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.’.