Should calendars online look like calendars offline? 20 Oct 2005

80 comments Latest by Ann Kirby-Payne

What’s with grid-based calendars online? Lots of people think bringing offline design metaphors online is a bad idea, but I haven’t heard many people rail against offline calendar design online. In my book it’s a pretty big offender.

Offline a grid layout for a calendar makes sense. You only have so much physical space and because calendars are blank by default you don’t know which cells are more important than others. This forces all cells to be equal. Fine.

But online calendars are dyamic. You know what cells are being used and which aren’t. Right now. Minimize the ones that aren’t and maximize the ones that are. There’s better design here.

Or, kill the grid all together. Who reads time in a zig zag grid pattern? All the way right, then down a row to the left, then back to the right, then down a row to the left, then back again right. Calendars force you to view time as if you were reading sentences.

Why not consider the simple weighted lists? Since I don’t have a better example, let’s use Backpack’s reminder layout. The closer the item is to today, the bigger and bolder and higher on the list it is. Further, the relative time changes based on its proximity. The closer, the more granular. Coming up soon, it’s in “minutes from now.” A few weeks away it’s “On the 17th at 9am.” A few months out it’s just “December 4th.”

Backpack reminder list

Time is linear, treat it that way. Top to bottom or left to right, but not both at once.

I know people are conditioned to think days and time need to be laid out on the traditional calendar grid, but that’s an easy out. There’s a better way to display time online: The simple weighted list. Yes, the list has its weaknesses too (specifically showing events that span multiple days), but I think a little creativity can solve that problem.

It’s worth exploration.

80 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Russ 20 Oct 05

I hope this is the format that you’re building the 37S upcoming “CRM” solution/alternative with. I would welcome this fresh approach to the tired old vanilla calendars that we’ve come to accept as the best way to manage your schedule.

The other benefit to this approach is it helps you better focus on the here & now vs. applying equal visual importance to tasks & events that are days and weeks away — this can cause you dilute your attention to things that require most immediate focus & resources.

Simple & practical wins again — thanks to you & 37Signals

Nick 20 Oct 05

You would be surprised how odd some peoples thinking patterns are.

Personally, I mentally visualize a year using a ring of calendars on a black background. January is at the top of the circle, June at the bottom.

This might sound a bit silly. However, when I was in kindergarden and taught the months, we had a poster in our classroom that displayed the months in this fashion. That image has stuck with me ever since. Personally, I don’t mind having online calendars displayed in the same fashion as offline ones. I’m used to it.

Darrel 20 Oct 05

Time is linear, treat it that way. Top to bottom or left to right, but not both at once.

A calendar in grid is linear…week to week.It’s the same concept, just at a higher data resolution.

All good online calendars have the ability to adjust resolution from month view to week view to day view.

Matt 20 Oct 05

Maybe it’s going back to the old and busted calendar too much, but what I would like is calendars that show the next 4 weeks, including the current one that completely disregard the artificial month boundaries. Month-view without the month so I can see what’s coming up without having to switch back and forth between month calendars (my example is from iCal and real-world calendars).

JF 20 Oct 05

Great point Matt — that’s another huge flaw of traditional grid-based calendars online (and a huge advantage of the list-based layout we advocate).

Offline, sure, you have to work the grid. But online there’s so much more flexibility and opportunity to rethink the calendar view. Yet I keep seeing the same tired old grid-layout — even from these “revolutionary” new online calendar services.

Where’s the creativity?

Tim 20 Oct 05

There is use in having days of the week lined up vertically since events often occur weekly on the same day. The same can be said for month displays. If there was no use in these conventions you could throw them out and just number the days 1-365. Better yet, throw out the year too and just use a Unix timestamp.

sxates 20 Oct 05

Personally, I like grids. It works, it’s how my mind is accustomed to visualizing weeks, so why change it just for some arbitrary “we need to be cool and innovative so out it must go” reason.

