Alumni in the News: Portland designer describes creation of Nike Swoosh
Author: Joe Smith, KGW news
Posted: January 24, 2014

Carolyn Davidson graduated from Portland State University in 1971, with a bachelor's degree in Art: graphic design. 

Read the original article, with video, here


PORTLAND -- It's hard to think of Nike and not think of the "Swoosh," the logo that speaks without words.

The design came from Carolyn Davidson, who 40 years ago, was making her way though Portland State University as a graphic design student.

She was in the right place at the right time to create one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight was an accounting teacher at Portland State 40 years ago. He asked her to design some charts and graphs for a company he was working for at the time. Through that connection, Knight remembered her when he needed a brand design for Nike.

"There was a woman there saying 'I don't know how I'm going to get enough for the dress for this prom. And I said I have a job for you," Knight told Oprah Winfrey recently on one of her final episodes.

Davidson said that's not quite how it happened. Knight actually overheard Carolyn telling a friend she couldn't afford oil painting classes.

Knight gave Davidson minimal guidance for creating the image.

"He wanted it to look like movement, and that's basically it," said Davidson.

Knight initially was taken with the three-stripes logo of Adidas, and Davidson said she had to wean him away from that concept to create something totally new and unique.

After several designs, Knight settled on what is now the "Swoosh." He paid her $35, the amount Davidson billed her.

"He said 'well, I don't love it but, it will grow on me," Davidson recalled.

After some time the company awarded her with some stock for her efforts.

"Phil said we gave her some stock and she's a millionaire today," Davidson said of his chat with Oprah. "No, that's another little fact he has wrong," she said laughing.

For Davidson, it's still a thrill four decades later to see her work in some unusual places.

"Somebody did send me a picture from the desert of a shoe print with the Nike Swoosh in it. That was really exciting," said Davidson.

For Davidson, the Swoosh will be her most famous design forever. And over time Phil Knight has changed his mind about the design that helped build an empire.


"He now has it tattooed on his ankle. It might not have grown on him, but he's wearing it," said Davidson. "I won."