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 of Monotype, a British font foundry, to create a new text font. Morison led the project and supervised Victor Lardent, an advertising artist for the Times, who drew the letterforms.

After Monotype completed Times New Roman, it had to license the design to then-rival Linotype, because the Times used Linotype’s typesetting machines. (Think of Monotype and Linotype as the Depression-era Microsoft and Apple.) Since then, Monotype has sold the font as “Times New Roman” and Linotype has marketed its version as “Times Roman.”

Typesetting technology has evolved, but due to its enduring popularity, Times New Roman has always been one of the first fonts available in each new format. 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 to 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.

If you have a choice about using Times New Roman, please stop. Use something else. See font recommendations for other options.

Did you make your business cards and letterhead at your local copy shop? No, you didn’t, because you didn’t want them to look shoddy and cheap. If you cared enough to avoid the copy shop, then you care enough to avoid Times New Roman. Times New Roman connotes apathy. You are not apathetic.

If you don’t have a choice about using Times New Roman, make Times New Roman look its best. Both Windows 7 and Mac OS X now ship with Monotype’s Times New Roman. Monotype offers additional styles in the Times New Roman family that will improve its versatility and appearance, like small caps and additional weights.