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Iconic designer Pierre Rademaker has shaped more than the GAP logo



If you've ever walked around San Luis Obispo County, you've certainly seen Designer Pierre Rademaker's work.

Rademaker has left his mark all over SLO County for the past 40-plus years, creating logos and branding for beloved local businesses like the Apple Farm, EcoBambino, Meathead Movers, and the Madonna Inn.

But you'll also find his work all over the world, particularly thanks to one classic design: the Gap logo.

DECADES OF DESIGN Pierre Rademaker stands in front of a wall of his graphic design creations. - PHOTO BY MALEA MARTIN
  • Photo By Malea Martin
  • DECADES OF DESIGN Pierre Rademaker stands in front of a wall of his graphic design creations.

The simple navy blue square with "GAP" in a white serif font is perhaps Rademaker's most widely recognizable design, though few local residents know that the man behind it lives and works in San Luis Obispo.

Rademaker chuckled when asked about the design and admitted he gets a little tired of talking about it. Its simplicity, he said, is what made the logo stand the test of time.

"The thing that's nice about it is it's only three letters—it's easy!" he said as we sat in his upstairs downtown office. The minimally furnished space is located in a Chorro Street building historically preserved by Rademaker himself.

The longtime SLO resident designed the Gap logo in the '80s. It was used for more than two decades before Gap decided to switch things up with a new logo released in 2010. Within days, the company reverted back to Rademaker's blue square.

"It was an uproar," he said of Gap's failed attempt to rebrand. "I got calls from media in Europe, even."

In the end, Rademaker said, "I was gratified when they didn't change it."

Interestingly, he said the no-frills Gap-style logo isn't typically the direction that his design aesthetic leans.

"To be real honest, I have a hard time getting simple," he said. "I like to kind of overdo things, and I get razzed for that occasionally."

SLO CLASSIC Rademaker designed this iconic city of San Luis Obispo logo. - IMAGE COURTESY OF  PIERRE RADEMAKER DESIGN
  • Image Courtesy Of Pierre Rademaker Design
  • SLO CLASSIC Rademaker designed this iconic city of San Luis Obispo logo.

Take Rademaker's city of San Luis Obispo signage logo, for instance: Nestled inside a circle of ornate pale yellow typeface is a graphic rendition of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, featuring details as small as the "1772" that adorns the front of the historic building in real life.

"A good logo is one that fits its purpose—whatever that is," said Rademaker, who has designed upwards of 600 logos in his career.

For Gap, that was something simple, unadorned. For the city of SLO, it was something a bit more involved: The design tells a story and harkens back to the city's founding. Choosing the right font, shapes, colors, and details are all fundamental communication tools, Rademaker said.

He grabbed a piece of scrap paper to illustrate his point.

"If I take an 'a,' and do this, that has a message," Rademaker said, drawing a soft, curved lowercase "a" on the paper. "As opposed to an 'a' that does this," he continued, drawing the same letter, this time uppercase and using only straight lines. "That has a different message."

Though Rademaker's firm has created hundreds of logos, it's not the only thing he designs. He's responsible for much of the building design in Avila Beach.

"Catalina—Avalon specifically, the whole feeling of that little town—is my inspiration for Avila Beach," Rademaker said. "There's a scale to it, there's a lot of beautiful tile work. ... Basically, Avila Beach is my little town. I designed a lot of it."

In the early years of Rademaker's design firm, he was still teaching at Cal Poly, where he started the university's graphic design program in 1972.

"I never stopped working, even the whole time I taught," he recalls.

After more than 40 years, Rademaker said he has no intention of retiring any time soon. His advice for loving your job for a lifetime?

"Turn what you do as a hobby into a career."

Fast fact

People's Self-Help Housing (PSHH) announced Oct. 26 that it completed an extensive renovation of the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) shelter located at 6370 Atascadero Ave. PSHH partnered with ECHO to provide "much-needed updates to the internal facilities of the Atascadero shelter for people experiencing homelessness," according to PSHH. The project was made possible and funded by California's Homeless Emergency Aid Program, administered through San Luis Obispo County, the organization stated. Δ

Staff Writer Malea Martin wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Reach her at [email protected].

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