20.Mar.2010 ABST0001: Sans-Serif Fonts and Modern Thought

INTRODUCTION:   A “serif” is the flare sometimes found at the stroke end of a letter.  The origin of “serif” fonts appears to stretch back to Roman times when letters were first painted on a surface before being set in stone (so to speak) and certain brush stroke embellishments were inertially inevitable.  “Sans-serif” fonts of course lack these embellishments. Many have posited a relationship between the wide acceptance/appropriation of sans-serif fonts and modernism.

MATERIALS AND METHODS:  Magazines record a history of font usage in advertisements, as suggested in passing by Gary Hustwit’s documentary Helvetica (2007).  This proposal envisions graphing the usage of sans-serif fonts over time based on the percentage of advertisements in a given magazine using sans-serif fonts.

DISCUSSION:  Important parameters include determining (1) the target time period; (2) the target magazine; (3) guidelines for what counts as a sans-serif font; (4) a de-minimus level of font necessary in order to count as a relevant advertisement.  The target time period is between 1900 and 1970.  It would be optimal to include multiple magazine (American general interest magazines like Life as well as an European architectural journals).  There may be a problem of consistent coverage over the time span of interest.  The guidelines for what counts as a sans-serif font and how much sans-serif font is required in order to count the advertisement should be strict.

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