What Does The Nike Logo Mean?

nike logo meaning

The Nike logo – known as the ‘Swoosh’ – is the simplest logo imaginable, consisting of only two lines. And yet, this remarkable logo represents billions of dollars worth of accumulated branding and marketing associations. But what does it mean? Let’s take a look at the Nike logo meaning and history.

At its most fundamental level, the Nike Swoosh represents motion and speed. The shape depicts an arc of movement. The word ‘swoosh’ is onomatopoeia for the sound you’d hear as Lebron James or Michael Jordan zips past you en route to a spectacular dunk.

In Greek mythology, Nike is the winged goddess of victory. Below, see the 2nd Century Hellinistic sculpture of Nike, which resides in the Louvre. What does the mythological figure Nike have to do with the Nike logo meaning? The shoe brand borrows the mythological attributes of flight, victory, and speed.

nike logo meaning

Nike of Samothrace

Michael Jordan and the Nike Brand

nike logo meaning

Nike’s ‘Wings’ Poster

So we’ve established that the Goddess Nike was a winged figure – and guess who else had the power to fly? Basketball superstar and Nike spokesman Michael Jordan. Nike made direct efforts to connect Jordan to the concept of flight and superhuman skills. For example, Jordan’s signature shoes included the Jordan Flight and the Air Jordans. Nike even gave him wings on his most famous poster (above).

Origin of the Nike Swoosh

The Swoosh was designed by a college student (!) named Carolyn Davidson for a mere $35 (!!!) in 1971 (source). Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s initial design request was for a shoe stripe suggesting movement. He didn’t love Davidson’s drafts at first, but in a rush to production, he chose one, and the Swoosh was born. Davidson was subsequently employed by Nike and later compensated further with a gold Swoosh ring and Nike stock.

“Brands, Not Products”

To say that the Nike Swoosh represents motion and speed is only to inspect the surface of the design. The Nike logo meaning is imbued with the results of long-term, multi-billion dollar branding efforts. This brand represents transcendence through sports. It carries with it decades worth of affiliated basketball heroism, urban hip-hop attitude, and more.

Naomi Klein’s book No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs is essential reading for anyone interested in branding. In it, Klein describes Nike’s philosophy of brand over product: long ago, Nike shifted its focus almost entirely to branding and marketing, while outsourcing production to cheap foreign contractors. This way, they could sell something much bigger than a pair of shoes: a lifestyle. According to Nike founder Phil Knight, “There is no value in making things anymore. The value is added by careful research, by innovation and by marketing.”

Related: What Does the Apple Logo Mean?

Nike Logo Meaning: No, It’s Not a ‘Check Mark’

I used to teach an art class for teens and I often liked to pick their brains about the logos they saw on their favorite products, in their urban surroundings – and on their feet. The Nike logo was invariably present in the room on someone’s kicks. I’d ask the group, “So what does the Nike logo mean?” The most common answer was, “it’s a checkmark.” Well, a checkmark has a hard angle between two straight lines (like the Verizon logo). The Swoosh is curved. Because it’s not a check mark.

Deceptive Simplicity

If graphic design has an equivalent of Michael Jordan, it’s my hero Paul Rand (designer of some of history’s most recognizable logos, including those of IBM and UPS). Rand once said, “Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.” The Nike Swoosh derives its complexity from its simplicity. It’s the most basic form you can imagine – only two lines. It is precisely this simplicity which allows it to thrive in so many different contexts, to carry the brand on its own (with or without the accompanying word ‘NIKE’), and to absorb and reflect so much brand messaging.

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