I too visualize the year in my head as months around a clock, and visualize the month as a grid. Perhaps other visualizations work for other people, but I’m not complaining.

The grid could use some improvement, and an interactive one could provide useful information at a glance that would be difficult on paper. For example, if I’m on the phone scheduling a meeting with a client, and I’m looking at my calendar, if it colored days that are already busy as dark, medium days as medium, and light days as light, I could quickly discern what days “are good for me” without having to read through what’s actually going on each day. I’ve seen things like this in various week-view apps such as on Palms and in Outlook by using blocks to simulate booked time for each day, but scaling it up to 4 weeks, my preferred view of what’s going on, would be great.

In addition, focusing on the “here and now” of today, the next day, and maybe the day after that, isn’t necessarily the best approach either. At least for people like me, I want to know what’s a week or two down the road so that it doesn’t surprise me when it’s tomorrow. That helps me plan for things without having to add every element of every task of my entire life to a calendar so I don’t forget something that needs to be done a week in advance of something else.

Garrett Dimon 20 Oct 05

I think the benefit of the offline calendar layout is the ability to quickly see the spatial relatioships. I don’t think it should be used everytime, but if you look at the milestones for Basecamp, I find it very valuable to see how my milestones relate to each other if I’m looking to do one per week and choose dates etc.

In general though, you’re absolutely right. We need more outside of the box thinking on how to display dates and events. Good post.

JF 20 Oct 05

some arbitrary “we need to be cool and innovative so out it must go” reason.

Those are your words, not mine.

This isn’t about being cool or innovative for innovation sake, it’s about wondering if there’s a better way.

I think the simple weighted list is a step ahead of the grid for online time displays and I offered it as a suggestion.

Wesley Walser 20 Oct 05

I like the grid based calendar design much better than the display shown above. The problem with the above view is that if any days are missing I can’t immediately tell, and I can’t chuck my thoughts into weeks.

I actually really like the way basecamp displays it’s dates. The entire thing shown, but I can view immediately days when I don’t have something, so I can schedule things for that day, and chuck my data into weeks.

Nelson Rodríguez-Peña 20 Oct 05

I think context is important, and when I look at a calendar it helps a lot knowing what will happen next Tuesday and next week Tuesday and so on. I can weight a week at a glance, to use your own terms, by watching the grid. I need to know what week day a task or event will occur, and have a contextual viw of the activities. I think the weighted list doesn’t work for this.

Nick Zadrozny 20 Oct 05

Weighted lists definitely are cool. One handy feature of a fixed grid, I might point out, is that time is fixed. A fixed grid calendar makes it easier to intuitively determine the amount of time between two events, as well as relative busyness based on the density of events in a given time period.

Dan Boland 20 Oct 05

I just think the grid calendar is what we know. For something to be intuitive, it doesn’t have to be completely efficient. The grid calendar certainly isn’t. But its organization is so natural to so many people, why change it?

Dan Boland 20 Oct 05

For something to be intuitive, it doesn’t have to be completely efficient.

I meant to say, “for something to be intuitive, it doesn’t necessarily have to be efficient.”

Brad Wright 20 Oct 05

I would say that “it depends”.

If the calendar is used for picking a time to do something, like a planner for example, then seeing days that are NOT used is just as valuable as seeing the days that ARE used. The problem with the Backpack example above is that it only shows used days, and doesn’t tell you that you have nothing on this coming Friday.

Garrett’s comment about “spatial association” above is getting at this, I think. It helps to see the time/plan relationship of events. This is one thing grid-based calendars are very good for.

Nick 20 Oct 05

Yeah, who the fuck reads things from left to right? I thought we left that archaic reading method back with the typewriter. Wait, no, we still read like that.

Don Wilson 20 Oct 05

Or, kill the grid all together. Who reads time in a zig zag grid pattern? All the way right, then down a row to the left, then back to the right, then down a row to the left, then back again right. It’s a fucking typewriter! Calendars force you to view time as if you were using a typewriter in the 1960s.
Last I checked, that’s how we read sentences.

