Everybody knows the Nike Swoosh. It has become an icon of accomplishment both on and off the court, and people wear it on their hearts to display their commitment to an active and determined approach to living life. This is a huge feat, so let’s take a look at Nike’s amazing brand identity and figure out what makes it so effective.
But first, let me ask you: did you know that Nike was the name of a Greek goddess of victory? I found out about this just recently. How does knowing or not knowing this fact affect your appreciation of the brand? I find that Nike’s visual identity is strong enough even without this backstory to be effective, although I must admit that a connection to the Greek goddess of victory does add some depth to Nike’s already great brand culture. So what are the cornerstone elements of Nike’s brand identity?
WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF NIKE’S BRAND IDENTITY?
At the center of Nike’s brand identity are two key components: (1) the Swoosh logo and (2) the “Just do it.” slogan (and, specifically, the font in which it is set). Both are equally important and have over the years established a strong dialogue with the public, bringing great value to the athleticism culture, and worldwide recognition to the brand.
What makes the Nike logo powerful? There is a lot to be said here. First of all its power is in its simplicity. To quote Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. The Nike logo is a testament to minimalism, and it stands out in the world cluttered with noise.
It is worth mentioning that this simplicity is not always feasible for younger brands that don’t have many years of relentless branding efforts to back them up, so Nike’s current brand identity is the result of a long process of evolution that has made Nike’s visual language part of the collective visual vocabulary. In the examples above we can see that in the past, Nike’s logo actually had the word “Nike” in it. Now it’s just the Swoosh in all its simple beauty. Although the beauty is actually not all that simple if we look closely. Read on.
From a design point of view, the Nike logo is a meticulously crafted symbol that utilizes design principles grounded in the way humans perceive visual information. To make a “simple” shape like the Swoosh work actually requires some great finesse by the designer. Carolyn Davidson who created the Swoosh said that it took “more than 17.5 hours” to complete.
17.5 hours for a black “brushstroke” sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. There is more there than meets the eye (although this phrase doesn’t really work in this case, because everything in the logo was designed specifically to meet and control the eye).
If you glance at the logo you will notice that it is very well balanced. Laws of physics apply here and the thicker part of the stroke “feels” heavy and counter-balances the thinner “tail”. I marked the approximate balance point on the illustration below in red.
The eye subconsciously finds this point of equilibrium and then it stays near it because that zone is the most comfortable place for it to be. It hovers somewhere in the area marked with the white polka dots and occasionally travels to examine the extremities (white arrows).
Notice how the eye always returns back to the center, and can never seem to escape the pull of the shape. If we overlay a Fibonacci spiral (which is a representation of a rule of universal harmony known as the “Golden Ratio”) on the logo we will see that the logo fits perfectly inside of it, with the “tail” of the logo going through the eye of the spiral. This boomerang effect is the reason why we have a difficult time looking away.
This “magnetic” effect is further reinforced by physics once again, namely by the force of gravity. It might seem absurd to think that gravity applies to a two-dimensional, static image, but since gravity is the most prominent force in our lives we perceive everything with its influence taken into account. Note how the left curve of the logo launches our gaze up and to the right, until it eventually “falls” on the “tail” of the logo and rolls back down (marked with green arrow and green circles).
As you can see, the logo is actually quite involved and is built on sound design principles. Here are all of the “eye-manipulations” combined:
When you consider all this, the following anecdote may sound really amusing:
Apart from the fact that Nike is the name of the Greek goddess of victory, what is also little-known is how much the Nike logo was bought for from Carolyn Davidson – the student designer who drew it. She was paid $35 for the Swoosh. 35 bucks! Considering the current popularity of the brand that paycheck is peanuts, but luckily Nike acknowledged the amazingness of the logo and rewarded Ms. Davidson with a diamond ring with the Swoosh engraved on it, and 500 shares of the company which are now valued at almost $700,000. I think this is a fair price to pay for the logotype that has remained this strong and still successfully represents the powerful Nike philosophy forty years later.
So we only covered the technical side of the logo. What about it’s meaning?
Great point, because what use is a logo that represents nothing?
One of the great things when it comes to art and design is that every person’s view is subjective which leaves plenty of room for interpretation, although I am convinced by this logo that it represents exactly what it looks like – a swoosh.
In terms of semiotics, the Nike Swoosh is an icon. An icon is a type of signifier (sign) that directly resembles the signified (thing represented). So to me, the design clearly represents an imaginary trail left by a swing of a bat, club, or racket. When I see it, I even imagine the swoosh sound in my head.
It is really interesting that the word swoosh itself is an onomatopoeia, which is the literary equivalent of the semiotics icon. In other words, swoosh, when pronounced, mimics the sound produced by an object cutting through air.
This purposeful use of an icon and an onomatopoeia could not be any more effective. The magic of the logo is in its openness to interpretation, as well its universal association with pretty much any sport activity. Since anyone can “fit” this logo into their context, his logo simply cannot fail (in Western culture, at least).
Of course the logo could have many other meanings if we use our imagination. Some may see in it a wing that represents freedom, others who know of Nike the goddess may see the Swoosh as representative of her in flight. Others may see the shape as a quickly made checkmark on a to do list (just did it), which is a viable interpretation considering Nike’s slogan “Just do it.”
The “Just do it.” slogan is a copywriting marvel and is perhaps one of the most well-known one-liners in the world. We must not forget the font in which it is set because it is a crucial element of Nike’s brand identity and its overall branding strategy.
According to our friend Google, Nike’s slogans, including this one, are written in all-caps Futura Bold Condensed by Linotype foundry with some modifications like tracking/kerning and perhaps others. It is a bold, straight, and striking font that prominently sits on the page and commands attention. It conveys authority and elevates the simple call to action – to just do it – to a level of an unwavering declaration of intent that inspires people all over the world.
Not to ignore is the large size of the period that underlines the statement with an undertone of sheer determination.
These seemingly banal elements of design (like size of period) actually speak volumes and clearly transfer the brand’s values to the viewer. We have no doubt about Nike’s competitive yet open-minded philosophy rooted in the constant drive for self-perfection.
If you liked this article and want me to analyze the brand identity of another brand in a future post, let me know in the comments!