Split Flap Display

From Split Flap to Flip: The inspiration for Flip Calendar

Back in Spring 2015, Block's lead designer, Tara Ashe was working with members of our in-house graphic team on the design of a brand new font for our ABC bookend. With the espresso flowing and fonts the topic of the day, it was inevitable that the name Massimo Vignelli would come up. Vignelli famously likened the burgeoning "proliferation of typefaces" in the first half of the twentieth century to "visual pollution". "Out of thousands of typefaces," he wrote, "all we need are a few basic ones, and trash the rest."

The geometric simplicity advocated by Vignelli is a touchstone for many modern designers, and it wasn't long before the whole Block team were engaged in a potted history of the Italian modernists. As the anecdotes flew, one particular image seemed to appeal powerfully to everyone in the room: the Solari board. The glamour of those huge black panels fluttering with possible destinations was irrevocably linked with powerful memories and nostalgia for each of us: a tearful break up in Milano Centrale in the days when everyone still smoked; the exhilarting feeling of having a euro-rail ticket in your pocket and a departures board overhead and being able to go anywhere... The business of the day continued and the ABC Bookend was launched in New York later that year. That could have been the end of Block's flirtation with font, but somehow we felt that there was something left undone.

It was early 2016 when the split-flap display came again to the Block design table. This time we were working on the Origami Fold Clock and again there was a creative buzz in the room. From its inception, the Origami clock was about paring design back to its essentials; the clock reduced to the vertical line from which the viewer reads the hour. 'It's curious', Tara remarked, 'that the most iconic digital clock hinges on a horizontal line.' Tara was referring to the Cifra 3, designed by Gino Valle at the end of the sixties, and a design icon throughout the world, forming part of the permanent collections of museums from MoMA in New York to the Science Museum in London. Not only does the Cifra 3 feature the appealingly rhythmic mechanism of the Solari board, but its font was designed by Massimo Vignelli. We had come full circle, and this time we knew exactly how we could fuse the excitement generated by the split-flap display to create a piece of design that was uniquely and essentially Block.Flip Calendar 18

Graphic perfection

The line drawn from the first Solari Board, installed in Belgium in 1956, to the Cifra 3 leads on to the Max 365 calendar. True to his word, Vignelli used Helvetica in this understated piece of design to lead us through the year cleanly, with a great deal of sophistication and absolutely no fuss. The horizontal line is now a pivot, allowing the page to flip to reveal the new date perpetually. There is something nostalgic in this flip that evokes the movement of the split-flap Solari board and it was this sense of movement that we hoped to capture in our own design.

Having painstakingly devised a cut-out font for the ABC Bookends, we quickly decided that each date of Flip Perpetual Calendar would be a number stencil revealing the page beneath. This would create a sequence of intriguing interactions between shape and colour and emphasise the movement of the piece, and of time passing. As is generally the case, creating something simple is incredibly complex and the graphic team spent the next weeks wrestling with number placement, size and form until we had a prototype in black and white which was graphically perfect.

Colour PickingColour flow

"There are lots of copies of the Max 365", says Tara, "and we were anxious that Flip Calendar would not be a copy. Our calendar would retain the simplicity of Vignelli's work, but it would bring colour into play." The ultimate project of Flip was to sequence colours to draw out the unique properties of each, and to explore how the properties of colour shift as they are juxtaposed. By physically placing colours side by side we were able to discover unexpected interactions that appeared to alter the nature of the colour and the shadows and shapes created by the turning of the page. "It was like doing a puzzle with an infinite number of pieces", says Tara "the result is anything but off the shelf. Flip is the result of a lifetime of colour contemplation and months of selections, all realised in die-cut precision."

Flip Calendar is Block's motto, 'life in colour', in gloriously tactile form; every 350gsm page is saturated in the colour it celebrates. You may wonder then, what happened to the Black & White prototype? Well, call us nostalgic, but we just couldn't part with it.

Flip Calendar 14