What Does The Longevity of Times New Roman Say About Us?

Times New Roman et alOn the Paris Review blog, I came across this lament about the persistent popularity of Times New Roman:

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.

This comes from someone who sells alternative fonts, but this fact doesn’t negate his point. Times New Roman is boring. He claims that making this (“absence of a font”) choice “con­notes ap­a­thy.”

My defaults are Times New Roman at work and Georgia on my blog. I use Times New Roman out of habit, and Georgia because it came with my WordPress theme. As a person who hardly notices the difference between most fonts, it wouldn’t matter much to me to switch to something else.

But it may be difficult for some people to stop using Times New Roman or one of the other standard fonts, even when it seems like they have a “choice.” They may rely on tried-and-true fonts out of insecurity. In tough economic times, particularly in a society that emphasizes the power of employers and doesn’t prize individuality enough, can you blame applicants or employees who conform to a standard font? Who wants to take the risk of looking like they don’t fit in? Most employers are not impressed by an applicant’s or employee’s rebellious streak. The ubiquity of certain fonts, and the expectations many have about the “right” one, makes it hard to be anything but a conformist.

What font do you use most often? For the writers out there, do you use a different font at your day job than you use in your creative writing?

*While I don’t care much about fonts, I’m married to a person who does. My husband uses Georgia at work, claiming “it’s like Times New Roman with fries and a shake.” He also happens to admire Butterick’s “equity” font.

*I’m not a typographer. Please excuse my use of the word “font” when “typeface” might be the more appropriate word.


    1. The headings are Futura PT and the body text is Museo. I like them too! I’ve changed the fonts a few times on this blog. It’s fun to play around with it.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  1. I personally prefer Georgia over Times New Roman. I don’t know why but Times New Roman bothers me, but it might be because I only use it for papers that I have to turn in. I’ve gotten into typography recently and I notice the minute differences in font so much more.

  2. I recently read on a publisher’s website that the fonts preferred by editors are, strongly, Courier New, and Times New Roman. Personally I stick with Times New Roman. There are hundreds of lovely and interesting fonts out there, there’s no real need for us to standardise from one publisher to the next – although perhaps for sizing standards alone, TNR remains strong.
    TNR, I think, has become an icon of the age of technology and instant publishing. It’s what you see and it’s what you want to see, even if it isn’t the tidiest to look at. I don’t think it’s an issue, but you make an interesting point. We could be using something else. We could be using a huge variety of fonts. So, point well raised.

    1. “It’s what you see and it’s what you want to see.” Well said! While I don’t care much about fonts (and can’t really distinguish between TNR and Georgia when I see them separately), I also find that I have an easier time reading material in TNR. It’s just comfortable for me. It would take time for me to get used to something else. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I detest TNR! and enjoyed the snarky quote at beginning of your post. For e-mail I use Comic Sans – much clearer & easier to read. Batang appears in 98% of my documents.

    1. Interesting! I’ve never used Comic Sans or Batang (that I remember). To me, TNR looks “right” because it’s what I see the most often. I can tolerate other fonts, but only in smaller doses, and so I prefer reading longer passages in TNR. Yes, it’s boring, but it works for me!

  4. I’ll dissent! But not too much. As Jen Malone notes in today’s Writers’ Rumpus blog post, a standard font such as Times New Roman or Courier, always in 12-point, should be used when formatting manuscript submissions. That’s because they are readable and convey professionalism–it means the writer knows better than to use a cute or distracting font when sending their words for consideration by an agent or editor. It’s like dressing for a job interview–you don’t want your outfit to take attention away from YOU.

    That being said, the quote from Paris Review lists “books, documents, and advertisements.” The point of an advertisement is to attract attention and create a mood, and unless the mood you want to create is served by Times New Roman, there’s not much point to it.

    I’ll end by recommending the excellent film on typography, “Helvetica,” which is available on Netflix. Or was, the last I heard.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I saw “Helvetica” a couple of years ago. I liked it. It would make sense to use a standard font to make sure that you aren’t distracting people from your other qualities, but employer choices are often arbitrary. Is there such a difference between TNR and Georgia? I can’t actually distinguish the two fonts, but I do end up finding TNR to be easier to read. While it’s what looks “right” to me, I don’t think I should force that on other people. Maybe none of this will matter as an increasing percentage of our written work is digital (as Rick said in the comment below), allowing readers (including employers) to choose whatever font they want.

      1. My comment was getting long, so I left out that I typically switch between Georgia, Amasis, and Gil Sans (yes, a sans-serifed font) in my e-Reader, and freely change the size depending on where I’m reading. So I’m not rigid about TNR 12-point by any stretch! The idea about a font being up to the reader is intriguing, but also a little unnerving when you consider the role of the graphic designer.

  5. TNT looks like legal contracts/forms, to me — not stuff I’d read for fun. But just so you know, when I read your blog on my mobile WP app, it’s in Helvetica, my default font. 🙂

    I set my ebooks in Georgia, but you can override that on your Kindle. Control only happens in print.

