Day to day data

Every copy of this calendar is different in every way – except for the paper.

By John L. Walters

The 2021 edition of the Fedrigoni 365 calendar is a mind-stretching feat of digital print production – 4000 copies in which nearly every printed element is different.

This is the fourth edition of a project that began four years ago, when London-based agency TsevdosMcNeil (TM) designed a 2018 calendar printed on Sirio Ultra Black for Fedrigoni UK. The studio’s founders Danny McNeil and Johnny Tsevdos conceived Fedrigoni 365 as a ‘community’ venture, for which they would invite designers they knew (or knew of) to design a page each.

At first it was a challenge for McNeil and Tsevdos to get designers involved. Happily the open invitation – to which people could apply online – was welcomed and spread quickly online and by word of mouth. Soon, there were 100 more designers than they had space for. The successful applicants were given a day of the year to interpret, and a deadline by which they had to upload their final artwork.

The designers explain that Fedrigoni UK, who commissioned the project, wanted a product that would be welcomed by existing clients and that would also help their Paper Consultants start conversations with new customers.

Fedrigoni 365 ignited a spirit among designers that was both competitive and co-operative. The mix of conceptual, decorative, typographic and illustrative approaches from a large number of professional designers helped the company forge stronger links with the design community, many of whom proudly showed snapshots of their page via social media.

The more the merrier

TM’s aim with the Fedrigoni 365 was that it should be ‘warm and inviting’. The invitation gave designers ‘a chance to do something without a creative director hovering over their shoulder,’ says Tsevdos. ‘Every year we’re trying to find a new way to do it. Black stock, then white, then recycled with Woodstock. It usually comes out of a conversation with the marketing team about what paper they want to market.’

Editing down potential contributors became a bigger challenge each year. So for the latest Fedrigoni 365, TM decided to re-imagine the calendar as a variable data project, which meant they could involve everyone.

‘This time round, we said “yes” to everyone who wanted to take part,’ says Tsevdos. ‘But we had to give them a more constrained brief.’ Each contributing designer was given a number from 1 to 31 (for the day of the month) and one of around 150 ‘seed’ words (such as ‘float’ or ‘unit’ or ‘geometric’) to provide further creative inspiration.

The idea was that each copy would be unique, with its own combination of different designers’ work. TM knew that in addition to having myriad combinations of designs for the dates in the calendars, they could change the colours, have a different cover and jacket for each copy and personalise them, so that each designer would be sure to receive a copy with their artwork in it.

‘We’ve made each book up algorithmically, so every page of each book is different. From the start to the end of each book, the sequence is entirely unique,’ says McNeil.

To get an idea of the hard sums involved in this challenge, TM discussed the project with Andy Campbell, Ricoh’s application and innovation manager, whom they met through Fedrigoni UK managing director Simon Pilkington.

Ricoh, a Japanese company founded in 1936, is perhaps best known for pioneering the first high-speed fax machine. Its digital printing machines are widely used for transactional printing and other sectors, but are perhaps less known in the creative sector.

‘Andy knows the project better than anyone, better than us,’ says McNeil. ‘He’s pulled together all the technology, all the software needed to make this work. They have an American division which has helped write the code. Andy’s been like the conductor of the orchestra.’

They used a Ricoh five-colour Pro C7200sx press that could add a fifth high-impact colour – neon yellow or neon pink or white – to four-colour CMYK printing. Each cover is made by randomly combining two differently shaped gradients which are paired through generative code. ‘You can achieve a huge gamut of colours that wouldn’t be achievable with traditional print,’ says McNeil.

Binding by barcode

The whole thing was printed on three different stocks from Fedrigoni’s Digital range: Freelife Vellum for the pages; Splendorlux for the cover; and translucent Golden Star K for the jacket.

The wraparound, see-through jacket is a subtle yet complex example of variable data printing, since it includes all the names of the designers who contributed, typeset in Founders Grotesk Medium. Each jacket is different, with the names of the designers not featured set in a light (40 per cent) tint; the 365 designers actually featured in that particular version are highlighted at 100 per cent.

To bind the calendar, the team worked with Meccanotecnica in Bergamo, Italy, a leading manufacturer of automatic book-sewing machines. Organising a production line that would thread-sew a book in which every page is different presented a special challenge.

‘Meccanotecnica has the capability of matching the book block with the cover,’ says Campbell, ‘so we put barcodes on the book block and barcodes on the cover, and we can match those together during the finishing process. Without that, this project wouldn’t have been possible.’

McNeil and Tsevdos take great satisfaction from the way the project has evolved over four years, and the increasingly complex processes that make it possible.

‘It’s not just about us,’ they say. ‘It’s about getting as many interesting designers as we can to get involved. It’s to show how diverse the UK creative scene is, and to then give them an opportunity to work with Fedrigoni paper and perhaps become an advocate for it by using it.’.

Paper and planet

Plastic to paper, fossil to fibre

Achieving a sustainable, circular economy requires both immediate action and long-term thinking in the materials we use.

