Opening the Seal

By Larry Peña

For more than a century Cal Poly, like many institutions of higher learning, has represented itself with a distinctive seal. Over the generations that seal has evolved, and graphic designer Pierre Rademaker is probably the person who is most familiar with the changes that reshaped the university’s official symbol.

Pierre-Rademaker In 1972 Rademaker left the Los Angeles advertising industry to teach at Cal Poly, eventually leading the development of the university’s brand new graphic design program. In 2000, Cal Poly President Warren Baker tapped Rademaker to design the modern incarnation of the university seal.

We asked Rademaker to describe how each version of the seal represents a point in the university’s history.

↑ Hover over the Seal above to discover the meaning behind its design elements.

The official university seal has long been reserved for only the most official uses, like presidential documents and university diplomas. Last year the university adapted it into a shield symbol that retained the seal’s gravitas but simplified the design for everyday use. “It’s the everyman image for campus, and I like that because it’s something we haven’t had before,” said Rademaker.




California Classic
The first official Cal Poly seal was a simple adaptation of the California State Seal, ringed by the name of the institution. “You used to see this with a lot of entities around the state, like police departments — ‘let’s just grab the state seal and throw a design around it,’” said Rademaker.


Branches of Knowledge
In 1947 California Polytechnic School became California Polytechnic College and took a step toward its own visual identity. “The five branches on the tree represent the four schools — what we would call colleges now — plus the Pomona campus, which was part of Cal Poly at the time,” said Rademaker. “The symbols in the middle, though, come from the California State University system.”


In 1999, decades after Pomona separated and the university reorganized into seven schools, President Baker decided it might be time to ditch the five branch motif and commissioned a new seal to celebrate Cal Poly’s upcoming centennial. “The symbols like the hammer crossed with the quill pen represent the blend of practice and theory, which is the Cal Poly philosophy,” said Rademaker. “It sets us apart from the rest of the CSU community.”