As we go about our daily lives it is easy to forget we are keeping pace with the planets, the moon and the stars. We have calendars to thank for our forgetfulness. When we jot down an appointment, remind ourselves of a birthday, or check the date on a given day, we gloss over galactic movements.
No one knows exactly when the table comprising seven columns and six rows, which we commonly recognise as a calendar, came into being. Before the invention of the printing press, other visualisations, including circular diagrams articulating the years, months and weeks, and the cyclical nature of time, were popular with scribes. Metal typesetting, however, was conducive to rectilinear formations. Print’s capacity for mass reproduction also made viable a calendar that could be disposed of with each passing year. These supplanted perpetual devices such as almanacs – long-form algorithms to help divine what day of the week fell on the date of a certain month.
The calendar is to time what the digital calculator is to arithmetic, and it is one of the most enduring and effective interfaces ever designed.
Its sheer practicality made it the perfect conduit for those other seekers of universal function, the proponents of the International Style. In 1966, Italian graphic designer Massimo Vignelli, already a convert to the rational decision-making offered by the grid, overlaid this scaffolding with tightly kerned numerals in Helvetica for the Stendig calendar, named for the printer in Nashville Tennessee that commissioned it and still produces it today. Together with Eames chairs and Le Corbusier sofas, Vignelli’s calendar carries all the connotations of a twentieth-century Modernist classic.
In the same decade that Vignelli distilled the calendar’s essence, tyre company Pirelli mined the calendar’s promotional potential and its propensity for twelve variations on a theme. ‘The Cal’ as it has since been trademarked, adds shine to the formula of the ‘girlie calendar’ with the help of the high-end models, art directors (Derek Birdsall, Derek Forsyth, Martyn Walsh) and photographers (Robert Freeman, Harri Peccinotti Peter Knapp, Sarah Moon) who made it a loaded cultural (and sexual) icon.