My latest submission to the InfoDesign Calendar Challenge at my blog.
It works like this:
1. Locate the day-number.
2. Move upwards in its column until you find the month-row.
3. Read the day-name in the intersection (month-names always fall on a Monday).
This is an evolution of my first submission and it comes in two flavors: mini (shown above) and maxi--here's a comparison pic between them. Actually, maxi is a far better candidate for the challenge (I always present forty-plus-olds with mini first, and while they do like it, they're overjoyed when I show them maxi) but I just couldn't resist putting mini up there--I find it amazing that you can fit a full calendar into such an small space and still keep type at a decent size:
mini: 4.2cm x 6.1cm. Type 11 for numbers and monthnames, 10 for daynames
maxi: 5.2cm x 7.5cm. Type 15 for numbers, 14 for monthnames, 13 for daynames.
The young and the good-sighted overwhelmingly prefer mini.
As for the design, I abandoned, reluctantly at first, the "wordless automaton" dream. Actually, I abandoned every design feature that I could and left only type and 3 colors. The result was surprising and refreshing, and in many ways much easier to understand. The way color links month end dates, one of my favorite features of the previous design is now even simpler--now there's only red for months with less than 31 days. Rows are now indicated by type color and that brought a huge improvement in contrast, which was more harmful to legibility than font-size in the original design.
Two other interesting things followed from the type-color rows. First, it forced me to use 3letter daynames, which is quite an unprecedented feat for calendars of any size that does help somewhat (particularly in a calendar like this, were daynames change position). Second, it allowed number columns to continue, greatly improving scanning, which allowed me in turn to drop the ~6 month split--at first a seemingly neat idea that eventually turned out to be somewhat distracting, an exception, one more thought step.
The one exception I haven't been able to depart from are the embedded monthnames. Placing them on Mondays (instead of Wednesdays), and thus marking the start of the week, was an improvement but I can't think of further ones (and I do think they blend a little bit too much with daynames). The obvious improvement, placing them all on an extra leftmost column turns out not to be that helpful. It doesn't look nearly as good for one thing, but it also seems to be strangely less usable--it's much easier to lose your place. You have to use them to notice the difference but here's a very lousy diagram of my current theory: basically, with embedded monthnames the eye can sweep upwards and almost unconsciously through the calendar, find the monthname, and usually have the dayname closeby; with leftmost monthnames the eye has to do a lot of tracing and retracing to be sure it's at the right place.
Btw, notice the middle column is slightly darker to ease scanning. Anything that can be done to improve column visibility and memorability helps a lot.
The biggest advantages of this design are legibility, size, and speed (it consistently beats normal calendars, any size, at dayname games). The biggest disadvantages are a(n albeit minimal) learning curve and (this one kills me) the inability to be able to mark holidays.
Here are the Excel 2007 source files --mini and maxi-- for you to play with the design. You'll need the wonderfully narrow Andale FB and Matthew Carter's Bell Centennial --a font designed specifically for AT&T's telephone directory and thought with concision and legibility foremost in mind.
So what do you think?