The Story Behind the Air Jordan Font
Peter Moore talks about the signature typeface of the Jordan "Wings" Logo
By now the story of how former Nike designer Peter Moore designed the original “Air Jordan” logo has become the stuff of sneaker legend. The story goes that the eureka moment hit him on a flight back from Washington, DC, where he’d had a meeting with the promising young athlete and his superstar agent, David Falk.
It was there that Falk first pitched the idea of the name: “Air Jordan.” As Moore put it—in his signature candor— “Falk had an idea for everything. Some of them were good; some of them weren’t worth a shit, but he was full of them. So he threw out ‘Air Jordan.’”
One person who didn’t need to be convinced was Rob Strasser, one of Nike’s early marketing heads who helped shape the future of the company. The only possible snag?
“At the time Air Jordan was a reliable, legitimate, money-making airline,” says Moore. “They told me to worry about the design, don't worry about the law.”
With any potential legal troubles outside of his purview, Moore then created the signature logo that became synonymous with the first two Jordan sneakers. In addition to the original winged inspiration, the chosen typeface equally built on the mythology of Jordan as a brand.
“What we were trying to do with the typeface was to not just make it a sans serif letter, but give it a little bit of style,” says Moore. “It also had to bend, so the placement of the lettering…it's a typeface cut apart and then each thing was hand-placed.”
The result is a logo that was supposed to make you feel like you were part of a club, whether it was a swanky first-class lounge or the sub rosa feeling mutual sneakerheads used to give each other via knowing head nods acknowledging the heat on their feet. History shows that the flight-inspired logo —and the brand it was associated with— took off amongst sports fans and budding sneaker enthusiasts alike.
In fact, the wings logo became such a phenomenon that the follow-up to the Air Jordan 1, the Air Jordan 2, eschewed Nike’s signature Swoosh entirely in favor of the OG Jordan brand mark. But that’s a story for another newsletter.
What’s interesting about diving deep into the typeface and the early days of graphic design (if you asked about “Adobe Suite” back in those days, people might’ve thought you were referring to some sort of fancy Arizona hotel built into a brick cliff face) was how much of it was done by hand.
To ensure consistency across multiple channels, designers would often create standards manuals that various partners and vendors could refer to. This is just one example featuring the Nike logo and the Jordan wings logo.
“It’s more traditional trademark work, you show the positive and the negative,” explains Moore, referring to the two different tones on the page. “Because if you have an all-black page, what logo do you put on it? So in this instance you could put either one. This was the kind of thing you would send to a factory and say: ‘We want number five on everything.’”
Moore stresses how important the size was to the brand’s identity. One of the main reasons these graphic standards existed was so factories could keep the logos consistent across everything from boxes, apparel, and of course the shoes themselves.
Years later, Moore’s original typeface logo has been reimagined for a limited apparel offering from Jordan Brand. Building on his original cut-apart typeface, the “Air Jordan” mark lets go of the wings and lets the unique lettering take the center stage.
Part of a super-limited run of 50 hoodies, the cream “Air Jordan” typeface logo hoodie marks the first step in a new direction for the brand’s apparel line. Ironically, the simplification of the logo is one thing Moore definitely agrees with for a more modern age, feeling like the original version is a bit too stuffy for his current design tastes.
“The problem with these things now is they're so iconic you can't screw around with them too much,” says Moore. “I would just say it’s too stiff and too crowded…That's being pretty critical considering we sold seven billion pairs of shoes with this thing on it.”