Keeping an office calendar can be a tedious chore. Whiteboard calendars can quickly become an illegible morass of out-of-date scribbles that no one wants to keep updated, while digital calendars tend to lack immediacy and quickly become forgotten. Worse, whiteboard calendars don’t play nice with digital calendars, and vice versa, at least not without a ton of work.
These were the problems U.K. design studio Vitamins confronted as they considered solving their office calendar problem once and for all. They wanted a calendar that looked great, kept their projects confidential, was neat and tidy, and worked online and off. Unfortunately, no one was selling anything like that, which is why Vitamins decided to build it themselves … out of Lego!
Here’s how it works. Inspired by nothing less than a Co.Design post about GM’s use of Lego as a data visualization tool, the Lego Calendar is made of a gray dappled Lego base mounted on Vitamins’ office wall. Tracking three months at a time, every row represents a month and each column is a weekday; a Lego brick placed upon the board represents a scheduled half-day’s allotment of a single Vitamins designer’s time. These designers are marked on the board with Lego minifig homunculi. Place a brick next to a yellow minifig, and its human counterpart is promising four man hours to a project on that day.
“Okay,” I hear you saying, “that’s cute!” But Vitamins’ Lego Calendar is more than adorable: It has several practical advantages over other calendar systems. For one, it’s designed to be inherently confidential. Most of the time, Vitamins can’t talk about what they are working on, or even identify their clients. That makes a physical calendar hanging in the office with a list of clients and projects a potential liability. But a Lego brick can mean anything. By simply assigning each of their projects a unique color, then keeping the key secret, the studio can maintain complete confidentiality while still hanging an enormous three-month calendar on their walls.
The Lego Calendar has another trick up its sleeve. In Vitamins’ London office, it is a colorful, organized, delightfully tactile way for everyone to keep up with what everyone else in the office is doing. But by just taking a photograph of the calendar with a smartphone and sending it to a company email address, the configuration of fluorescent blocks and dimpled squares on the board is automatically translated into a format that Google Calendar can read, meaning that any of Vitamins’ employees can take the calendar on the road with them.
What happens when someone wants to update the Lego Calendar remotely, though? Vitamins is rolling out a system for that, too. If a worker on the road changes their Calendar, the next time someone in the Vitamins’ office takes a picture of the Lego Calendar, the system will figure out the discrepancies and email them immediately, asking them to shift the blocks around.
There’s a lot to be said for Vitamins’ Lego system, which the design studio has been using for the last year to great effect. In fact, ultimately, Vitamins decided that they felt guilty keeping the Lego Calendar to themselves, which is why they’re now working on making their Lego-converting calendar software freely available to anyone who wants to download it. Just try not to step on a missed meeting barefoot.