike, which was originally founded as Blue Ribbon Sports by University Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and team runner Phil Knight in 1964. The company served as a distributor of Onitsuka Tiger footwear from Japan until 1971, when Bowerman came up with an idea for his own running shoe. He envisioned it with an outsole made from rubber and latex and a grooved tread modeled after a waffle iron that would give runners more traction.
Bowerman and Knight hired Jeff Johnson as their first employee and he suggested the name of “Nike” for the company, after the Greek goddess of victory. The new name took a brand that sounded decidedly local (Blue Ribbon Sports) and changed it to one that would ultimately dominate the global athletic apparel industry.
While most global brands have paid dearly for their company logo, we love the fact that Nike’s easily identifiable logo was designed for $35 by Portland University graphic design student Carolyn Davidson. (It’s been widely reported that she received Nike stock 12 years later, with value now in excess of $600,000 USD.)
As reported by Steven Heller in Print magazine on the 40th anniversary of the logo’s launch, Davidson was approached by Knight in 1969 to handle BRS’s graphics, which she did for two years. At that point, Knight asked her to design a “shoe stripe” and, while nobody was overwhelmed by the designs, they picked the one they deemed “least awful.” Knight was reported to have said “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.” Little did they know the impact that “Swoosh”, which represented speed and movement, would have in the ensuing years.
In 1978, Nike updated its logo to make the company name stand out by using Futuro Bold typeface in bolded, capital letters and slightly repositioning the swoosh.
In 1985, Nike tweaked its logo again, this time adding shape and color. It’s reminiscent of Coke’s 1969 Arden Square logo.
The mid-80s saw Nike signing its largest endorsement contract yet, with basketball great Michael Jordan. In 1987, Nike became the first brand to reduce Beatles fans to tears when it commercialized “Revolution” as the backdrop for a television ad. And in 1988, the company introduced “Just Do It” as its slogan—a line reportedly modeled after serial killer Gary Gilmore’s exclamation of “Let’s do it” before he was executed in 1977. Luckily the dead can’t sue for trademark infringement and the phrase is uttered by more athletes than inmates on death row.
These days, the Nike logo has dropped the company’s name, similarly to Starbucks. The logo is known as the “Solo Swoosh” and is easily recognizable on Nike footwear and apparel, even without “Nike” featured anywhere.