How this “Accident” became one of the most famous logos in the world

Business owners commonly spend an inordinate amount of time trying to fine-tune their logo and brand, so it may come as a surprise to learn how the simple design that is now worth over $26 billion came into being.

Here’s the story of how the first Nike running shoes were created, and how the iconic “swoosh” became the official logo of what is now one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Way back when I was growing up, if I went to buy sneakers, I had four choices; Converse low-top, high-top, in either black or white.

That was it.

There was no Adidas.

There was no Puma.

There were no running shoes.

Bill Bowerman was a running coach and the founder of what would become Nike (pronounced ny’-kee, after the Greek goddess of victory) – one of the most known brands in the world.

At the time, though, Bill wasn’t concerned with becoming a multi-billion dollar global sports retailer. He just wanted shoes that would help his runners perform better.

One day, his wife was preparing waffles for breakfast, and she poured the batter into the waffle iron.

He said, “Wait a second.”

He came home that afternoon after track practice, and he brought this liquid rubber stuff, and he poured it into the waffle iron and it hardened.

He said, “This is going to be the sole of my new running shoe.”

The first Nike running shoe was a waffle sole. He was supported by Phil Knight, who was one of his graduate students, and together they started this running shoe manufacturer.

I once met a woman who was the author of one of the first books about the history of Nike. I asked her: “What was their secret in terms of marketing?”

She replied: “You know, these people knew nothing about marketing. They were all track coaches and runners. They knew nothing about marketing, but they thought they did.”

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The story about the Nike swoosh is they were up against a deadline and they had a half-hour left.

They had to come up with a logo.

They had six designs to go with. Under pressure to make a decision, Phil Knight said “Let’s go with the swoosh. I don’t love it, but I think it will grow on me.” It was almost by chance that this design was selected from the shortlist.

It wasn’t due to long, serious research, or focus groups, or market research. The graphic design student who came up with it was paid $25 for her work, and Nike sent the designs to the factory in Mexico to produce their first batch of waffle-sole sports shoes with the now-famous “swoosh” design on the side.

The moral of the story? I guess it’s not to obsess over the details of how your brand looks (or, worse still, indulge in multiple “rebrands”) but rather on your product and your target market.

That’s why Nike become so successful – they were utterly focussed on the wants and needs of their target market. They told stories. They got people who were in the media spotlight to wear their brand. They really did “just do it!” – you could say, they were just practising what they (still) preach!


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About the author: Rick Siderfin

Rick Siderfin

Rick Siderfin is a husband, dad of 3, and copywriter who lives and works in Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds. He is the founder of Vortex Content Marketing, a company founded with one simple objective: to help you get noticed online.

This article was originally published by Rick Siderfin