Nike is a very powerful brand. You don’t have to see its name to be able to recognize it. In fact, anything that even remotely resembles Nike’s logo or rhyme’s with its name, tagline or slogan instantly reminds us of Nike.
Since Nike has such a strong design, let’s learn from them and follow their principles of design. Nike is a sports brand that focuses on young, athletic, and energetic individuals who have a passion for fitness and sports.
How does it manage to gain and retain so much popularity among these people? Nike follows certain principles of design alongside all the marketing campaigns they organize.
While there are plenty of graphic design principles out there, and they increase as you advance your career, I’d personally be more interested in what principles of design Nike’s logo adheres to.
So here’s a list of 12 design principles to learn from Nike’s logo.
Nike has a lot of empty space in its logo. There are no patterns, or extra design elements filling it up.
While a lot of us may consider our designs incomplete when there’s so much room left on the canvas, that’s not how Nike or its audience sees it.
The empty areas in design and between the elements of design are called white space, or negative space.
This white space lets your elements breathe. It makes them distinguishable for the viewers. The more white space an element has around it, the more prominent it gets. This is one of the graphic design principles followed by many popular brands.
With the right use and placement of objects on the white space, you can add meaning to it. Many designers use it to their advantage and create shapes out of negative space to get their audience excited.
Take the FedEx logo for example.
Can you see the arrow in there? The clever use of font and word art helped their designer utilize white space between the letters to form an arrow.
The shape aligns with their service, which is delivery and transportation. It sure is a well thought out logo.
Many artists and designers use negative space to carve out symbols, objects, and signs, while others use it to make the design look prestigious and bold. Either way, it is an important design principle to leave some white space in your design, especially if it’s a logo.
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Color is the most important part of a logo. It determines whether your brand will be noticed or ignored by your target audience.
A rule of thumb is to make sure the elements of your logo stand out, especially your name and symbol. The objects in your logo should not merge with the background, or be hard to see against it.
A striking contrast between the background and the objects is absolutely necessary to ensure visibility.
Color contrast is one of the most important principles of design. It is how you make your design pop. Nike knew this full well. So they made black and white variable logo designs to be placed against all backgrounds.
Now they don’t have to worry about color while choosing their ad platform, or the products they’ll be putting the logo on. It will be clearly visible on all surfaces.
Apart from Nike’s black and white color scheme, contrast is often used for different elements of the same design. It helps you set them apart and create a distinct theme out of it. At that point, you can mix and match to see which elements need to be equally or more prominent.
Balance comes from putting elements of equal weight on both sides of the design.
Every object you place in a design has a certain weight to it. And it is mostly associated with its size, color, and shape.
All of the objects in a piece don’t have to be homogenous, same size, or the same shape. But the total weight on each side should be the same.
For example, you can have one big object on one side of the design, and many small objects on the other. The total area covered on each side should be the same. This creates a balance in design.
You can draw an imaginary line in the middle of your piece to check that. Nike has maintained a good balance in its logo.
Notice how Nike followed this design principle by keeping everything centered.
If you draw a line in the middle of this logo and look at each side separately, the area covered by Nike’s text and symbol would turn out almost the same on both sides.
One basic principle of design is to use the psychology of shapes.
If you haven’t heard of it already, shapes and fonts in your design have a massive impact on how a person sees your brand. Shapes in your design give you your unique vibe and character.
Circles, curves, and well-rounded corners give a fun, informal, and easygoing impression. In contrast, sharp edges, pointy shapes, and spiky appearance give an energetic, aggressive, and enthusiastic feel. Squares give a stable impression.
Here’s the tricky part! Nike’s audiences are sports lovers, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts. These people are aggressive AND fun-loving. They are energetic AND informal. Many of them are rich and stable as well.
There’s no one type you can follow if you want to use the psychology of shapes here.
Now, look at what Nike did.
They merged all three types of shapes and created what you now see as the final version of Nike’s logo.
There’s a well-rounded curve in the logo, and it has pointy edges. That represents both fun-loving, and lively side of its customers. Their name in the logo has more squares and rectangles in it to represent the stability of their brand. Crafty isn’t it?