Chris Renner 20 Oct 05

A week is such a natural measure of time for us, I don’t think I can grok a calendar without that clumping. For things like to-do lists, a weighted list makes more sense, but I wouldn’t want to have to decipher a weighted list when looking at say, a schedule of events. With a grid, the business of computing time is easy. I don’t know how many weeks between “Today” and November 8. On a grid, I wouldn’t even have to think about it.

Don’t get me started on the way the weekend is displayed on a calendar, though. Weekend, not weekbookends…

Michael Koziarski 20 Oct 05

The only thing I find difficult with the backpack reminders UI is things like:

“A fortnight from now on Thursday”

I have no way of figuring out when that is. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but fortnightly is really the most common increment of time here in New Zealand, mainly as it’s most people’s pay period.

So if I want to schedule a reminder to check my bank balance the day after pay day, I find the Backpack UI tough. As it is, I just pop up that silly windows calendar or the mac equivalent, but It’d be nice if there was some improvement.

hmm, grease monkey perhaps?

Andrew Lin 20 Oct 05

I’ll have to disagree with you on this one Jason.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a better solution for online calendars, I’m simply saying that weighted lists have their place…and an all-encompassing replacement for a good calendar they are not. For such things as to-do lists and even day-views, weighted lists are good solutions. However, for a month or a year-view, weighted lists simply do not afford the quick visual calculations that traditional calendars store by nature of the way they are designed.

PS. I wonder what John Maeda or Edward Tufte would think if they read your post….

andrew 20 Oct 05

I second Michael Koziarski’s comment. I’ve been told by a few people that many Americans do not use or know the word “fortnight”. Which might explain its omission as a time period from US-originated software. I remember the frustration of trying to enter fortnightly events in MS Money, back in the days when I had the energy and time to track my finances. But yeah, fortnight is a commonly used period of time in Australia and I imagine other Commonwealth countries.

Eric 20 Oct 05

Jason writes:

Or, kill the grid all together. Who reads time in a zig zag grid pattern? All the way right, then down a row to the left, then back to the right, then down a row to the left, then back again right. It’s a fucking typewriter! Calendars force you to view time as if you were using a typewriter in the 1960s.

That’s odd. That’s exactly how I was reading your posting. Your blog is a fucking typewriter! Let’s see you re-make this web page and put word next to word next to word stretching off to the right. If time is linear, isn’t language? We’ll see how people react as you dispense with the corroded shackles of the 1960s.

Our eyes and brain our very good at scanning two dimensions and seeing patterns in two dimensions. To throw that away would be silly. This is a point many of comments have made already in different ways.

With grid calendars, space equates to time. By seeing two events, one has an immediate sense of how much time there is between them.

Since most people organize their times in terms of weeks, often with events recurring on a weekly basis, those patterns and deviations of those patterns are immediately apparent.

It reminds me when instrument displays started going digital and people with little understanding of people, psychology, or human information processing wanted to transition everything to digits. Your analog speedometer would now become a few digits showing you your speed. But glancing at a needle’s position on a dial gives you an immediate sense of your speed (e.g., pointing left is slow, pointing up is pretty fast, pointing up and right is very fast), where reading digits requires another layer of interpretation. Furthermore, the rate at which a needle sweeps around the dial gives one a sense of your acceleration, the rate of change of your speed. Watching digits flip does not. That silly 1960s technology. Those silly people sticking with the old ways and not appreciating cutting-edge innovation.

Eric 20 Oct 05

@Don Wilson,

Once again, Don, you made my point before me. I should have refreshed my window before composing to see the more recent comments. Once again, you’re on the money.

You did the same to me in the “Compare/contrast online music storefronts” thread, although there I saw your comment before posting.

