Say hello to Carolyn Davidson.
This is the story of how she created the Nike logo, and it starts back in the late 1960s.
Carolyn was a student at Portland State University. She wanted to take an oil painting class but didn’t have enough money to afford the tuition.
Enter Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, who then was teaching at the university as an assistant professor in accounting. When not teaching, he ran a side business called Blue Ribbon Sports, which distributed Japanese running shoes.
Phil and Carolyn would never have met under normal circumstances. But on this day, Phil happened to overhear Carolyn’s conversation with another student. Later, Carolyn heard from Phil, who asked her if she might be interested in doing some graphics work for his business for an hourly fee of $2. It would pay for her oil painting class.
Carolyn Davidson took Phil Knight up on his offer – but don’t get ahead of the story. The first few freelance jobs she did for Blue Ribbon Sports mainly consisted of drawing charts.
It wasn’t until a few years later that Carol was asked to think about a logo. That’s when Phil had decided he wanted to produce and sell his own brand of running shoes instead of importing others. The year was 1971.
Phil’s direction to Carolyn was two-pronged: he wanted a stripe of some kind, and he wanted that stripe to give the impression of motion. Carolyn recalls in interviews that Phil admired the Adidas logo. Okay, maybe it was more than admiration. “Oh, he loved Adidas,” Carolyn is quoted as saying about it. “That was part of my problem. He loved the Adidas stripes, he loved them! Well, when you really love something, try to get somebody to look over here at something different.”
Carolyn had a challenge before her.
She remembers sketching ideas for about three weeks (although there are versions of this story which say she spent about 17 hours on the project). This was well before software programs such as Photoshop. Carolyn did it the old fashioned way. “I’d draw [the logo] on tissue,” she says, overlaying it on a shoe.
With her deadline approaching, Carolyn finally presented a handful of designs to Phil and his colleagues, Bob Woodell and Jeff Johnson (who is credited for suggesting the name Nike for the brand). Carolyn says she remembers that the trio was not overly impressed with any of her suggestions for the logo.
The first one they all looked at was the iconic “swoosh.” It ended up being the one they all agreed was the best of them, but Carolyn says they were far from elated by it. So, she asked for more time to work on it. She didn’t get that extension. “I don’t love it, but I think it will grow on me,” Phil told her.
And with that, Carolyn submitted her invoice for services rendered, totaling $35. Which, by the way, would be about $195 in today’s dollars.
We know the rest of the story. The Nike logo went on to become one of the most recognizable brand logos globally.
As time went by, did Carolyn feel she had somehow been undercompensated for her contribution to Nike’s success? She says that’s never been the case. She was satisfied with her payment for services rendered at the time.
Having that in her portfolio garnered many clients over the years as she remained an artist.
What a great attitude!
It speaks to living in the moment. How can we know what will ultimately happen with what we create?
It would really suck if it turned out that Carolyn ran into bad luck and ended up a bag lady. As it was, her “let it go” attitude rewarded her, repeatedly.
In 1983, Phil Knight and the employees of Nike honored her for her work on their amazingly well recognized logo with a surprise party where she was given a gold and diamond ring with the iconic swoosh logo on it. As well as 500 shares of Nike stock.
The math so far:
- $35 for the initial work creating the logo.
- A gold and diamond ring.
- The stock, which at the time would have been valued at about $8,000 at that time.
Carolyn still owns that stock today. During this time, it has split four times, turning her original 500 shares into 8,000 shares. Today, the price per share of Nike stock is $68.32, making it worth $546,560.
I write things for people. We negotiate a price. That’s what they pay me. If it makes them a whole lot of money, I’m happy for them. I don’t ask them for additional compensation if it happens. After all, I have no way of knowing if I’m writing for the next Nike. I think Carolyn has the best attitude about being paid for your creative efforts – that “in the moment” belief.
Of course it doesn’t prevent me from dreaming of diamond rings and stock offerings by grateful clients.
So sayeth the StickMonkey.