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The primary function of a logo is to represent your brand. If the basic objects that represent you aren’t prominent in your logo, there’s no point in having it.
One of the vital principles of design is to present the elements of design in such a way that each of them stands out. The emphasis on every object has to be according to how relevant it is to your theme, message, or values.
How do you put emphasis on certain elements in your logo design?
One way Nike does it is by having one large object surrounded by nothing but negative space.
The idea behind this is to keep the viewer’s eye focused on the main element of design by removing all other distractions from the surroundings.
With each added object, the focus of onlookers is divided. They have to register one more thing, that one more thing takes a little more space.
So instead of having one large object, there are two smaller ones in the view – which makes both of them comparatively difficult to recognize, remember, and stay focused on.
Extra objects serve as distractions, and divert the viewer’s attention from the main object or symbol you might want people to associate with your brand; reminds me of the saying, “Less is more.”
Another way Nike added emphasis on their name and symbol is by keeping their logo monochrome.
One bold color having a striking contrast with the background made their logo recognizable as one object from afar.
Notice how they’ve joined the edge of text with their symbol in this picture to make it look like one object.
It’s common to see logos having text on the bottom of the design or the side of the symbol. However, Nike prefers keeping it on top.
They’ve further added emphasis on their name in the logo by keeping it centered, and giving it equal weight as swoosh in the design.
All of these practices and the bold font of their text add emphasis on their brand’s name, and symbol. That is one way of keeping viewers focused.
Movement is one of those design principles that adds life to a design.
When the design elements are shaped and placed in such a way that they compel the viewer’s gaze to move into a certain direction, it’s called ‘movement’ in design.
An element can direct your eyes towards another object in design or stop you momentarily. Nike has added movement in its logo through a symbol that resembles a checkmark.
As a reflex, we think of how we draw this checkmark, and how it appears in the animations we’ve seen throughout our lives.
Nike’s swoosh makes our gaze go from left to right. To support this movement in design, the font of the text NIKE is a bit slanted; leaning towards the right.
This movement makes us read the word Nike instinctively by the subconscious movement of gaze from left to right.
Had any of the letters been straight instead of slant, it would have momentarily stopped our gaze right there.
Many designers add movement in their designs by placing letters and objects in different angles, shapes, and ways. Following this principle of design can make a logo look animated.
Unity is an indispensable principle of design. It determines whether your message gets across or not.
Every design has a backstory, a concept, message, or value to show. How all of your design elements add up to represent that one theme you want is called unity in design.
If you look at Nike’s logo, each and every element while having a character of its own, fits perfectly in the bigger picture and adds emphasis to their primary theme.
Nike is a name taken from Greek mythology. It was the name of a character who was believed to be a goddess of victory.
Swoosh in their logo resembles a checkmark. It makes you think of “Thumbs up” and words like “right”, “Approved”, and “Good”.
The slogan “Just do it” adds further emphasis to their original theme, and compels viewers to take action.
It is all tied up together to motivate people into action, quite like your fitness trainer or coach.
A logo is meant to be stretched, shrunk, resized, compressed, and tailored to fit many different places.
The main design principle for a logo is scalability. It should stay clear and catchy wherever you put it, no matter how much you shrink or enlarge it.
Nike’s logo is made to fit every single platform you can think of. It can stay clear and recognizable in every form.
Nike sponsors sports events from time to time, and it has a good presence on digital media. This calls for scalability.
They need their logo to fit every place they choose for marketing. Be it huge banners, an athlete’s shirt, a social media profile, or a little wrist band.
Pamphlets, brochures, drinks, bottles, and a great number of accessories go into the type of campaigns Nike organizes for branding and promotion.
If you plan to hold similar events down the line, it is better to follow Nike’s lead when it comes to scalability as a principle of design.
While adding colors and intricate patterns is part and parcel of graphic designing, a logo should be comparatively simple.
Simpler the design, the easier it is for the eyes to register it, and the longer it stays in the memory.
If you like certain colors, by all means, add them to your logo. If you like a pattern, go ahead and put that in. But if you’re planning to be anywhere near Nike in terms of branding, go for simplicity as a principle of design.
Your logo will be flashed in front of many eyes, and most probably, for short periods, the catchier you make it, the better it is remembered.
