It was 1971 and Phil Knight was supplementing his modest income from Blue Ribbon Sports Inc. by teaching an accounting class at Portland State University. There he met Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student, who was working on a multi-perspective drawing assignment in the hallway. He offered to pay her a couple of bucks per hour if she would do some design work for his small company.
“Representatives from Japan were coming for a presentation and Phil wanted some charts and graphs to show them” explains Davidson. “I did some other design work for him and then one day, he asked me if I wanted to work on a shoe stripe. He said he needed more inventory control.”
According to Davidson, Knight said he wanted a design that suggested movement. Davidson went to work and came back to Knight with “quite a few” designs, none of which really captivated him.
However, Knight was up against a deadline; shoe boxes that were to include the new logo were waiting to be printed, so he had to make a decision. He chose what is recognized today around the world as the “Swoosh,” telling Davidson, “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.”
Being fresh out of school with a degree in design, Davidson submitted her bill for $35 for the drawing he purchased. She learned more about the business side later…
She continued to do additional design projects for the newly renamed company Nike, including ads, brochures, posters and catalogues. The company’s growth, however, was exponential and so the time came when a one-person design shop was too small to handle the advertising needs. It was time for a full-service ad agency, and both Nike and Davidson agreed.
But, that’s not the end of the story. One day in September of 1983, Davidson received a telephone call inviting her to have lunch and just touch base again with a few of the people she used to work with at Nike, including Knight. When she arrived, much to her surprise, she was greeted by a catered lunch and presented with a gold ring in the form of a Swoosh with a diamond in it. She also received a “cleverly written certificate” from Knight and an envelope containing Nike stock.
How generous? She says that information remains just between Phil and her. “The stock has split three times since I received it, so I can definitely say that I have been well compensated for my design. You must remember too, that this was something rather special for Phil to do, because I originally billed him and he paid that invoice.”
Today, Carolyn is still in Portland, Oregon; married, the mother of two grown sons and the new grandmother of a baby granddaughter. She has retired from graphic design after 29 years and is now following up on many interests and doing the volunteer work that she couldn’t do when running her one-woman business and raising her family. One day a week you will find her at one of her favorite places to volunteer, The Ronald McDonald House at Emanuel Hospital.