By Encer Design, a division of The Oyemaja Group.
Stanley Morison's mind.
In 1929, the Times Newspapers commissioned Stanley Morison (collaborating with Victor Lardent), to design a typeface. The commissioning happened after Morison had criticised the Times for its archaic typography styles. This was the first time a newspaper was designing its own typeface. With Times being a widely-read newspaper, the font quickly gained fame, and Times held exclusive Rights to the font for a year.
In creating Times New Roman, Morison’s first approach was to reduce the spaces between the letters to make them more condensed. This made the typeface narrower than most fonts. This was however necessary and functional because newspapers had limited spaces to fit in a lot of text.
Designing for the eyes
Aware that this reduction might cause a strain on the eyes, he created some modifications to the structure of the letters to allow for readability and appeal. For instance, thicker strokes were employed to create better contrast; intersections with serifs were thinned; the height of lower-case letters was increased; etc.
To instill confidence in the usability and aesthetics of the font, due compliance was made with the Report on the Legibility of Print published by the British Medical Research Council in 1926. After undergoing various tests including reading the texts under natural and artificial light, the font was launched.
Times New Roman, despite the introduction of newer Serif and Sans Serif font-styles, still thrives. It is a widely used and preferred font by academics, for examples. Sectors such as the legal profession and the medical profession make use of it. Class assignments, essay competitions and journal articles are notorious for being accompanied with the instructions – “Times New Roman, Size 12, 1.5 Double Line spacing.”
Times New Roman however did not go uncriticised. Because of the modifications such as thicker lines, it required more ink than the usual to print. This made its wide acceptance and usage by publishers. Times itself had remarked that the font was appropriate for newspapers and not books, although a separate version suitable for books was developed. The font also took a minor hit with the bloom of Sans Serif fonts. Today, its strong contenders are Calibri, Arial and Helvetica. Microsoft Word has its default font set to Calibri.
Between that and Sans Serifs
The battle between Times New Roman (Serif fonts in general) and Sans Serif fonts remains one of function. It’s a question of reliability vs. readability. Dating back to the 18th Century when stonemasons carved letters on rocks, Serif fonts have remained and are being reinvented. They incite a conservative and traditional ambience, a sentiment which is difficult to replicate with Sans Serif fonts.
Because of its conservative and historic qualities accentuated with its decorative styles, confidence and trust is easily alluded to Serifs.
Powerful corporations such as Forbes, Vogue, New York Times, JP Morgan, Medium etc. have maintained their logos in Serifs.
On the other hand, Sans Serif fonts are approachable, friendly and modern. LinkedIn, Uber, Facebook and other billion-dollar companies favour this appearance. Coupled with the advantage of clarity and readability, Sans fonts really give Serifs a run for their money.
The use of either font-styles primarily depends on the message to be passed across to one’s audience. Going for conservative and traditional? Serif is your man. You like things light? Go Sans.
Yours in design,