Nike made sure to not have any complex figures in its logo. They made their font as easy to read as they could. And monochrome is the best strategy to help viewers perceive it as a whole.
Simpler shapes, easy to read font, and shorter text are all it takes to follow this design principle.
As they say, consistency is key.
If you want your audience to remember your logo and associate it with your brand to a degree where you don’t even have to mention your name, stay consistent.
It builds trust, it helps people remember you and you don’t have to repeat the process of brand awareness all over again with each minor change.
How did Nike do it?
Like every brand, Nike’s logo went through multiple changes over the course of decades. What remained the same was swoosh and the placement of the key elements of design.
At one point, they eliminated the name from the logo as well, and this made more space for adding emphasis on their symbol.
Notice how repetition gets its logo stuck in one’s mind. That’s one more strategy they adopted. As a principle of design, your logo should have repetitive patterns.
It could be colors, font, shapes, or even the movement. Repetition causes a certain element to stay within the viewer’s head. That leads them to associate that pattern with you.
Later on, every time the viewer sees that pattern, your brand automatically pops in their head regardless of where they saw it.
Up till now, we’ve talked about almost everything Nike represents, however, we haven’t talked about it in terms of a vital principle of design, i.e. meaning.
For a brand to have a lasting impression on people, it has to have certain values. The values of a brand when represented in the logo, add meaning to its design.
Let’s have a detailed look at Nike’s logo. Most of us think it’s a checkmark. However, it has a deeper meaning. It is a ‘swoosh’ that has been designed to resemble a checkmark.
Swoosh is a shape associated with the wings of a character from Greek mythology. This character; as we earlier talked about it; was believed to be a goddess of victory.
Victory is something every sportsman and athlete is obsessed with. Listen to most of their speeches, and you’ll notice the heavy use of words like “victory”, “winning”, “defeating”, “overcome” and so on.
This is what Nike’s target audience is influenced by. Their slogan, “just do it” aligns with the same motivational spirit of a sportsman.
Nike has made sure to represent the values of a common sports and fitness enthusiast in their logo. A great way to give them a sense of belonging.
Have you ever noticed that Nike products don’t contain the logo variation with their name on it? A swoosh is enough to represent them, so they don’t add anything else with it.
When it comes to logo design principles, minimalism is the most effective one. It speaks louder than clutter. Anything that your logo can do without needs to be eliminated.
At this point, Nike doesn’t need to mention its name to be recognized. So they don’t put it there. They don’t even add a background. If it’s a white shirt, you will see a black swoosh on it.
If it’s a black one, you will see a white swoosh on it. That’s all they want to show, and it marks their identity without a word.
Another thing to note here is that their entire logo consists of just one simple object that can be hand-drawn by a toddler.
The minimalism they practice makes them stand out as a brand.
When people recognize it without having to see the name, it reinforces the idea that Nike’s brand is strong, stable, and popular enough to not have to be named, or described.
It becomes a matter of common sense.
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If you’re designing a logo inspired by Nike, be sure to follow all the principles of design they’ve stuck by throughout the evolution of their brand.
Give a lot of white space to your design and make it pop with contrast. Keep it balanced, and keep the psychology of shapes in mind.
Don’t forget to add emphasis to the most important elements of design. Keep it alive by adding movement to your objects.
Everything should add up to convey your message and represent your values together, all the while, keeping it as simple as you can.
Your logo needs to stand out everywhere it sits. It should be scalable and fit every place you intend to put it on.
Consistency means a lot of things, one of those is repetition. It builds trust and helps people remember your brand’s unique traits.
A design is nothing worth thinking about when there’s no meaning to it. Be sure to add meaning and represent your values.
Less is more, the less objects there are in your logo, the more prominent it gets. The simpler those objects are to recognise, the easier it is to recall them.
Follow all these principles of design and see it for yourself where it takes you.
Waqas D. is the co-founder of the branding and website agency, FullStop™. He supercharges brands by crafting memorable logos, brand identities and engaging websites. Besides thousands of startups and medium-size businesses, FullStop has worked with likes of Microsoft & L’Oréal. View our portfolio or get in touch.
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