A few years prior to founding Nike, Phil Knight dreamed of creating a brand of sports shoes whilst working as an accounting professor at Portland State University. Waiting for the right moment, Knight distributed Onitsuka Tiger through Blue Ribbon, a company that he created with Bill Bowerman. Their advertising strategies didn’t go any further than placing pictures of their products on catalogues and using some of their employees as models. Their first big appearance in the media, at the Wall Street Journal, had showed them that art direction was not their strongest point.

From 1969, Blue Ribbon’s numbers had grown enough to give him hope and Knight decided to abandon his position as a professor to exclusively devote himself to his company. On his last week in Portland State, he bumped into a young artist in the corridor who was complaining about not having enough money to sign up to the oil painting course.

That was the moment in which Knight decided that he needed someone with an artistic point of view to work for his company and he offered her a couple of dollars per hour in order for her to design catalogues, carry out the product’s photography and almost anything that needed some aesthetic sensibility.

In 1971, when Knight and Bowerman decided to create Nike, they needed a logo. They looked again for Carolyn Davidson, that art student who had designed some catalogues for them, to create Nike’s image. The only reference they had was that it needed to evoke movement, but it also had to work sideways.

None of Davidson’s proposals seemed to convince Knight, who was looking for something that had a functional sense. Those lines that seemed like verification signs merely decorated the sneaker. With its first model almost reaching the production line they had to decide on an image that they would use for the next few decades. They chose one as the best possible option, as time was ticking. They started calling it swoosh, for a type of fibre used in some of the Onitsuka sneakers, the Swoosh Fiber.

Knight thanked Carolyn Davidson for her work and he paid her according to the wage they had negotiated, 17 and a half hours of work, 35 dollars. He didn’t even like the logo that much, but he had hope that it would become one of those images that just get better with time as you become acquainted with it. They still had a lot of work to do, they had a brand, but they didn’t even know its name yet.

In the almost 50 years of Nike’s history, its logo has changed only in some of its details and has become one of the most easily recognisable icons in the world. Carolyn Davidson stopped working for Nike a few years later, but she heard the good news in 1983. When the company became public, she received 500 Nike shares that as she says so herself she’s yet to sell.