Phil Knight paid Portland State art student Carolyn Davidson just 35 dollars to design what would become one of the most recognized brand logos in the world. The idea was to create a flashy logo to offset the straightforward silhouettes Nike was designing at the time.
Nike sneakers back then just had the Swoosh on the sides and a big Nike Air logo stitched on the heel. Things didn’t change until the early 90s. Tinker Hatfield’s work on the Air Jordan line was a game changer for the brand’s aesthetic. After the first Air Jordan 1 model, the brand eliminated the famous Swoosh, as they increased their focus on design. It was not about stamping a big logo on a simple silhouette anymore. The design could stand on its own.
The often forgotten Nike Outbreak basketball shoe didn’t feature the Swoosh in its standard version. The turning point came in 1991, when Nike decided to eliminate the side Swooshes on the legendary Huarache line, proving once and for all that their success was more than the success of one great Swoosh. Displaying minimal branding, the Huarache was a totally innovative design: a neoprene sock stitched inside a plastic cage-like structure. The Air Raid came a year later, with its two bold criss-crossing straps and Jordan 8 appeal.
Photo: Nike Huarache
Remember the LWP? The Nike Lightweight Performance shoe line, predecessor of the Zoom Air technology (previously Tensile Air) was launched in 1995 as the brand’s highest technology achievement. But it also helped to set a new trend, with every running, basketball, tennis and training shoe featuring the mini Swoosh.
Photo: Nike LWP
Other models key to the history of the mini Swoosh are the Nike Air Lambaste, with a jeweled Swoosh that would appear in iterations of the AF1, AM1 and Cortez. Or the Air Max 95, that omitted the standard lateral Swoosh. A year after the launch of these last shoes, the scene spoke volumes. Most Nike sneakers featured a smaller Swoosh.
Photo: Nike Lambaste
This might not seem too daring a move, but it sure is and it certainly was at the time. In the 1990s, changing the logo size and location, playing with it, dropping it from one shoe line to later reintroduce it…was a risky design play that worked out very well for Nike.
Photo: Nike Air Max 95