Counting the days

From wall planner to tasteful graphic art and tacky soft porn, the calendar fulfils many functions. Jim Davies deconstructs the genre in search of the perfect example

There’s one New Year’s prediction I can make with absolute certainty. As we skip back into work on 4 January with a jaunty whistle on our lips, our studio walls will be sporting crisp new wall calendars. It’s the piece of print we can’t live without – the document of deadlines, the harbinger of holidays, the bible of birthdays.

Without one, this column would simply flutter about like a butterfly not knowing where to land. Instead, I undertake the ritual of getting out the protractor and dividers, working back ten days from the third Thursday of each month, and then, having got my bearings, set about crafting 580 bons mots with the requisite urgency and purpose.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but this year the postie has failed to deliver the usual sackfuls of beautifully executed promotional calendars. Forget the foil blocking, perky perforations and spot varnishes of yesteryear, not even a humble wall planner has troubled the doormat. More usually, this is an annual opportunity for the graphics fraternity to strut their seasonal stuff – not to mention securing 12 months of free ad space in their favourite clients’ offices.

Sadly, the seminal, alwaysimmaculately illustrated Trickett & Webb calendar is no longer with us, while Pentagram’s much soughtafter typographic outing is only to be had from US art shops. So the default wall-hanger for discerning design consultancies appears to be the classic Stendig calendar, designed by the Italian all-rounder Massimo Vignelli way back in 1966.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s superb – thumping great Helvetica digits printed in black on white and white on black in alternate months, the result of Vignelli’s early experiments with the positive and negative spaces of the then nine-yearold typeface. The only problem is, at four foot by three foot, it is absolutely Massimo – you need a big room to house it.

And you can’t help wondering how many trees have been sacrificed to the altar of the mighty Stendig. Though the marketing blurb reassures us that once the month is over, you’re left with a great sheet of graphic wrapping paper, I think I’d feel a bit cheated to receive a calendar-coated gift. It’s only a step up from lovingly trussing your Christmas pressies in torn-out pages from the Beano.

So where to next? As an image-conscious design consultancy with a minimalist approach to interior decor – exposed brick walls, bare floorboards – a wall calendar becomes a rare and telling visual clue.

This 12-month glimpse into your collective psyche needs to be selected with care; you don’t want to give too much away, but on the other hand, sitting on the fence shows an absence of backbone. Venturing into the ‘real world’ of big-breasted women, dog breeds and soap stars is a calculated risk – you could take an ironic pick, but the lustre of Postmodernism will surely have paled by March.

Even the populist art route, peddled by Euro publishers like Taschen and Te Neues, is fraught with nuance and difficulty. Plumping for a Jack Vettriano (please no) or retroresurgent Alphonse Mucha, is too mainstream. But then graphic obscurities like vintage fruit-crate labels or Chinese propaganda posters seem somehow contrived.

It’s no good… I’m off to buy a plain old Letts A4 spiralbound business calendar. No fuss, no nonsense, no subtext. Happy New Calendar Year.

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