Yale Solis

The design of Yale Solis
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It takes a lot of effort to make effortless simplicity.

Yale have protected homes and given peace of mind since 1840. The company is perhaps best known for creating the pin-tumbler lock; a radical innovation based on locking principles stretching back to the ancient Egyptians. It’s a testament to the idea as well as the company’s success that the principle is known universally as the Yale lock [figs 1, 2].

Fast forward to modern day and change is in the air, bringing with it a push to make security digital and a desire to integrate it more closely with the internet and our connected lives. Our homes can now be monitored and controlled remotely; a tap of the phone, a key code, fingerprint or face scan offers greater flexibility than a traditional key. As part of a global rebranding exercise, Yale worked with creative consultants GW+Co to turn their developing ideas into reality.

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1. Ancient Egyptian wooden lock with pins, the principle used by Linus Yale for his invention of the pin-tumbler technology

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2. The pin-tumbler lock is a mechanism that uses pins of varying lengths to prevent opening without the correct key


We were asked to create a unique typeface that reflected Yale’s vision as the world’s most trusted brand in home security. The tone of the typeface needed to strike a balance between being warm and engaging, and at the same time maintaining a level of stature and authority.

Several modifications to Yale’s logo were proposed, and it made sense that the new typeface should reflect some of the details seen in the logo’s lettering. These included a general roundness and softness as well as a near equal capital and ascender letter height [fig 3]. As the design of the type progressed, the logo’s lettering was crafted to more closely reflect the typeface, and in turn create a more balanced word shape.

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3. An early development of the Yale logo lettering

Points of reference

In response to the product design language developed by Yale’s designers, it was clear that the style of the type should be grounded in the rationale found in engineered typefaces, especially those of the early 20th century where ruler, compass and grid laid down the guidelines for letter structure. However, there was also a strong justification to remove the rigidity that these types dogmatically adhered to and which often resulted in detrimental optical effects. In our approach to designing the typeface, we took ‘engineering made human’ as our guiding principle.

Whist gathering reference material two concepts began to feature quite strongly; regularity and individuality.

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4. Detail from DIN 1451 correction sheet, 1931 (shown in Typo 17, 2005)

Early engineered typefaces such as the 1931 type DIN 1451 (defined by the German standards body DIN – Deutsches Institut for Normung) are built on a systematic approach [fig 4]. The restrictions imposed on the letter shapes by geometry and grid result in several awkward proportions and details. Though functional as a type and one that evokes a calm and cool design aesthetic, the letter shapes lack humanity and warmth.

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5. Sans serif design by Adrian Frutiger, 1950 (shown in Adrian Frutiger typefaces, the complete works, 2009)

Just as important as the shape of the letters is their proportion and how they appear together as text. The overall effect of an even rhythm is evident in the typefaces designed by Adrian Frutiger. His approach to proportion, rhythm and patterning in typeface design owes a lot to his teachers at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich. In 1950 under the direction Walter Käch, Frutiger produced a sans serif design that shows the origins of his Univers typeface. Added to this drawing are a few notes regarding the patterning and flow of type [fig 5]. He saw the letter shapes as units of similar proportion that link together to make a calm and evenly repeated rhythm.

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6. Dr. Frank E. Blokland shows rhythmic patterning of stems (‘fence posting’) on Jan Van Krimpen’s drawings for Haarlemmer (detail of example shown in On the origin of patterning in movable Latin type, 2016)

Equally intriguing to the idea of rhythmic patterning in type is the concept of 'fence posting' discussed by Dr. Frank E. Blokland [fig 6]. Here vertical stems are systematically spaced across a word and line of text with the intention to build an even and legible type image. Frutiger was also aware of the effects of regularity and incorporated this in many of his serif type designs. However, he noticed that the application of regular spacing in a sans serif design created issues. It’s true that applying the logic of even spacing to a sans serif doesn’t generally work. Serifs fill the spaces and knit the text together; without them the spaces between letters appear too open and a word can fall apart. So, tempting as it is, applying the rhythmic logic of ‘fence posting’ to a sans serif can reveal limitations. It’s enough to bear in mind that attention to careful spacing has always been a concern, and always will be [figs 7—9].

For the design of Yale Solis, the proportions of letters, their internal and external spaces, as well as their fit were slightly adjusted to maintain the illusion of an even pattern. Optics are more important here than a grid structure, and previous work on the Pembroke typeface showed the positive effect that individual letter proportion can have on the fit and rhythm of word shape and set text.

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7. Adrian Frutiger compares the even rhythm of stems in a serif typeface to classical architecture. However, an even rhythm in a sans serif type seldom works which allows for a comparison to be made with the asymmetrical rhythm of modern architecture

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8. Jan Tschichold shows the effects of poor spacing in lowercase letters in his Treasury of alphabet and lettering

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9. Today we have the freedom to kern letters such as w to solve poor spacing, but it’s often beneficial to address the correct fit of other letters first

In contrast to the regularity that a systematic approach can give to a typeface design, a level of individuality is also required. Obviously letter shapes themselves are different, but developing this difference in order to arrive at a coherent set of letters is important, it also helps to achieve integrity across the whole character set.

Typefaces created for specific use are sometimes free to challenge conventional ideas. An example of this are those types designed to be ‘read’ by machines. The primary intention is that each letter shape needs be as different as possible to avoid misinterpretation by the machine. A capitals only OCR (Optical Character Recognition) typeface was first developed in the USA in 1961 and became known as OCR-A [fig 10].