I appreciate your skeptical eye and your B.S. detector!

sloan 20 Oct 05

The time in a day doesn’t change though (just read some have already pointed this out). The weighted list is more about what you have TO DO. Not about time or its relationship to work weeks and things to do vs. free time.

So I think the question is what are calendars USED FOR? And then take an approach for solving it. We use them for context, we want to know what day it is now, and what days are coming up, and often what things are happening on those days. To break it up into chunks we can deal with we have days, then weeks, then months, then years. Ultimately, calendars are about understanding time and what we can do with our time.

So we need to know times we are doing things, times we are “free” and the relationship of times between things. Without events or things to do, time really doesn’t matter does it? So I think where calendars fail is in their rigidity of their grids. We should be able to compare any 2 events over any scale or period of time. From what I’ve seen we are only able to choose from 3 preset views: daily, weekly, monthly. That sucks when I am working because for me, it isn’t just about this week, but next week that is my most crucial comparison. I need to see 2 weeks at once, in detail. So I’ve ended up using paper instead of Outlook…

What scenarios matter most to everyone else?

Eric 20 Oct 05

@Mihira Jayasekera,

I think you’re being too generous with Jason. Your quote from Cooper still looks to keep the grid central, to take advantage of two dimensions, but push them beyond the traditional edges of a page. Jason was clearly challenging the grid altogether and emphasizing linearity, that is tossing out one dimension.

Joey 21 Oct 05

I guess I see a need for some balance. Being so used to offline calendars, I tend to mentally visualize week to month timescales in somewhat of a grid fashion. But for actually organizing minute to day events, you’re right, a grid is to limiting - and not well-suited to the Web.

My ideal calendar app would include both a grid view (that doesn’t expand to unequal rows - hate those designs) which merely provides an overview of my schedule (like colored blocks showing booked time - not original, but useful), then have another section with more detail that breaks free of grids. This would mean at least two panes, and would provide both a forest and tree view of my time.

jw 21 Oct 05

Poop. Eric said everything I was going to say. I suppose that hasn’t stopped the rest of you from repeating each other.

Allow me to add this: 1960s? Bah. How about the 1560s? (OK, it was 1582, but who’s counting?) Our whole concept of a calendar is a lot older than typewriters. The weighted list is a fine idea… for a list. A calendar is not a list.

Until we get rid of months and days of the week I have a need for a grid calendar. I need to be able to tell at a glance that something is four weeks out, or that my project must be complete a week from Tuesday. No weighted list will tell me that, not with nearly the effeciency of my old wall calendar.

Should we be able to keep the grid and still find some innovation from leaping from paper to pixels? You betcha. But don’t go kill what works just for the sake of shiny newness.

[What’s up with all the F-bombing in the comments today? Is it really a f-ing typewriter, and not just the regular old kind? I have never in the past, nor plan to in the future, had sex with my typewriter. I hope you don’t either. So let’s stop talking about doing it. Please.]

Noam Lovinsky 21 Oct 05

Jason, you took the words right out of my mouth. Looking at a grid is just mind numbing. What’s even worse is seeing people’s availability as a grid adjacent to your own grid (thank you Outlook 2003).

There are also various types of events, but Web calendars only accommodate your classic “business” event (i.e. an event with a definite start time and end time that is occurring on a particular day). What about events you plan outside of work? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never asked someone to dinner from 6:00pm - 9:00pm. In fact, often I just say “let’s grab dinner some time this week.” How would I put that down in a grid where typically I am required to enter a specific day and a specific time.

A scheduling system that was more dynamic to accommodate this larger set of events would certainly be useful. Especially if it took advantage of the network effect. I think the app we’re building at Skobee will help fill some of these gaps and hopefully people can have some fun making plans with their friends while they’re at it.

Ian 21 Oct 05

Eric, Don and Tim, you guys have it right. The 60’s typewriter design still rules text on the web in 2005!

