The (Date-Ink Maximizing) Dream
A better design to fit a year calendar comfortably within a business card.
It all started because my 48-year-old mom, blessed her, can’t read small type very well. She has trouble using little calendar cards because the day numerals are so small and last time she complained I paused and empathized with her travail. The problem, it was suddenly obvious, was not only the marketing debris that encroaches upon every poor card but rather the quite wasteful scheme we use for representing a year — the same table with the same thirty-something numbers over and over.
Take a fancy flight, don’t assume anything, not even numbers, as long as you keep these things in mind:
- The bigger the type size (or meaningful features) the better.
- The smaller the design the better. The original goal was for it to fit comfortably (you can use both sides of the paper) within 86 by 54 millimeters (3.370 by 2.125 in) of paper (your standard business card WP) but something slightly bigger could be just as useful. We are going for useful. (Thanks Dave Pawson!)
- Immediately understandable (or pretty darn close).
- Should span an entire year.
- On any given “date” of the year, be able to easily tell what its name, its month, and its month number is.
- Instant: The less steps you need to know before knowing a date’s data the better.
- Contextual: You should be able to easily “walk” from a date to another one close by, thereby counting the days between them. People do this all the time.
- Markable: You should be able to easily mark (circle, cross, check) holidays and special dates.
Yes, I know mom could carry some sort of foldable large-type calendar, 12 calendar cards with a month each, or simply start wearing her prescribed glasses (nigh impossible), but that’s off the point right now. Let that true story be our convenient pretext for innovation.
Also note that though the idea arose out of accessibility concerns, everyone would benefit with it, just as we all grip the helping handles in hotel bathtubs.
Getting The Inspiration Thing Going
I think the best existing metaphor for what we would like to accomplish here are modern statistical innovations like the boxplot WP or the stem-and-leaf plot WP — proof that novel, almost magical displays of breathtaking elegance are just around the corner. IBM’s thread arcs is a recent example.
Another good metaphor might be the Roman number system WP vs. the Hindu-Arabic one WP. For some five thousand millennia the best humanity could produce in its oldest art, reckoning, was the crude, procrustean Roman system — so primitive that it made even multiplication specialists’ labor. Then in a flight of fancy some unknown Hindu stumbled upon the (graphical!) principle of position — it was as far-reaching a discovery as can be imagined, allowing for the development of simple, clear-cut arithmetical rules that became the cornerstone for algebra, itself the cornerstone of modern mathematics. (If the topic interests you, do read Tobias Dantzig’s classic account, Number AM)
More down-to-earth, the "calendar : and clock pedias are obvious and essential starting points — history is as good a source of what could be as it is of what has been. Information Aesthetics’ Creative Calendar Design showcase should get your creative designs flowing, and so should a quick search through the site for clocks. Tokyoflash has some interesting interfaces for telling time.
Also, dad showed me an old planner of his that had something called a perpetual calendar WP: a 5-page calendar that tells you what day it was between 1821 to 2080. Here’s a scanning of it. Perhaps it could help to find useful patterns in the Gregorian calendar WP.
Finally, don’t let constraints paralyze you. Don’t think a proposal has to be “perfect” or “right” to submit it, the tiniest improvement could turn out to be crucial.
The reason we have more efficient technologies is that we learned from doing it wrong the first time. Progress is continual refinement. It’s not about the goal, it’s about the process. The point is not to do it “the right way”. The point is to do it.
Anyone can submit a proposal. A proposal consists of a picture mock up. To submit a proposal comment this post with your name and a link to your mockup (we’ll put the picture up here in the post in the Submissions section). Submit as many proposals as you wish. Submit in parallel to the Information Aesthetics post on the challenge for extra promotion to your work.
Though you submit proposals through the comments that doesn’t mean your comments need limit to proposals. Not at all. Please share ideas, point to inspirational sources, suggest evaluation criteria, ask, answer, pick your favorites, praise, mock, and critique proposals. Warning, mini calendar making is highly addictive!
I’ll consider today, Monday January 22, 2007, the challenge’s start date. It will be open for a month (we have to give the unconscious time to do its magic), closing Tuesday February 22, 2007. My biotech friend Zamantha, my mom, and me will be the judges. I’ll announce the winner Monday February 26, 2007 — my birthday — here in this post. The challenge will still end by Feb. 22, 2007, but since I’m participating I don’t know who should be the judge or whether there’ll be a judge at all — or even a “winner”. Perhaps we should call this a cooperation instead of a competition?
The judge has spoken (congrats to Adam Sporka!) but the challenge ain’t over friends. Please keep the submissions flowing! Take our breath away with an evolutionary/revolutionary design!
The journey. Of course. ;)
Just imagine if your design works. It would make for an unbeatable showcase to scream your mindboggling information design talent to the world everywhere you go: by definition, it’d be universally useful, universally impressive, portable, and easy to explain (even to your mother!). It would be (literally) the perfect presentation card. People would use your creation many times every year and mutter praise to your name every single time. The eternal gratitude of the presbyope WP kind would be yours (and with most people over 40 afflicted to some degree, that’s a substantial percent of the global population). Even more far-reachingly, people who use your calendar would mentally represent and understand the year through your design — you would have created a new metaphor for time. Just think about that.
It’s still early in the year, The year’s almost over, what better gift for friends and family than a 2007 2008 pocket calendar of your own making?))
Number linked to the submission’s permalink. Author’s name and picture linked to the comment in which the author presented their submission, where you can usually found links to bigger and different pictures of the calendar together with explanation and background.