Hot on the heels, in 1961, the EMCA (European Computer Manufacturers Association) was founded in order to create an international standard for optical character recognition, and to avoid the widespread adoption of OCR-A, dubbed the ‘robot type’, across Europe. Frutiger brought his analytical and objective thinking to the design of these machine readable letters resulting in OCR-B [fig 11]. The principal aim was to make a computer readable letter that was also aesthetically pleasing to the human eye. The parameters required to design a typeface that allowed the computer to clearly interpret it resulted in several quirky details, proportions, and letter shapes. But it’s this blend of function and aesthetic that makes the final shapes interesting in the context of the design for Yale Solis; they’re harmonious yet remain individual.

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10. OCR-A, dubbed the ‘robot type’

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11. OCR-B was designed to be more harmonious to the human eye

Developing Yale Solis

With the various research and references to hand; an early simple line sketch of what a typeface for Yale could look like managed to capture the essence of the desired expression. Other sketches quickly identified what to avoid [figs 12—15] and also helped to justify the focus toward a more structured and engineered shape; oblique terminals and overly strong and fussy detailing were avoided. Instead an emphasis on the vertical and horizontal was developed as a feature across the character set. Large curves arch over to end with a horizontal terminal (C G S a c e s) whilst smaller curves end vertically (J j l t). The design of the r could use either curve size and both were trialled, but in the end, the small curve won as it maintained a more consistent spacing pattern [figs 16—22].

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12. Avoid oblique terminals

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13. Avoid mixed terminals

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14. Avoid an overly simple t shape

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15. Avoid tapered feet

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16. Notes for basic proportions of capital and ascender height, short descender, high x-height, and attention to character widths that are at the core of Yale Solis

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17. Structuring curves with the possible addition of small straights

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18. The junction of arch to stem became softer as the typeface developed

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19. The B incorporates a hard junction to add an engineered feel

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20. A more mannered and constructed letter shape

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21. A soft curve is incorporated to crossbar of f

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22. Figures are influenced by those of OCR-B

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23. An overview of the lowercase indicates the direction toward an engineered aesthetic

Ideas and details settled as the character set developed. It became obvious that some letters, such as the soft e and straight t, no longer fitted the type style. These more idiosyncratic shapes created awkward combinations which drew too much attention and broke the intended rhythm. The first thoughts about the curve structure leaned more toward an oval shape and tests were made with inserting short straight sections to see what effect this might have. However, these were removed as the letter shapes became rounder and the type as a whole more defined [figs 23, 26].

Curved details were added to several letters; the crossbars of t and f gained a curve at their junction with their vertical stem [fig 24], the legs of both K and k curve down, and the tail of y reflects the shaping of j. Incidental curves appear on various diagonal strokes as can be seen on the z [fig 25]. The roundness continues to the capital G (which has no spur) as well as the lowercase b and u (which have no base ‘feet’). The single-bowled g became a two-bowled one and the dots used throughout the typeface changed from square to round.

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24. Small curves are added to the crossbar of f and t

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25. Exterior curve added to several stem junctions

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26. Development drawings made on tracing paper

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27. Early sketch with final letters overlaid showing the horizontal alignment of terminals

As mentioned above, stroke terminals were made horizontal or vertical, this helps to maintain an overall engineered and systematic feel [fig 28]. Also keeping the horizontal alignment of terminals for letters such as a, c, e consistent helped, but maintaining this relationship as the character weight increases becomes more difficult and adjustments are needed to make a better optical image [fig 27]. Other details were applied to various characters to impart a level of informality and individuality; the M and W were given short-ranging centre strokes, the bowls of B and R benefit from angled interior junctions [fig 29], and the K and k have a horizontal centre bar.

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28. Curves end horizontally or vertically

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29. An angle is added to some junctions of curve to horizontal

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30.The numbers incorporate several features of the alphabetical characters but don’t slavishly apply them. The set is developed for clarity and individuality, this is why the 6 and 9 don’t curve round as 2 and 3 do

The use and appearance of numbers feature quite highly throughout Yale’s assets; such as product codes, user security codes, times and dates. Specific attention was given to the design of these to create a balanced set. Inspiration came from the differentiation seen in the numerals of OCR-B and car license plates [fig 30]. A slashed zero was also designed and can be used for clarity in alphanumeric codes if required.

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Further reading

Blokland, Frank E. On the origin of patterning in movable latin type, Dr. Frank E. Blokland, 2016

Frutiger, Adrian. Type, sign, symbol, ABC Verlag, 1980

Hurka, Céline and Békés, Nóra. Reviving type, Acute Publishing, 2019

Käch, Walter. Rhythm and proportion in lettering, Walter-Verlag, 1956

Osterer, Heidrun and Stamm, Philipp. Adrian Frutiger typefaces, the complete works, Birkhäuser Verlag AG, 2009

Pool, Albert-Jan. ‘DIN Industrial Archaeology’, Typo, number 17, 2005

Pool, Albert-Jan. ‘FF DIN The history of a contemporary typeface’, Made with FontFont, BIS Publishers, 2006

Tschichold, Jan. Treasury of alphabets and lettering, Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1966

Typeface details

Yale Solis has 3 fonts

Light, Regular, Bold

Each font has 542 glyphs

Completed 2020