Why You Might Not Love Your New Logo The First Time You See It

I have been experiencing what I am now calling “Nike Syndrome” with a client.

I’ve been working on logo concepts for a client for about one month. I have given them 40 options, although some of them are variations and quite similar to each other. After numerous rounds of revisions, the marketing team really likes one of the options, but the CEO / Owner is not impressed or liking any of them. 

Today I was forwarded an email from said CEO that said:

  • “We gave (Gretchen) the (icon) idea so I was hoping she would have some other tricks up her sleeve (the swoosh of Nike if you will).”

  • “The font can be adjusted at any time by one of us even - that is not the issue - the issue was the overall artwork and that includes a "swoosh" (Nike doesn't have an "N" so it certainly doesn't have to be an A)”

The email at first confused me, then pissed me off, then really made me think. I was stumped by what the CEO wants from me. I drove home from work trying to understand where the disconnect was and why he wasn’t impressed by any of my designs. Then I realized what he wants from me is impossible. 

When he looks at the new logo, he wants to experience the type of emotional reaction that a brand like Nike evokes when someone sees the swoosh.  

Here’s the problem: Nike is a brand, not a logo. The difference between a brand and a logo is often misunderstood because the terms are often used interchangeably. (But the difference is vast and that’s really purpose of this whole blog post.)

When we look at the swoosh, we think of so many things… We think of the badass commercials that we saw when we were kids. We think about the pro athletes we look up to who wear Nikes on the court or field. NFL, NBA, the list goes on. We think of the fabulous celebrities who wear Nikes in their day to day life. We think about the hip hop artists who wear them in their music videos, and rap about Nike in their song lyrics. We see that swoosh and we think of the athletic clothes we work out in and live in. We tell ourselves JUST DO IT. We have this experience because Nike has done an INCREDIBLE job with their branding, marketing, and advertising since the 1970s. 

When a logo is brand new, even if it is amazing, it doesn’t stand a chance of evoking an emotional response like the Swoosh because it isn’t a brand yet, it’s just a logo. It’s a two dimensional mark on a piece of paper or a computer screen.

It’s common for my clients to feel underwhelmed by their logo options when they first see them presented in a group of 6, in solid black on a white background. Here's my best advice if you are going through the branding process and feel like your logo options are lackluster. Ask your designer if you can see your favorite option in a few color combos, and also mocked up on a business card or t-shirt. Sometimes that's all it takes to realize the logo isn't boring, it just hasn't been seen in action yet.

Anyway, back to the story. I googled “Nike Designer” and found this article. Here is an excerpt:

When the Nike pioneers caught their first glimpse of the black, curvy checkmark, the graphic designer waited patiently for a reaction.


Then, “what else you got?”

Carolyn Davidson, pushing back disappointment that spring day in 1971, pressed on. One by one, she presented a handful of sketches. But ultimately the three men circled back to the checkmark, her favorite.

 "Well, I don't love it," Phil Knight said at the time, "but maybe it will grow on me."

Today, on the cusp of its 40th year, the symbol borne of necessity and a chance meeting at Portland State is one of the most recognizable in the world—so much so that it can stand alone, without even naming the Oregon sports apparel empire it signifies.”

Please keep this valuable story in mind when you are going through the design process whether it's with me, or another designer.

If you would like a complimentary consultation on your brand identity, send me an email at gretchenkampandco@gmail.com. 

x, gretchen


I'm Gretchen Kamp.

I'm a graphic designer turned business owner who lives in yoga pants and is fueled by pizza and red wine. I am a soon-to-be fiancé to a handsome nerd, and a mom to a goofy snaggle-tooth rescue pup. I love traveling the world and teaching other female entrepreneurs everything I've learned in the last three years of full-time self-employment. When I'm not in my design studio, you can find me at Cyclebar or galavanting in San Diego with my semi-insane girlfriends.

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