This graph shows the occurrence of the terms “decor” (blue) and “interior design” (red) in The New York Times between 1984 and 2009. What happened to the word “decor”? It fell out of usage in approximately February, 2001, maybe a result of a change in editorial style policy? When I first saw this we wondered if it had to do with some sort of anti-French sentiment, decor being French in origin, but then we realized that its drop in usage came about seven months before 9-11. This was one of many surprising discoveries we made when I asked Jer Thorp to make some graphs for me. Jer, a digital artist and also man about my studio, recently wrote some software for graphing the occurrence of certain words in the newly-opened NYT text database. The NYT only recently made its entire text archive searchable online, beginning with the year 1981. Jer had made some beautiful graphs of various word occurrences, and I asked him to build some for me based on a few design-related keywords. Choosing design-related search terms is hard just because so many design terms have such broad usage, and are common to so many different fields, that a search for them doesn’t tell us much – “design,” for example, or “modern.” So I decided on some slightly more specific search terms: midcentury modern, modernism, Eames, Corbusier, retro, vintage, interior design and decor. I was just curious to see whether there would be a noticeable rise in interest in modern and modernist design, as I thought there might be, and if so, I wanted to see if it was a slow or a steep rise. Of course, the NYT is a very specific publication speaking to a relatively specific audience, and those things have to be taken into consideration when looking at these results. Note: The NYT database isn’t yet fully complete between 1981 and 1984, so Jer and I just searched 1984 onward. Tip: each bar is one month. Click on each graph to find a larger version in our Flickr. I may ask Jer to make a few more of these – any suggestions?
Above is the instance of “vintage” (the jade green) vs. “retro” (yellow-green). The near-absence of the word “retro” in the 1980s was surprising. Even more surprising, and it’s a little hard to see here, but over the past year and a half the word “retro” has all but disappeared, while “vintage” maintains its steady rise.
This graph shows the slow, steady increase in interest in “modernism” (red) and “midcentury modern” (orange), with the two almost perfectly mirroring each other. Mentions of the word “Eames” (yellow) and “Corbusier” (pink) were similar. I’m not sure what we were expecting – we thought that perhaps an American designer would be mentioned more often than a European? – but the latter two are about the same. Many more of Jer’s graphs, on a variety of topics, are here.