Airing Out 40 Years: Nike Design Over The Decades

Illustrator Stephen Cheetham uses minimalist graphics to chart a visual history of the brand’s most memorable designs.

Growing up, Stephen Cheetham never had “cool” sneakers. “I wanted them, but just didn’t have the money,” the London-based illustrator tells Co.Design. His parents, he adds–now with adult understanding–just weren’t keen on shelling out cash for expensive kicks when his feet were still growing.


Cheetham’s sneaker ownership, then, didn’t bloom until college and after, when he had spare cash to spend. He gradually amassed a respectable collection and a clear preference for Nike design, including acquiring a coveted pair of Nike Cortez.

Years later, he would memorialize the Cortez in a minimalist graphic for Art & Sole, the artfully curated store and blog for the thinking sneakerhead. The opportunity pushed him to explore his sneaker past with subsequent illustrations.

The result of that endeavor is Nike Decades. The series of posters charts the evolution of the sneakers-with-the-Swoosh from the 1970s through the aughts, capturing shifts of the times, from casual low-top trainers to chunky basketball high-tops and minimalist, elastic runners. (Also see this infographic of beyond-Nike sneaker design history.) Each decade is represented by eight different designs, stacked in two columns and arranged in chronological order.

The shoes are drawn in silhouettes without shadows or edges. Cheetham scoured archival sites and books for images of the sneakers in profile, a perspective that to him was key to getting everything from the proportions to the curvature of the logo just right. The shapes of the shoes themselves, on the other hand, vary wildly throughout, accounting for phases in fashion and pop culture.

From an illustrator’s point of view, Cheetham explains, it was a lot easier to draft the ’70s designs than those from the ’90s or ’00s. He cites the clean, almost austere aesthetic of the former, when “construction was simpler” and there were “less panels, less technical aspects.” And while his collection has grown and his tastes changed, he’s still partial to his first acquisitions. “My soft spot for vintage ’70s runners will never go,” he says.

The posters are available for purchase on Cheetham’s site.


About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.