Having been born in the mid 80’s, I didn’t have the luxury of choosing which tools to use when I needed to create a word document, or a presentation. There was Microsoft Word, and there was Power Point, and that was the end of it (presentation software like Slidebean were not even a distant dream). I actually remember being taught and evaluated on the use of those specific tools as part of my Computer courses in school. Damn!
And with these limited tools, came default fonts. For decades, Times New Roman was set to be the default font for Word documents, until they changed it to Calibri a couple of years ago. The very concept of Fonts was somehow unfamiliar to me. I also remember being told these were the fonts I HAD TO use for my school assignments, without further detail on WHY I had to use them.
I have no freaking clue how I managed to get past such an obtuse way of doing things. Or maybe that’s one of the many reasons I became a designer. I had to believe there were other ways of presenting information that didn’t involve Times New Roman words endlessly written on a white freaking document.
Flash forward 15 years, I’m now forcing myself to write the draft of this article in Times New Roman, after years of not using it. My painful experiment is intended to remember what it felt like to use it, and give you some first hand reasons NOT TO use it!
What’s wrong with Default fonts?
To be fair, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with Times New Roman. The font actually traces it origins back in the 1930’s, when it was commissioned for The Times newspaper for its printed editions. In fact, it was built upon the request to have an emphasis on legibility and economy of space, therefore making it an ideal choice for large bodies of text.
But since it’s adoption by the Microsoft suite in the early 90’s, the font became extremely common, along with Arial and more recently, Calibri. Due to its mainstream use, these fonts belong to nobody in particular, and they represent no specific brand/company/persona. People are so used to them, so bored by them, so tired of them, they don't find them appealing any more.
A slight change in your typography can go a long way in making your documents stand out. Fonts are a powerful design element, as much as color and the use of images. Unfortunately, most cool fonts require that you purchase them individually, with rates that can go all the way up to $600 for a font family pack that includes all styles! Tools like Slidebean have the advantage of including a full set of premium fonts at no additional cost, so you can enjoy using them without going broke.
Furthermore, I’ll share with you some of the alternatives I often use in my work as a visual designer.
Where to start?
Serif vs Sans Serif
For those of you who don’t know much about fonts, the simplest way of grouping them is in Serif fonts and Sans Serif fonts (no serifs). Serifs are the tiny lines attached to the end of a stroke in a letter.
You may have heard the term before without even realising what it meant. Comic Sans, for example, whose name comes from being a Sans Serif font (though you and I both know you should never in your life use that crap).
Times New Roman is therefore a Serif font, as opposed to Arial, which is a Sans Serif one. Easy right?
The real purpose of Serifs is subject of some debate. Some people claim they were originally intended to increase readability, but truth is there’s no actual evidence to support such theory. Nowadays it’s become more a matter of personal taste, and design intent.
Now that you know the basics, let’s get to it. Here are my recommendations to replace default fonts forever.
At the end of the article I'm including a download pack with all the FREE fonts coming up next!
Serif Alternatives to Times New Roman
While Serif fonts are sometimes regarded as being old fashioned, Centabel proves they can have a modern edge to them. With pointy minimal Serifs, this font makes your work look awesome!
Roboto Slab is one of the great Times New Roman alternatives. Notice how the Serifs are right angled, giving it a unique and polished look.
If you’re not ready to completely let go of Times New Roman, Lora is a great choice for you! It has some resemblance, but with slightly different Serifs.
Sans Serif Alternatives to Times New Roman
Whether you choose Serif or non Serif fonts is entirely up to you. I personally prefer to work with Sans Serif fonts because of their simplicity. In Timothy Samara’s 'Twenty Rules for Making Good Design' one of his principles states “Treat the type as image, as though it’s just as important”, and I think Sans Serif types often comply better with this rule. But then again, that’s just me :)
(Not the same as Roboto Slab) Another one of Timothy’s rules state “Negative space is magical. Create it, don’t just fill it up”. Roboto is living proof of that. It is simple in form, and that’s what makes it great.
Bebas is a bolder choice (literally). Thanks to its thickness and all caps format, it works great when you have text written over an image. It's better used as a title font, or with small phrases, instead of larger blocks of text.
Futura is a personal fave <3 can you believe this font was created in 1927? Yet this geometric font remains faithful to its name’s premise: it is a timeless, avant-garde looking font. It is not free, but tools like Slidebean have it pre-installed so you can use it to your heart's content!
Lato’s thin profiles and smooth curves give the font a sophisticated look, while it also maintains great readability.
Every single element in a graphic composition should follow an intent, and that's why default fonts are no longer an option for you. Now that you know some great alternatives to replace them, use them purposefully to make your next work stand out!