Short Film Reveals History Of The Times New Roman Typeface
Prominent creatives reveal the font's unexpected potential.
With all the attention given to Helvetica in terms of documentary films as well as pop culture in general, it’s about time that an even more ubiquitous font got its place in the sun. Times New Roman is so widely used that you’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten its name. However, a video series fromThe Times of London called “Unquiet,” aimed at highlighting the small choices and brave personalities that go into journalism, is now celebrating the font, its history, and its current public perception, which, in keeping with the font’s reputation for professionalism and reserve, is far more nuanced than that of Helvetica.
The font’s history is intertwined with that of The Times, owing to the fact that it was created for the paper in 1931. Typographer Stanley Morison had written an article criticizing the Times for being poorly printed and typeset, and as a result set off an editorial project to make the paper’s appearance match the quality of its reporting. Morison ended up commissioning the font and overseeing its creation; it was ultimately created by Cameron Latham and drawn by Victor Lardent, an artist from the Times’s advertising department. The basis for the font, unsurprisingly, was the type that had been used by the newspaper up to that point, which was called Times Old Roman. Morison also based his design off of an older (but only by 18 years) font called Plantin.
We often think of Times New Roman as being a font that winds up on a page either entirely by accident (as one anecdote from Andy Altmann at Why Not Associates would have it), or as a result of some requirement – think of your term papers in college. What happens when it’s used as part of a conscious design choice, though? In the video, Jonathan Barnbrook describes how he used the look for a project he described as “subversive,” playing with viewers’ aesthetic expectations.
Despite the font’s reputation for neutrality, it has its own set of associations, which the prominent creatives discuss in the video. “We need to be aware of the sort of messages that it communicates,” says prominent graphic designer Neville Brody. Few things arrive without the weight of the past, and so the decision of the Times to branch out into other, more design-friendly variations of the font like Times Modern and Times Classic may not surprise you. See the video below: