The Woman Behind the Most Famous Logo in the World
You may not know her name - but you know her work
Today’s story celebrates a woman whose work you know, but whose name you may not.
It is also a reminder that creative ideas are - by definition - new and different.
And they are often rejected.
So if your idea gets rejected, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good or creative.
In 1969, Carolyn Davidson had a problem.
The Portland State University graphics design student wanted to take an oil painting class.
But she couldn’t afford it.
Fortunately for her, an assistant professor named Phil Knight heard that she wanted to make some extra money – and he was looking for a designer to help him with a side project.
Knight was working with a Japanese footwear company, and needed someone to produce nice-looking charts and graphs to show the Japanese executives.
He offered to pay Davidson $2 an hour to help.
The success of that first freelance gig led to others, mostly charts and graphs, until one day, Knight gave her a new assignment.
He was working on a new athletic shoe, and asked her to design a ‘stripe’ – the industry term for a logo that could go on the side of the shoe. He told her it needed to ‘look like speed.’
Davidson knew Knight loved the Adidas logo – but she had to design something original. It needed to be clean and classic, and stand apart from the competition.
A few weeks later, she unveiled her design to Knight and two of his colleagues.
“What else you got?” was Knight’s response.
She showed them a handful of other sketches, but they came back to the checkmark, her favorite.
"Well, I don’t love it,” Phil Knight said. “But maybe it will grow on me.”
She asked for more time to refine her work, but Knight told her it wasn’t possible. She invoiced him for 17.5 hours of work for her design – a total of $35.
The US Patent Office recorded Davidson’s curvy checkmark logo on June 18, 1971 for Knight’s new company, Nike.
That same year, Carolyn graduated with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. She continued to work with Nike until 1975.
Her design may not have been lauded by Knight at the start, but it did grow on him – and it became one of the most recognizable logos on the planet.
Although her initial payday was small, in 1983 she was given a generous amount of Nike stock, and a diamond and gold ring featuring her Swoosh design.
Despite creating the famous logo, Davidson told NPR in 2011, “I've pretty much stayed under the radar, and nobody knows who I am.”
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Thanks for reading - and Stay Curious!