I Dis Cern. Neutral Neutered.

Cern is a typeface family designed by Ian Lynam of Wordshape. I respect Mr Lynam’s effort to create a grotesque sans serif typeface family “that takes inspiration from Helvetica, Akzidenz Grotesk, Univers” and other Swiss faces. But as a typeface design, Cern is soulless and neutered, more like Arial than those other classics.

The infatuation with neutral typography is curious. Neutral is in the eye of the beholder. Neutral has come to mean simple, unadorned, and unobtrusive. Neutral typefaces– supposedly- do not clothe a message with personality or bias. I understand the intent, but I’m not sure that’s even possible.

Good typography is a vessel that appropriately presents a message; that’s effective graphic design. The presentation may be austere, but the mere existence of a chosen typeface, and how it is used, expresses something of the author, publisher and/or designer. The obvious use of a given typeface can indicate an immature or overt approach to graphic design. That’s as true for a neutral sans serif, as it is for a modern square sans serif, or another typeface du jour.

As you read this, I am conscious that the words you are reading are rendered in a given typeface. Side note– I am unhappy with my blog’s typography, and I intend to change it. I opted to change the type for this post to Matthew Carter’s Georgia. (Hopefully that is what you are seeing). Georgia is a serif typeface created for effective presentation on computer displays. It was created by Carter for Microsoft and released originally in 1993. Georgia is not the default typeface for this blog. The default font is Arial, the much maligned imitation of a Swiss grotesque. Arial isn’t quite the abomination purists claim, but it is a less effective presentation of that austere Swiss aesthetic. Arial is an interpretation, not a genuine expression. And as with many interpretations, the potency of the original is lost. Georgia has more integrity– it was created for a specific purpose by an expert craftsman. I use it here as an appropriate typographic expression for this message.

As with Arial, Cern is an attempt at mimicry. It is an admitted homage to mid-century Swiss typography, not a genuine expression of a modern type designer’s aesthetic. The generic, neutered appearance of Cern seems to have been Lynam’s intent. If so, mission accomplished. Cern as a typeface is akin to a monotone voice, music consisting of one repeated note, or an unadorned gray wall. It lacks the modulation, rhythm, or variation that would make it– and the language it conveys– compelling.


  • LightBulbIT

    …which is why I didn’t buy it even though they were pretty much giving it away…

    • Bill Dawson

      I also take issue with their claim of “40 weights.” Besides being wrong, it’s misleading. 40 fonts yes. 40 weights? Nope. 10 weights in text and display (reportedly). Everything about this typeface smells funny.

  • LightBulbIT

    There are lots of low quality fonts out there and san serifs are the easiest to make (the other day I found one that looked like they scanned the back of a cereal box from the 70s and converted it into a font. They lauded the “distressed” look of the font as being “unique”. I LOLed). And speaking to your point, how many “hairline”, “ultra light”, “extra light”, “feather light”, “light light” fonts do you need? If you can’t see it on the page, I think it’s light enough.

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