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.