Swoosh Abuse: The Compendium


It’s a cliché that’s been lingering in our subconscious for almost a decade now without reasonable explanation. It snuck into our design lexicon without brandishing identification. It’s engrained itself firmly into our commercial psyche making recognition second nature for most people.

Local Swooshes

It’s the Swoosh Logo. A logo created by the classic combination of text surrounded by an arch, a half circle or any breed of elliptical shape. It’s the calling card of many organizations born into industry during late nineties and early part of the next decade. If you’re a stranger to the Swoosh movement, a cursory glance around a local city block or a retail establishment, will quickly acquaint you with the large amount of logos leftover from this historical chapter of design’s rich heritage.

In an effort to explore the rise and fall of the Swoosh logo in western civilization we believe five main factors played major roles in shaping this trend and spreading it’s influence.

Reasons For the Swoosh

Reason 1: The Principle of Easy Unity
In the context of graphic design, easy unity is the number one reason for the Swoosh logo’s appeal. The primary objective of any logo is to present a unified concept using several diverse elements in order to convey a mood or a feeling. This can be done successfully through the use of such things as colours, fonts, or shapes. The easiest shape to implement in tandem with text is the swoosh. Its dynamic movement can surround and transform disparate elements into a unified object. Consciously or unconsciously, this principle was fruitfully exploited by would-be designers to mass produce swooshiness.

Reason 2: P2P Networks Promote Piracy
During the time swoosh logos were rapidly gaining popularity, technology was also gaining popularity. People were embracing the internet as one would politely hug your friend’s attractive mom. Part of this popularity was fueled by the novelty of finding things like music and software online for free. Through the magic of wonderous new programs like Kazza, Gnutella, and Bearshare, Photoshop was free! Finally everyone was a Graphic Designer. P2P Networks had a major impact on making the Swoosh logo a reality by eliminating the cost barrier to your choice of visual editing and design software.

Reason 3: Photoshop Introduces Vector Shapes
The release of Adobe Photoshop 6.0 in September of 2000 introduced the vector shapes tool to the world. Utilizing the vector shapes tool means you are only three clicks away from the perfect arch or crescent. Four years after introducing Photoshop to the Windows Platform, the quick adoption of this release gained traction proportionally to the appointment of each everyday graphic designer.

Swoosh Leaders

Reason 4: Following the Leaders
Although many people are quick to point to Nike for the inspiration behind the swoosh logo craze, Carolyn Davidson’s $35 logo is not the only big player’s design that can be credited with stirring up excitement for swooshes. Coca cola’s identity has always been swooshy in nature. ESPN was a previous employer of a loyal swoosh and Comcast is a current member of the club. Although swoosh incorporation was a credible practice at some point, plagiarism has never a business partner of creativity.

Reason 5: Do it Yourself Mentality
The Do-it-Yourself design trend was perpetuated during the time period of the Swoosh logo by two main drivers which assisted in making it a going concern. The first, although perhaps a stretch, was Y2K and the fear of calendar induced panic. Potential requirements for cellar/bomb shelter mods, provisional stockpiling, and self sufficient utilities made the idea of creating your own logo seem simple.

Secondly, and more credibly, a company bearing one of the most infamous Swoosh logos of our time made doing it yourself as easy as it’s ever been with affordable microprocessors for home computing. This time period was arguably the peak of Intel’s dynasty as home computers were powerful and plentiful. Having your own personal PC meant logo design was yours to pursue in your spare room.

What it All Means

The Swoosh logo, despite its questionable reputation among some professionals, clearly deserves a place of honour in history. Its influence is still being felt today and has taught us a great deal about the science of design. However, if you are considering cooking up a swoosh logo for your new company, consider the following drawbacks before proceeding:

Other Swooshes

Drawback 1: It’s Not Timeless
The Swoosh logo comes from an easily defined time and place. It says I did this myself and may well have done it in 1999. When you are considering the longevity of your design choose conservatively using shapes and colours that will stand the test of time.

Drawback 2: It’s Not Original
As discussed, it’s been done before. The more original you can be with your design, the better off you will be. Your logo will be easily recognized and less susceptible to being part of a fast fading fad. Try not to follow the leader. Design something with passion and purpose that symbolizes what you do.

Good Wordmarks

Drawback 3: It Doesn’t Express Enough
The Swoosh logo is not only dated and clichéd, it’s also an expressionless icon. A good logo will look good while a great logo will stand for many things at once. Adding depth and character is what graphic designers do when they design successfully. By creating dual meaning, referring to your business’ name and its mission will mean more than swooshiness could ever accomplish. Even a great wordmark, if it’s truly great, can be successful without help from a swoosh.

In closing, we’d like to salute the Swoosh logo for it’s valuable contribution to the design’s history. At the same time we would also like to take the opportunity to recognize the fact that we may be writing a similar post ten years from now on what will become known as the 2.0 Reflection craze. If you’re quick, you can still jump on the bandwagon, here’s a tutorial.