    1. Helvetica! Interesting! It makes sense that TNR looks like legal contracts to you. That’s the font I would use to write such a contract or settlement agreement. I see that font so often that it just looks “right” to me.

  6. My boss insists on Arial — NTR hurts her eyes. After 10 years, NTR hurts mine too and I prefer Arial. Either she’s right, I’m getting old, or I’m more of a sycophant than I realized.

    1. After a while, certain fonts just look “right.” For me, that’s Times New Roman. For you, that seems to be Arial. We’ve all got to pick and choose our battles, and having more of a say on fonts probably isn’t worth it. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I use Times New Roman at work even though it’s deadly dull. As you know too, creativity isn’t typically encouraged in the legal world! Many times, I’m constrained by local rules about font and typeface (and, yes, what IS the difference?) and the last thing I want is to have a brief rejected because I used a font that the court doesn’t like! And when it comes to memos, I still use Times because I work in law firms and prefer not to rock the boat. At home, in my own writing, I like Garamond, which I think is elegant. (Maybe someday when I’m a partner with enough seniority to be eccentric, I’ll demand that associates give me memos in Garamond – heh!)

    1. Nope, creativity isn’t encouraged at all! I’ve been doing a lot of writing in TNR this weekend. Unfortunately, I haven’t had any time to read (hopefully, that will change on Thursday). As for Garamond, it seems to be a favorite among those who commented on this post!

  8. Although I’m not someone who really worries about different fonts, I agree with Jae; Arial is not a font/typeface that interests me. However, I’m probably biased towards serif fonts; they just look more elegant and professional, in my opinion. Nor can I really get ‘into’ Calibri. On the newer versions of Word, it tends to be the default, but the size-ratio doesn’t feel right.

    1. I don’t worry much about fonts either, but Times New Roman just feels “right” to me (probably because of how much exposure I’ve had to it). It would probably take me a long time to get used to a sans serif font.

      Thanks for the comment! I hope you’ve been having a nice weekend!

    1. The fact that TNR is standard in publishing (and also in many other professions) is why it feels so normal to me. While I can’t really say how TNR is different from Georgia (for example), I do notice a difference between fonts when reading long passages. TNR just feels “right” to me. I’m sure I could switch to something else, but it would take me a little time to get used to it. I hope you’re having a nice weekend! I’m trying to enjoy mine, but I’ve been doing way too much writing in TNR (all work-related).

      1. It’s been an unexpectedly relaxing weekend. First, the weather has been cool and rainy, so I haven’t been tempted to go outside. Second, I’ve been writing, always a good thing. Third, I’ve been catching up on Game of Thrones, a series I’m enjoying quite a lot. I almost wish Monday wouldn’t come.

  9. I like bunches of different fonts. Garamond is probably my most used serifed font. Future and Myriad for san-serif. But I must say I think Arial is the true “boring” choice. I rarely find a design with Arial as the font that I like. It’s usually more the sign of an amateur. I feel like Times New Roman is the classic elegance. It may not be best for certain designs, but it’s a solid font.

    1. Hi Jae! I’ve never used Garamond before (at least that I remember), but a few people in these comments have mentioned liking it. I can see why you would think TNR has a classic elegance to it. I’ve grown so accustomed to it that it’s what words in books, memos, briefs. etc are supposed to look like! I hope you’re having a great weekend. I’m swamped with work, but trying to enjoy the small amount of free time I have!

  10. I have liked Georgia ever since I’ve been reading articles in that font on The New York Times site. I agree with your husband — Georgia is better than times. I restrict my high school writers to the common serif fonts because the sans serif fonts always feel harder to read and look, well, amateur. Now that it’s so easy for amateurs to design and publish our own books, I wonder if there’s a value to uniquely handmade books. Making a book by hand doesn’t mean the story or ideas in it are great, of course, but such books may stand out from other mass-produced work.

    1. Interestingly, I can’t distinguish Times New Roman and Georgia when I see them separately. At the same time, though, I find that it’s easier for me to read long passages in TNR. For me, it’s just what books, memos, and briefs are supposed to look like! I’m sure I could get used to a different font, but it would take time. A handmade book or one that uses a widely different font would probably be a less comfortable reading experience for me.

  11. It’s funny I’ve been reading a bit about web design and such and using wild fonts is ill advised for the simple fact that not every browser or pc will support it. There is so many school of thoughts on type and design, honestly… my opinion is make sure it fits the desired theme and it looks good. Designers are the funniest to listen to though about stuff. They always complain about fonts on movie credits etc… and they are the only people to really notice. Cracks me up.

    1. Yeah, I don’t think most people care much about fonts. At the same time, though, while I can’t distinguish Times New Roman from Georgia when I see them separately, I find that I am much more comfortable with reading Times New Roman. It would take me time to adjust to a new font, so I gravitate to TNR whenever I have to read anything more than a few hundred words long. So, maybe people notice it more than they realize. Thanks for the comment!

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