Who? Why? You may well ask! Back when the 1920s were becoming the 1930s (between 1928 and 1932, depending on whom you consult), Stanley Morison, a leading type expert of the day, was commissioned by The Times newspaper to design for them a new roman-style typeface... the rest, as they say, is history. As far as most people are concerned, if they even realise that they are reading something set in Times New Roman, they probably won't think any more about it.
For typo-philes, on the other hand, Times New Roman seems to be like Marmite or Laphroaig whisky: they either love it or hate it. I admit that I am still looking for my ideal 'body text' typeface (I may have to get some software that will enable me to produce one myself) and I sometimes use others in preference to it, but I have to disagree at least with one individual who called it "ugly". To my mind, the best thing about Times New Roman is that - unless you are minutely examining characters for some reason - you don't even realise you're reading it, or that someone designed it or even that it is a particular typeface at all - it's just what something printed should look like. Admittedly, it is so widely used that most people have grown used to it, but it was so well designed that it must have worked well right from the start. From the newspaper's point of view, they wanted something clear which didn't take up too much space (words per column could make a big difference to a national daily) and that is exactly what they got. The letterforms (at least in general terms) would be familiar and legible to anyone using this alphabet from the fifteenth century to the present day and, whilst individual letters or even words set in a 'sans serif' typeface may be less 'fussy' and therefore 'clearer', research suggests that the vast majority of people find a typeface with 'serifs' (the little 'hooky', 'pointy' or 'blobby' bits on the ends of letter-strokes, in case you didn't know) is easier to read in longer passages... and Times New Roman is certainly a prime example of that.
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with other typefaces (as I say, I prefer others for certain things), just that Times New Roman should not be looked down upon because it is popular: it got that way for a reason.
I should perhaps say that Stanley Morison is not my only typographical hero. Some people seem to operate on the assumption that liking one person's designs means hating everyone else's (e.g. they 'love' Caslon, but 'hate' Baskerville or vice versa) - I don't go along with that, but I sometimes modify my choice of typeface either because of my subject matter or the intended 'audience' or both. I happen to like a rather old-fashioned, letterpress-style look and that fits in nicely if I'm producing something with a 'period' setting and/or for a historically inclined readership, but wouldn't necessarily be appropriate (or might even be inappropriate) under other circumstances. As I mentioned before: making your reader work harder than necessary can have negative results. Even the vague sensation that 'there is something slightly odd' about what they are reading can be enough to disrupt the 'flow' (though not nearly as much as bad punctuation... or mistakes in spelling or grammar - I'd better not get too carried away!).
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Copyright - Andrew A. P. Butler - January 2003