There’s definitely room for innovation, but there are other areas of the interface besides the display where it should occur. Personally I would like to see more of a dashboard-style view to tell the landscape of the next month at a glance. There is also a lot of room for sharing of calendars that nobody has really taken advantage of.

As someone who’s been desperately searching for an Outlook alternative for over a year, I’d love to see 37S make an online calendar.

Tomas Jogin 21 Oct 05

One thing the grid-type calendar will show you that the weighted list will not is when you’re free.

Alex Young 21 Oct 05

I don’t really rely on calendars to organise myself, but I still need them for things like remembering birthdays and bank holidays. A grid calendar is completely useless to me, because there’s just too much white space. It’s actually more of a mental effort for me to find my events on a calendar like that.

I actually wanted to develop a calendar as I think it should be done myself, but I’ve ended up using Backpack instead. So as far as I’m concerned you’re right about the weighted list. The concept of alerts just seems more relevant and useful than a crazy abstract grid my brain has to take time to parse.

Pete Ottery 21 Oct 05

I can see benefits of various calendar displays - all have their advantages - when applied to a problem that calls for that solution.

fwiw, I’m an advanced computer user and I print out horizontal A4 pages of a microsoft word calendar template that has a month per A4 page. This month and next. That there grid is used every 15 minutes to organize my workflow with the team.

I think your calendar/list presentation in backpack is fantastic - for that need - but dont be dissin’ the grid in general.

Pete Ottery 21 Oct 05

temporary brain explosion. ignore previous post. of course you mention offline the grid is fine.

*backs away from blog post comments*

Cameron Fleming 21 Oct 05

I’m not sure you can definitively say that the linear way of representing time is better than the spatial way or vice versa. There are two problems.

First, the comments on this post have made it obvious that people think about time in different ways. Some people, like me, visualize it and see it in spatial terms. We like grid calendars and analog watches. Others see it differently — they may be drawn more to the linear style — these people like lists of upcoming events and digital watches.

The second problem is I’m really not sure the two methods represent the same information. When you’re driving on a highway, there are signs telling you the distance to the next city — linear information. You can also buy maps — spatial information.

Similarly, each event on the Basecamp calendar is relative to now, while events on an ordinary calendar are relative to each other and the accepted structure of weeks/months/years/etc.

The Backpack method for reminders is great for letting you know “temporal distance” (which is fine — for reminders that’s probably the way you want it) but if you want to see relationships — where does this fit into this week, or that month, and how does it relate to other events — it’s not as useful. Frankly, for a lot of applications, online or offline, the old-fashioned grid calendar can’t be beat.

Matthew Hinton 21 Oct 05

I think Jason’s weighted list is very creative and in an online calendaring application would probably be the view I would prefer when I wanted to know what was coming up next. However I would argue that the grid based view is what I would want to see when I wanted to schedual an event. The grid based view is what I am accustomed to and what I would be most comfortable looking. The weighted list would be a valuable addition to an online calendar but it wouldn’t be a replacement for a grid layout.

Dave MacEwan 21 Oct 05

Jason said: “But online calendars are dynamic. You know what cells are being used and which aren’t. Right now. Minimize the ones that aren’t and maximize the ones that are. There’s better design here.”

Better design? I’m not so sure. I’m no design wizard, but good design uses white space to organize the other elements. Knowing where things _aren’t_ on the calendar is just as important as knowing where things are, and the unused dates are the white space.

Cameron is right - people think about time in different ways. A grid layout goes directly into my brain, whereas a list of events _makes me think_ (props to Steve Krug!). This is also a tie-in to creeping feature-itis in 37s applications - is there really a need for a function to “Show my calendar items in a list without logical periodic context”?

Jay Small 21 Oct 05

Anyone ever tested calendar view alternatives with users, to see which they choose if given a choice? I suppose Outlook (shudder), with its many different layout options with and without grid calendars, would be a respectable test case.

