A brief history of Times New Roman

Times New Ro­man gets its name from the Times of Lon­don, the British news­pa­per. In 1929, the Times hired ty­pog­ra­pher Stan­ley Mori­son to cre­ate a new text font. Mori­son led the project, su­per­vis­ing Vic­tor Lar­dent, an ad­ver­tis­ing artist for the Times, who drew the letterforms.

Even when new, Times New Ro­man had its crit­ics. In his ty­po­graphic mem­oir, A Tally of Types, Mori­son good-na­turedly imag­ined what William Mor­ris (re­spon­si­ble for the open­ing il­lus­tra­tion in page lay­out) might have said about it: “As a new face it should, by the grace of God and the art of man, have been broad and open, gen­er­ous and am­ple; in­stead, by the vice of Mam­mon and the mis­ery of the ma­chine, it is big­oted and nar­row, mean and puritan.”

Be­cause it was used in a daily news­pa­per, the new font quickly be­came pop­u­lar among print­ers of the day. In the decades since, type­set­ting de­vices have evolved, but Times New Ro­man has al­ways been one of the first fonts avail­able for each new de­vice (in­clud­ing per­sonal com­put­ers). This, in turn, has only in­creased its reach.

Ob­jec­tively, there’s noth­ing wrong with Times New Ro­man. It was de­signed for a news­pa­per, so it’s a bit nar­rower than most text fonts—es­pe­cially the bold style. (News­pa­pers pre­fer nar­row fonts be­cause they fit more text per line.) The italic is mediocre. But those aren’t fa­tal flaws. Times New Ro­man is a work­horse font that’s been suc­cess­ful for a reason.

Yet it’s an open ques­tion whether its longevity is at­trib­ut­able to its qual­ity or merely its ubiq­uity. Hel­vetica still in­spires enough af­fec­tion to have been the sub­ject of a 2007 doc­u­men­tary fea­ture. Times New Ro­man, mean­while, has not at­tracted sim­i­lar acts of homage.

Why not? Fame has a dark side. When Times New Ro­man ap­pears in a book, doc­u­ment, or ad­ver­tise­ment, it con­notes ap­a­thy. It says, “I sub­mit­ted to the font of least re­sis­tance.” Times New Ro­man is not a font choice so much as the ab­sence of a font choice, like the black­ness of deep space is not a color. To look at Times New Ro­man is to gaze into the void.

This is how Times New Ro­man ac­crued its rep­u­ta­tion as the de­fault font of the le­gal pro­fes­sion—it’s the de­fault font of every­thing. As a re­sult, many law­yers er­ro­neously as­sume that courts de­mand 12-point Times New Ro­man. In fact, I’ve never found one that does. (But there is one no­table court that for­bids it—see court opin­ions.) In gen­eral, law­yers keep us­ing it not be­cause they must, but be­cause it’s fa­mil­iar and en­trenched—much like those ob­so­lete type­writer habits.

If you have a choice about us­ing Times New Ro­man, please stop. You have plenty of bet­ter al­ter­na­tives—whether it’s a dif­fer­ent sys­tem font or one of the many pro­fes­sional fonts shown in this chapter.

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