Calendars: The Paper-Digital Trap

2013typographycalendarBy Aaron Berman

Being a paper professional in the 21st century is like being someone who travels between two countries  … several times a day. Paper has one set of strengths, technology another, and you balance both beautifully…except when it comes to scheduling the whole process.

Calendar applications on your computer allow you to effortlessly schedule and reschedule deadlines, share them with others in your group, and so much more. Yet paper calendars, too, provide features that software does not, including a central location (that cannot be buried beneath multiple computer windows) and an instant glimpse of your week, month, or year.

We asked several designers for tips on how they manage to get the best of both worlds. Some of it is not for the faint of heart.

michael_osborneThe Last Paper-Calendar Holdout
Somehow we picture the principal of Michael Osborne Design as one of those Japanese soldiers still loyally defending their little island years after the close of World War II.

“I started my business in 1981, and last year was the first year ever that I started using the calendar on my computer. I much prefer using a paper calendar, but after fighting it off for several years, I was finally forced to switch over to using iCal like the rest of the office. Multiple employee schedules, meeting dates and times – both in and out of the office – vacations, and a hundred other things did me in…not to mention my project managers.

“For years and years I was the only one with a paper calendar, and when someone had to schedule something for me they would have to come over to my desk and write it in. This was a great inconvenience to them, plus I would constantly have to erase their sloppy illegible writing and print it in myself!”

calendar1And what about those paper calendars?

“For as long as I can remember (until last year), I used the German made teNeues paper calendar with wiro-binding and frosted plastic cover [left]. Each year it featured the artwork of a given artist on the cover, and on a page in between weeks on the inside. There were always several artists to choose from. My 2012 version (which is still in my top drawer) featured the work of Edward Hopper. I made a point of not looking ahead at the art inside so that every Monday I would be surprised with the beautiful new image that I got to look at for the entire week. I’ve had Picasso, Calder, Irving Penn, Norman Rockwell, Van Gogh versions, among many others. At the end of the year my calendar would go in the box with all the company records…I suppose I have many of them in storage. I know – I should hang them on the wall like antiques!”

christopher_simmonsiCal…But Sometimes I REALLY Hate iCal
Christopher C.H. Simmons, principal/creative director at MINE, swears by iCal in the office. “It’s easy, integrates well with the OS, and publishes to everyone’s desktop as well as my laptop, and my and my office manager’s smartphones, reliably. I’ve considered more robust systems like Daylite, but for us simple works just fine.”

But sometimes it’s the little things that drive Simmons crazy about the Mac application. “The one thing I can’t stand about iCal is its ridiculous skeuomorphic design [editor’s note: yes, we had to look it up, too]. Fortunately, there is a hack available that reverts iCal to its understated look that matches its simple functionality. It’s a mandatory hack in our office.”

Yet once he comes home, paper is a must. “We have a poster-sized, year-at-a-glance calendar that has all the kids’ holidays, school functions, my travel, birthdays, vacations, date nights, etc. inked in. All of this is duplicated in iCal but there’s nothing like having the whole year out in front of you when you’re trying to plan.”

And the poster calendar? “It’s a beautiful 2-color silkscreen designed by Crispin Finn” [below].


Simmons’ children, 4 and 6, each have a wall calendar that the local market gives out for free. “They’re really ugly, but they like to X out days counting down to big events (three more days until we get to go to In-N-Out Burger!). Mercifully, they keep them in a drawer.”

hinrichsE-Calendar Yes, But Paper Ones as Art
As the perpetually busy founder of Studio Hinrichs, Kit Hinrichs can point to paper calendars all over his office.

Yet he doesn’t see calendars as primarily data-delivery devices “anymore than annual reports are about reporting financial information. To me these become wall graphics and they serve a practical function, but I also have an electronic calendar that I have to keep up with every day, so I don’t mark things on my [paper] calendar. It’s just more something that gives me enjoyment to have on the walls, especially in a design office. (Hinrichs actually produces a typographic wall calendar every year – see 2013’s at the beginning of this article, and here.)

“We used to do a calendar for American President Lines (see below). There was the main month, then there was the previous month and the following month because shipping schedules covered all three months in many cases. And just to see where you were, that was an important part of it.”


Two Eyes, Four Calendars, One Life

Trish Teeter, another lover of paper hounded into the 21st century, has found herself in the most intimidating-but-practical arrangement we’ve come across. We’re guessing she’s not alone.

“I have three calendars right now on the walls in my cubicle:

  • A typical 12-month calendar – the fastest way to check the current or nearby dates. Lots of companies/organizations distribute free calendars, so I usually have a selection to choose from and pick one with large numbers on the days for quick reference (and a pretty picture, as well!).”
  • A 24” x 36” wall calendar with the entire year “for quick reference to look ahead or look back to a different month.”
  • A 8.5” x 11” calendar printed from Microsoft Outlook “using a little program called ‘My Outlook’ that shows all the proposals and potential proposals, color-coded for prime or sub-opportunities. This is useful for a quick glance at what’s coming up in the next few days, especially when a co-worker or my boss comes by to discuss what’s coming up.
  • “Oh, and I also still use a Daytimer one-day-per-page planner, which is open on my desk and on which I write down how much time I spend on specific proposals or activities each day for reference when filling out my timesheet at the end of the week.”

gaby_brinkGaby in the Cloud with Datebooks
Meanwhile, some of us have been chased completely into that digital “cloud” wherein all of our designs, emails, photos and the like are increasingly being stored.

“I only use cloud-based digital products for all my information management,” says Tomorrow Partners Founder/Executive Creative Director Gaby Brink. “I want to be able to have everything with me on all my devices at any given time, so I use Google Calendar, the reminder app on my laptop and phone, Evernote, Google Docs, etc. I don’t even use notebooks anymore. It’s sad but true.”

Paper, Paper, Paper…iCal
“I use a paper calendar at home on the wall because it’s easy to glance at it and is centrally located,” Angie LaMunyon explains. “I also have one at work on the wall – honestly, the only reason we have it is because our printer brought it to us – and do use it for quick calculations of time. I like paper for figuring stuff out. I take paper notes, and paper calendars let me do the work of scheduling. And then I usually transfer the final stuff to iCal so I can always have it with me.”

Leah Bird of LeahBird Design hasn’t used a paper calendar since the birth of iCal, but wouldn’t pass up a calendar poster. “But leave all the little squares off, please, no matter how cleverly organized they are.”

Paper Calendars BECAUSE They’re Paper
Aesthetics aside, paper calendars appeal to some designers simply because they provide an opportunity to do SOMETHING that doesn’t involve yet another computer screen.

“We (in my household) buy three every year (my office, our kitchen and my husband’s office) and we have a lot of fun doing it,” says Nikki Lussier. “I still prefer having a paper calendar to use functionally vs. electronic calendars, for the same reasons that I prefer reading real books vs. eReaders.”

Yet Trish Teeter may come closest to explaining the overwhelming preference for paper when it comes to tracking the passage of time among designers.

“Of course, I’m old (58), so that might be part of the reason I use paper calendars. But the eye is still faster than electronics and to me, it’s easier (and much faster) to glance over 3 feet to the left of my computer monitor to check Sunday’s date than it is to open Outlook, click to the calendar and click to the month view.”


aaronbermanA former writer and editor for USA Today, Aaron Berman covered the newspaper industry for the Newspaper Association of America’s monthly magazine, Presstime, and is author of the forthcoming book “Soap: The Inside Story of the Sitcom that Broke all the Rules.”


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