The one thing I like about the grid (ymmv) is, because I have it ingrained which column represents which day, I can quickly see what day of a month a given Thursday, for example, will be.

JohnO 21 Oct 05

It’s a thorny issue. I agree with Garrett - I prefer the grid because I see it in spatial relationships. I don’t need to read “6 days until”, I can see it in the next row down to the left or right of the current date, and know approx. how long I’ve got. That is just how I think. I think Don has a valid point about the sentances too.

In a more general sense, *everyone* is used to the grid layout. So, to create a calendaring application (I think) you’ve got to atleast include the grid as a display option, while proposing a new way to look at time-based events. If you make a calendar application, and show people a demo, and they don’t see a grid, I don’t think you’ll have uptake.

However, it should definitely be explored. I do like the fading from black to gray, large to small, with various time format indications. But it lacks the spatial dimension that you get in rows. Tomorrow is equally as distant from today, as tomorrow and Apr 17 are (see example). And it happen again when you start displaying whole months, a month is dedicated the same spatial relationship to other events as days are. I think that is where it breaks down, in your example. I don’t have any answers though :)

Mike K. 21 Oct 05

The important idea in receiving information is how you chunk it. Generally, the method of chunking is left to the designer, after that is their job.

In a traditional calendar, data is chunked linearly (as time is perceived by humans) by the week. This is a pretty smart design decisions as most of us thing by the week, rather than by the day or by the month. These different resolution views are mostly for convenience-sake, i.e. being able to see into the future easily, or there are just too many events in a specific day.

I love a separation between form and content which is why I embrace things like RSS, RDF, FOAF, etc. I’m waiting for the day when the chunking of information is up to ME. Either consciously or self-adapting.

The weighted list is a good idea, however. But instead of a simple linear display, what I use (I use a different service, is different colors. That way I can have multiple streams of events with different time and urgency attributes. I can easily only look at one color and see that progression, or I can just look at my whole tasklist and see the linear totality.

The problem with grid calendar is NOT that they aren’t linear, because they are, it’s that they lock you into one single type of chunking. It’s all about choice.

Jim Barraud 21 Oct 05

This example of “Reminders” could easily be converted into something considered an “Calendar”. All that would need to be changed is the presence of an absolute date and then a reminder date.

For Example:
Jonny’s Birthday: March 3, 2006
Remind me: 1 Week Before

Maybe that’s what Jason’s getting at….

James 21 Oct 05

Just to add a thought, Outlook 2003 saves the linear, list-based view for single days (while also providing a complete year of grid-view as well, for context). It uses grid views for the rest of the views - week, month, etc.

List-based, linear display of time is nothing new. And replacing the tried and true grid-based view completely? Not an option, IMO. A mixture of the two, or giving the user the ability to choose, is the best solution. But watch out! Giving users choice is a slippery slope to feature creep and bloat (the horror!).

Tony 21 Oct 05

It’s funny that you post this now, as I’ve been putting a good deal of thought into how to present a set of upcoming events for a web site. Every time I thought about the grid calendar metaphor, I was struck by how complex and unneccessary it is in this situation. Why have three blank “days” followed by a day that has so many events that you have to click to another screen just to see them anyway?

I have been seriously considering doing away with the calendar view all together, and this has just given me another push in that direction.

James 21 Oct 05

And to put it another way, lose the grid-based calendar in Basecamp, and you’ll lose this customer. Do you believe in list-based calendaring and changing the world so much that you’d risk loss of revenue?

Maybe now the idea doesn’t sound so good.

Michael 21 Oct 05

I do agree with your example of a linear, priority-centric list as something beneficial, but it doesn’t replace the offline calendar. Viewing both scheduled and unscheduled data in a common space using the incredibly intuitive week format is the best way of managing my calendar I’ve ever used to date.

I agree that we should strive for something better, and your solution is an excellent one for certain situations (like a quick “what’s coming up” view), but it’s definitely not a replacement.

