Filed under: english, typography, oei
Originally published in February 2020 in OEI 86–87.
Times New Roman is one of the most well known Roman typefaces in current times, originally drawn in 1931 by Stanley Morison for the newspaper Times in London.
During the century that has passed since, the technical conditions of type setting and type design have drastically changed on multiple occasions. From the metal casts Times New Roman originally was drawn for, via photo setting, to the digital typography of the computer era.
Today typefaces are drawn and programmed to work straight on digital screens, either in layout software such as Adobe Indesign (for later reproduction on for example paper), or to work exclusively within the computer; in software, on web pages and apps.
Times New Roman found its way into the personal computer quite early, as it was distributed with the operating system Microsoft Windows 3.11 in 1993. Since then a number of new versions and interpretations have surfaced: Everything from hand drawn and mirrored versions, via conceptually interesting sans serif versions, to professional interpretations by established typeface designers. Worth noted here are Tiempos by Kris Sowersby (2010), LL Bradford by Laurenz Brunner (2018) and GT Alpina by Reto Moser (2020).
Times New Roman has in a way become as close to a "non typeface" as a typeface can ever be — with only other Microsoft distributed typefaces such as Arial and Courier New as competition for that position.
Or as the typographer (and lawyer) Matthew Butterick phrases it:
“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.”
Today there are more than 20 digital typeface families that one way or another draw references to Times New Roman. The initial idea for OEI 84–85/86–87 was to use all of them as a way to create an index of the evolution of printed matter over the last one hundred years. But as many of the typefaces lack Swedish (or Danish) characters, are incomplete for other reasons, or are simply illegible, the amount was reduced to 14. All the 14 come in both Regular and Italic versions, with a few selected exceptions where the italics have been manually slanted in the layout software — a homage to an era in early digital typography where italics weren’t always available.
The different versions of Times New Roman used are everything from professional versions, such as Times Ten, to unpublished interpretations used in earlies projects by Konst & Teknik, such as Times MMM Roman, a remix version of Moderna Museets own Times MM Roman, to free amateur versions like Tiny Times, a pixelated version based on how the typeface looks on low-resolution screens.
In every project we take on as Konst & Teknik, the research and final decision of the typeface selection is crucial – often to such an extent that we have difficulties returning to the same typefaces more than once. The typeface selections reflect the project and its content so much that it becomes difficult to apply the same typeface selection on later projects.
Times New Roman in its different versions seem to be an exception, a typeface family we have returned to more times than once. Maybe thanks to its rich technical and visual history, making it easy to apply conceptually to different projects and commissioners. It is by far the typeface I have the most different versions of in my computer, making it easy to find a suiting visual expression within the framework of a “clear” typography. Because of this, it has for a long time been an interesting thought to apply all the different version at the same time to a bigger printed matter project thus making it possible to in detail compare the different version properly. OEI 84–85 / 86–87 offered that possibility, both content wise, conceptually and technically.