The Rolling Stones’ tongue and lips and the Nike Swoosh both turn 50 this year. Proving a good logo will not fade away.
The names Carolyn Davidson and John Pasche may not ring a bell, but trust us, you’ve seen their work everywhere. That’s because 50 years ago when both were just students, they created two of the most ubiquitous and abiding logos in pop culture.
Pasche was a graduate student at the Royal College of Art in London in 1970 when the Rolling Stones called the school looking for someone to design a tour poster. Pasche was chosen for the job, and the band liked his creation—a warm-colored composite of a jet, a cruise ship, and a limousine inspired by classic travel posters from the 1920s and ’30sso much that they asked him to come up with a logo.
“My main concept was really to do something that was symbolic of the band,” Pasche says. “You know, the bad boys of rock ’n’ roll at that time, and sort of very anti-authority.”
While the symbol obviously evokes Mick Jagger’s wide mouth, Pasche says that wasn’t actually where the idea came from. At that time cultural symbols from India were in vogue.
The artist recalls that Jagger “showed me an image of Kali, the goddess. I noticed that [she] had a pointed tongue sticking out of her mouth, and that sparked the idea.”
The tongue-and-lips logo made its first public appearance on the insert of the Stones’ classic 1971 album Sticky Fingers.
Pasche received £50 for his work (and an extra £200 a couple of years later), but one could certainly argue he was underpaid. In 2008, the Victoria & Albert Museum paid $92,500 for his original artwork at auction.
Last September, meanwhile, the band opened a flagship retail store, RS No. 9 Carnaby Street, in London. The front window is decorated with—what else?—a giant 3-D-printed tongue and lips.
The same year that brought us the most recognized logo in music also happened to produce perhaps the most pervasive piece of branding in sports.
That’s when Nike co-founder Phil Knight asked Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University who had been doing some freelance work for him, to imagine a logo for the fledgling company.
Among several options she presented him was the Swoosh. The fluid symbol evokes the ideas of motion and speed as well as being the shape of the wings of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Hence the company’s name.
“Powerful logos are simple, and they convey one key point that allows them to centralize their brand,” says branding expert Dennis Yu.
“You think about Nike starting as a running [shoe] company—the Swoosh is perfect because it embodies motion.”
Knight didn’t necessarily think the Swoosh was perfect. According to Davidson, his first response was, “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.”
With a pretty big assist from Michael Jordan, it ended up growing on the whole world. Today, the Nike brand is estimated to be worth nearly $35 billion. Pretty good, considering the designer was paid just $35 for her work in 1971.
Knight ultimately rectified the situation a decade later by giving Davidson shares of Nike stock and a distinctive piece of jewelry. “It’s a gold ring with a diamond in it in the shape of a Swoosh,” she says. “Actually, I’m still wearing it.”
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