Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Is Times New Roman the Blight of City Signage?

In a sign of the homogenization of the world's cities, the distinctive typefaces and looks that define a unique place such as Paris are slowly being invaded by computer fonts that are simple and thought-free for creators of signs, logos and inscriptions.  Is the 1931 Times New Roman font a victim of its own success, becoming a symptom of bland laziness in design? Or is it already too late to reclaim a little bit of regional charm and distinction?

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The Financial Times

Link to article:
How using the right font on signs adds to a city’s character
Excerpt: "The plague of Times New Roman is the unspoken disease of our age.

Stanley Morison, a talented designer, brought this Jekyll-and-Hyde font into the world in 1931. He thought the Times newspaper needed a modern, serif-heavy typeface that improved the legibility of its small, densely packed columns of newsprint. Morison’s font suited its purpose, and the newspaper did wonders for the font’s popularity (through five versions), but when Microsoft made it a default font for Windows 3.1x in 1992, and Apple followed suit, the seeds were sown.

Information technology makes us instant technicians without having done the apprenticeship that structures our knowledge and sharpens our judgment. How easy to just type away and – bingo! Automatically spaced text that, decades ago, letter-setting printers would have spent hours placing as blocks, concerned about kerning, and ... well, whatever they did. Why should we worry? It’s a free world and desktop design is democratising. Just ask a signmaker and they’ll download text to a laser cutter for instant architectural signage – any colour you like – often defaulting to Times New Roman letters, hundreds of times larger than its proportions were originally intended to suit.

Equipped as they are, many signmakers don’t feel the need to go to design college or draw and arrange letters by hand. But they should, because everyone on earth is the audience for their work. On buildings of different dates and qualities, order, context, harmony, elegance, and clever discordance can play out through signage – and the last of these requires not just knowledge but wit. Every branch of art and design has this code. The arbiters of environmental typography should understand the discipline they deal in, have a vocation they truly command.

More surprisingly, given a visual training, some architects have fallen victim to the plague. Times New Roman is often incised into new buildings in major cities, unrelated to the essence of their architectural character. Before the TNR outbreak, beautiful signage was normal, whether a take on a classic of architectural typography, or a font pushing the progressive zeitgeist of the building style. Those were the old times. Now a 1930s newspaper font is a default setting for monumental inscription. It’s one that we must switch off.

The results of automated typography are all around us. TNR’s crisp characters are unwittingly installed back-to-front (A, M and V are popular), or upside-down (C). Another fallout of unthinking environmental typography is that it replaces fonts specific to time or place, slowly affecting the character of cities and turning their grandeur into 'blandeur'."

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