Blog post no. 100, about Times New Roman

This is my weekly blog-post number 100 (one hundred)! Two years ago, Weagree started blogging on matters related to contract drafting!

This post is about the Times New Roman font. Many contract drafters use it in their contracts. Whilst drafting a contract, the drafter needs to consider the legibility of it, if only for the font size. Whilst establishing a contract house style, a legal department or law firm should match the font style with its company’s culture and values. For those purposes it can be helpful to understand the origins of the selected font design.
Traditionally, there are three or four alternatives to choose from: Courier, Helvetica, Times New Roman and Garamond. In an earlier post, I discussed the Helvetica font and Microsoft’s copy of it, Arial (click here). In this post, I’ll talk about Times.

History and characteristics. Times New Roman was designed in 1932. By introducing the new typeface, the English The Times responded to a criticism about its newspaper being printed badly and typographically behind the times. In response, The Times commissioned a typeface design company, Monotype, to improve the newspaper’s “economy of space” and “legibility”. The resulting design, Times New Roman, is based on the Plantin typeface redesign of 1913, the original design of which goes back on the 16th century Garamond typeface.
Whilst Times New Roman became a timeless artistic symbol of its era, the characteristic “economy of space” also reflects its spirit of the age. Some people believe that Times New Roman is furthermore characterised by the varied rhythm between thick strokes and fine hairlines, and between the various movements of the stems, bowls and stresses; I believe it would be more appropriate to reserve those qualifications for Garamond. Times New Roman is appropriate for reading plain texts such as contracts and for that purpose, it uses space economically – nothing more, nothing less.

Legibility and economy of space. The two characteristics “legibility” and “economy of space” interact. Legibility is a term of art. It means that from a narrow-printing or downsized point of view, a text can still be read. For example, ink should not spread into the o and make it a bullet, an “l” should be distinguishable from an “i” and the parallel strokes within an h, m, n or u should not run into each other. The economy of space that characterises the Plantin-redesign had become possible thanks to the improvement of paper quality (which reduced ink spread).
To a certain extent, the legibility of text is determined by “serifs”. A serif is the small ‘bar’ at the end of line strokes (‘stems’). The serif enables a designer to make the line strokes of a character thinner, to optically link one character to another and thereby to make Times New Roman a clean omni-usable typeface with old-style (classical Roman) characteristics.
Legibility is the counterpart of another term of art, readability. “Readability” takes legibility a step further and addresses typeface aspects such as line spacing, kerning (the distance between characters) and other aspects related to font proportions and presentation. Obviously, readability also has another meaning (for another art), identifying that a text is understandable, simple, crisp etc., by virtue of the language.

Naming – Microsoft and Apple. The typeface was named “Times New Roman” because the old typeface used by The Times was called Times Old Roman. The new typeface was designed by the typeface design company Monotype, and licensed to Microsoft in the early 1980s. A competitor of Monotype, Linotype (yes, the Linotype appearing in German leading case law), made a similar font design that has been licensed to Adobe and Apple, and is called “Times Roman”.
The license by Monotype may explain why the Times New Roman of Microsoft has never been as criticised as its sans-serif counterpart Arial. Arial is a ‘quick and dirty’ almost-copy of the successful Helvetica (which is licensed by Apple and Adobe). I discussed this in my post of May 2009.

Alternatives. If you want to go one step beyond Times, Arial or Garamond you might consider that Verdana was designed as a computer-screen-legible font and therefore useful if you believe that your contracts are not necessarily printed anymore (the printed version is less economic in space). If you do not like Times New Roman, you will probably be delighted to learn that Microsoft replaced it as the default font of Office 2007 and Office 2010; the current default font is Calibri (a sans-serif characterized font designed by Lucas de Groot, which takes advantage of recent screen display technologies).

After 40 years, The Times stopped using Times New Roman in 1972. During the 30 years that followed, partly due to changes in production techniques and the shift from broadsheet format to tabloid, The Times switched fonts five times.