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Making Moves: A History of Nike’s Iconic Swoosh

What do eavesdropping, Portland State University and an accounting class have to do with Nike’s iconic Swoosh? Everything.


The year was 1971. Carolyn Davidson, a recent Portland State University transfer, enrolled in a design class to fill an empty elective. Davidson lamented to a classmate that she wasn’t able to enroll in an oil painting class because the fees were too expensive. By fate, her cry for help was heard and answered. Davidson recalls, "A tall man in a suit walked up and said, 'Are you the one who can't afford to take oil painting?'” That man was Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who at the time was teaching an accounting course to help make ends meet for his start-up Blue Ribbon Sports. Knight was in need of someone who could make nice charts and graphs for executives coming from Japan. “I'll pay you $2 an hour to make them,” he offered Davidson. “Are you interested?”

Pleased by Davidson’s work, Knight briefed her with a new design request. Knight and Nike co-founder and University of Oregon track and field coach Bill Bowerman were developing a new running shoe—and a new company. Knight was inspired by adidas’ iconic three stripes and left Davidson with a reference and a need for a logo that looked like speed. Without hesitation, and competition, Davidson accepted the task, calling it “a designer’s dream job.”

Photo: Swoosh: 40 Years Fly By by Steven Heller
Photo: The Oregonian