By John L. Walters
Illustrations by Mike McQuade

Environmentalists, progressives and futurologists in spheres both public and private have long argued that we should reduce our dependence on fossil-based materials such as plastic, and that we should reduce waste and emissions by questioning each product’s use. American writer Bruce Sterling, in his 2005 book Shaping Things, argued that we should examine critically every stage in every product’s life-cycle, from inspiration to landfill, from manufacture to re-use.

The trend for ‘plastic to paper’ is far from new, but it is becoming more evident in the ways big companies are packaging and displaying their goods, using paper and card where plastic used to be the norm. In sectors such as food, fashion, technology and cosmetics – where packaging design is a crucial part of the product’s appeal –designers are having to think harder about the materials they specify.

Juan Mantilla, head of creative at Kiko Cosmetics (see Pulp 15), notes that not many designers thought about an object’s life cycle until very recently. ‘Put simply,’ says Mantilla, ‘you should start designing by thinking how your object – whether publication, label or package – will end its days.’

Mattia Bernardi, associate partner at Bain & Company consultants, makes a similar point: ‘Innovative paper products can replace traditional plasticised papers used for so many things, from book covers to mono-portion snacks or food supplements, from garment tags to shopping bags as we move from multi-material to a renewable mono-material.’

You could frame ‘plastic to paper’ as ‘fossil to fibre’. There is an urgent need to replace plastic with materials that are not derived from fossil fuels – and paper, as Fedrigoni’s Chiara Medioli pointed out in Pulp 19, is a renewable resource. Despite its ubiquity and usefulness – not least in personal protective equipment (PPE) – plastic contributes to global warming in its manufacture, while plastic pollution wreaks severe environmental damage, as demonstrated in many documentaries and reports about the devastating effects of plastic waste on ocean life.

Breaking The Plastic Wave (a 2020 report from The Pew Charitable Trusts and Systemiq) finds that 21 per cent of plastics are economically recyclable, but only fifteen per cent are actually recycled. Meanwhile, an increasing amount of plastic
waste leaks into the sea each year. ‘If we continue with business as usual, there will
be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050,’ says Ellen MacArthur, celebrated sailor and founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, whose 2016 report Rethinking The Future of Plastics was highly influential.

Ambitious targets

European papermakers’ association Cepi recently announced 4Evergreen – an alliance of brands, board producers and carton converters to promote ‘fibre-based’ packaging to replace single-use plastic. This was a response both to increased consumer awareness, and the European Union’s Single Use Plastics Directive (2018), supported by a huge majority of MEPs. The Directive obliges EU member states to achieve a ban on items such as plastic cutlery, cups and plates by 2021 and a 90 per cent collection target for plastic bottles by 2029.

Long-term, strategic thinking is essential, but Kiko’s Mantilla prefers a more ‘hands-on’ approach. ‘There are issues that can be addressed in the short term by replacing some plastics with paper,’ he says. ‘Always ask your suppliers for certifications on how easy the materials (foils, lamination, UV coatings, pigments, polymers, etc.) are to recycle or dispose of.’

Another route to reducing waste is through innovation in materials. Last year drinks company Diageo announced the creation of a plastic free, paper-based recyclable bottle. And we have seen the old-school plastic cup largely replaced by fibre-based paper cups in time for the EU Directive. But such products are not without their problems when it comes to the ‘whole life’ impact of their materials, manufacture and transport. British designer Sophie Thomas sounds a note of caution: ‘Just because paper has a recovery waste stream available does not mean that the energy and resource used to make the product in the first place is less or equal.’

While plastic and other materials derived from fossils have a limited future, paper comes from renewable raw materials. Sectors such as magazine publishing have moved their packaging from polywrap to paper in recent years. Major food companies are increasingly keen to replace plastic-based packaging with paper-based alternatives where possible. And companies that have steered production towards more sustainable methods tend to be rewarded with increased investment.

At a recent online forum with Fedrigoni, Bain’s Bernardi made a strong case for setting ambitious targets. Emission reduction is highly complex, he said, and moving from fossil-based materials to renewable ones, – which includes replacing plastic with paper – is only one element in any company’s move towards a more circular economy.

Such issues are no longer of peripheral concern to big business. As the dire social and economic effects of the climate emergency become ever more clear, companies are being pushed by legislation, pulled by consumer demand and steered by stern targets for reduced emissions, waste and a lower carbon footprint. It’s rare to find a company report that doesn’t mention the circular economy.

As Ellen MacArthur said, launching Breaking The Plastic Wave: ‘We need to circulate everything we produce, be that plastic or a biological component which replaces it. […] This is the vision that over 450 organisations, including the biggest companies in the world, have signed up to.’ Achieving a circular economy requires both long-term thinking, and immediate action. And as Juan Mantilla says, it’s also a matter of design, craft and execution.

There is an urgent need to replace plastic with materials not derived from fossil fuels – and paper is a renewable resource.