Since its creation in 1931, Times New Roman has risen to become the world’s most famous typeface, so much so that even non-typography nerds can reliably name it. But as a new short from The Times’ Unquiet Film Series reveals, most contemporary designers rarely use it, unless they’re making a kind of meta statement about typography.
In this cinematic exploration of Times New Roman, designers like Marina Willer, Andy Altmann, and Neville Brody are largely irreverent towards this king of serifs. They all have respect for the font’s longevity and history, and some sing its praises–it’s “robust,” “proud,” “classic,” and “You can use it in any context, and it still has meaning,” as Times Design Editor Matt Brown says. But others are less enthused, calling it “boring” and “quintessentially British.” Andy Altmann of Why Not Associates says it looks “like an accountant in a suit.” Despite its persisting status as Microsoft Word’s default font, and heavy use in print and digital publications, Altmann says he recently touched it for the first time in 27 years, and only as a “subversive” move.
Monotype’s type director Dan Rhatigan argues it’s falling out of favor because it was designed for readers, not designers. It has become the font of laypeople, and no longer indicates sophistication, which is ironic because it was originally conceived as a curative for unsophisticated design. After Stanley Morison, typography consultant of The Times, penned a letter criticizing their lousy visual presentation, The Times challenged him to improve on it, and he collaborated with graphic artist Victor Lardent at the English branch of Monotype to create the font. “It was a milestone in newspaper design history,” Rhatigan says. It made the newspaper as good visually as it was editorially.
Despite 75 years of loyalty, The Times itself ditched the font in 2006 and started printing in Times Modern, a slightly more angular iteration of the classic typeface. Could we be seeing the last days of the Times New Roman empire?