What’s more likely is an adjustable composite. A top-down, seven-across piano roll for a long-term density overview, the same thing expanded with inline events for a shorter term schedulnig, and your solution as a quick view of what’s actually going to happen. Each provides it’s own information. The first gives you how-busy-am-I data, the second gives you where-can-I-schedule-this data, and the last gives you what-have-I-scheduled data. While you could use any of them for any purpose, you’d want to narrow in on the correct view for the task at hand.

That said… there are almost always better ways of doing things, and we should definitely strive to find them. Great post!

Matt M 21 Oct 05

I think the thing missing in the list based layout is the ability to quickly scan for open days in which to schedule things. The upcoming list is great for seeing what is upcoming, but that is not the only thing that a calendar is used for. I use mine primarily for scheduling, to see how much uncommitted time I have available on a particular day.

One improvement I would like to see is better organization within the grid. For example, if I have an appt at 6PM, it should be at the bottom of the rectangle for that day, and the appt at 8 AM should be at the top, which would allow me to see the free space inbetween.

Another element of calendaring is that is only useful for the purpose of scheduling if everything is on there. Any task with a time component should be represented on the calendar, just like anything with a geographic component would be placed on a map. A calendar is a map of time.

James 21 Oct 05

What of online/offline compatibility or consistency, as well? I imagine there are still those people that plan their time using both electronic and paper calendars - having at least one common view between the two greatly increases the usability of this mixed media model - and that common view would almost certainly have to be grid-based.

James 21 Oct 05

Am i missing something, or is there no way to search the SvN archive - including the entire post and its comments?

Luke 21 Oct 05

As a pet project while I am learning and digging into semantic markup discussions, “DOM Scripting”, and “Professional CSS” I am trying to write a Calendar system in PHP, XML, CSS, and Javascript that will take data, and generate a calendar that can be in any format (list style, grid style, and any others that I can wrap my small brain around).

The goal, for me, is to have markup that is semantically understandable, and yet by adjusting style and/or scripting I can display the calendar and data in ways that are most useful for the context.

I don’t need a grid if I just want a list of upcoming tasks or events. I like a grid for spatial layout to know what days are open to schedule things in. I could even see the value in having option to display some days and not others (work days versus weekends) since some days’ events are irrelevant.

I have posted the starting thoughts on my website if anyone cares to comment.


Joe Sheehan 21 Oct 05

This isn’t about being cool or innovative for innovation sake, it’s about wondering if there’s a better way.

JF - I truly admire this philosphy. I’ll even admire it more if you’re able to come to the conclusion that a better way isn’t better enough to spend the time innovating.

While my job doesn’t involve web design, it involves software, and i’m always wondering if there’s a better way to architect that software. But I’ve found in some of the circumstances that the “nice to have” or the “this really is a better way” isn’t always enough to buy itself into the final/overall product.

That being said, the “Reminders as a Calendar” tool is very innovative and worth every penny in my Backpack subscription.

lyndonk 21 Oct 05

The assumption that time is linear is cultural bias.

Aztec/Mayan calendars are round. A single calendar is good for “all time”.

North American plains tribes - Lakota - used winter count robes. The winter counts were non-linear and depicted important events of the prvious year.

If memory serves, the Lakota year started the day after Sundance ended.

A calendar could be displayed for reference like the Mac OSX task bar thingie - rollover focus for display/review.

Maybe we need to also look to other cultures (Mac Included) to develope new tools and mindsets.

Sab 21 Oct 05

While reading the other 50 comments I thought, why not just put a grid next to the weighted list, there you come Kyle, I think that’s a great solution. Maybe you can click/switch to grid view.
Or, you could do the piano roll left to right with a weighted design, like the tags; scroll through them and for the one in the middle (like at a slot machine) notes are displayed below.

