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ICONS ARE BETTER #27: TIMES NEW ROMAN

Having written about a few icons now, I was struck by a realisation on the train this morning, that I’d (ironically) been overlooking one of the most obvious: the Times New Roman font.

Arguably the most classic of the ‘everyday’ fonts, striking the perfect, albeit tricky, balance of being both elegant but safe, I’d always assumed that Times New Roman was as old as the printing press. In truth, it’s relatively young—in a Victorian sort of way. First debuting on October 3, 1932, Times New Roman was amusingly commissioned by Stanley Morison for the Times Newspaper in response to some criticism that the newspaper was badly written and typographically antiquated, and commercialised one year later.

The favoured font choice in book typography, particularly with mass market books in the US and UK, Times New Roman’s popularity has been influential in the subsequent development of a number of serif typefaces both before and after the start of the digital-font era.

But it’s not all roses for Times New Roman. With popularity often comes apathy, and many have, and continue to, described Times New Roman the ‘font of least resistance,’…not so much a font choice, but an absence of one. Sort of like the ‘colour’ black.

And while personally I seem to be having a bit of a love affair with Helvetica Light these days, I can’t help but admire Times New Roman’s ability to endure, inspire (other fonts) and be the default font choice even if it is perceived by some as the unimaginative, unoriginal option.

And I guess that brings me back to my original observation. Being an icon is an ongoing journey, not a destination. That which makes something iconic, can also be what holds it back. And while attaining icon status is certainly a wholly desirable thing, there’s always still work that needs to be done…for someone, somewhere. Because, if you don’t, you risk being overlooked and forgotten about when younger and shiner entrants come along and take the edge off of your serif.

Nicole Kirkland – Planning Director at mcgarrybowen

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