Waylan 21 Oct 05

Its already been said a few times, but a mix of the two is probably best. Because most things in life cycle in weeks, the week view works. But just because a month ends half way through the week doesn’t mean the week gets cut short in the display. Just show the first few days of the next week. And don’t rescrict the 4 week view to months. Show the next 4 weeks (then again, who says it has to be 4? make it user configurable) regardless of what month there in.

At the same time lists are good as well. Once the schedule is set, a linear list is much easier to read/follow. But, when creating the schedule, that list doesn’t easily show what times/days are free.

Perhaps another list could come in there. A list of free days/times starting with the most recent and moving out. That way, when you get that call “when are you available”, instead of scanning a gridlooking whats in each box and deciding is that day will work, just read the first item off the list. Doesn’t work for the other party? Move to item 2. Easy as pie.

Give me a scheduling app that does that and I’m sold. Although, I sould be able to perhaps ask for a list of available Tuesdays or all weekdays in which the noon hour is free, or even a list starting x days from today etc. You get the idea.

So I get that call. I tell the app I want to schedule a noon meeting on a Tuesday in November. The app gives me a list of available days according to my specifications. I don’t have to bother even looking at the already filled days. November rolls around and I want to see what I’v got on my schedule. Another list. But what happens when I want to see both together? Well, then its back the the grid for me.

freecia 21 Oct 05

Personally, I like the vertical weekly format where time is on the Y axis and days are on the X. I find it handy to know what’s going on each day at the same time. The traditional paper planner types where each day is a block of text annoys me to no end:

… etc
It breaks that relationship of time for me. Maybe I’m excessively zealous about finding good vertical weekly calendars since I’m always hunting for what I call the “smarter” choice. If I see something better that still preserves the way I favor intuiting things (since I “get this format”) then I would try that out, too.

Todd Warfel 21 Oct 05

The biggest issue with weighted lists instead of sometype of grid layout for a calendar is that the weighted list doesn’t provide a quick 3 day outlook, which you can get in a grid format.

Perhaps three columns of weighted lists side-by-side would provide a simple format, while allowing the three day outlook…

Derek Scruggs 21 Oct 05

Apropos of nothing…

When I was in kindergarten or first grade I vaguely remember learning the months via a chart on the wall. It was in two columns - January through June on the left (ordered top to bottom), July through December on the right.

Ever since then I’ve used the two column metaphor to help me understand the months. So when I want to figure out what quarter we’re in now (today is October 21), I imagine the two columns and visualize October as slightly more than halfway down the second column, which means Q4. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad or the best or the worst, but it’s stuck with me for over 3o years.

vanderwal 21 Oct 05

I am not for throwing out the grid, but for looking at many more options. The grid works for me for some instances for quick glance, but it tells me little about the day or the events.

My battles with the time related information is that it: 1) does not fit neatly into 30 minute blocks as things take varied amounts of time and the rhythms of tasks need to be better incorporated; 2) traveling and working across time zones is a mess in every calendaring tool as there are two focusses, which are local time (where ever you are) and time for others and the tools have yet to get that right - particularly when syncing with other devices; 3) I want to see how busy I am or packed my schedule it; 4) Calendars don’t allow for showing opportunity, iCal moves in this direction as I can pull in Upcoming and see what events are in different cities and knowing there is an opportunity to partake in something else that I have given a high value I may change my schedule to fit that event.

I really want a calendar that gives me various views of my time. I can dump in any temporal information and it gets plotted. I would love a horizontal timeline with 24 hours blocks above it color coded for types of events and open time I think I could better manage my schedule in that manner. I could quickly see that a Tuesday was full and I need to schedule something for that day and easily see that Thursday is relatively empty and start rescheduling.

I would love to have an open time fill option based on what is in my to do list or deadline listing. I could also choose to see events in that location for open scheduling. I may want to go to a book reading by my favorite author if I had a dinner meeting in San Francisco fall through. My calendar much know my location and what I would like to be doing.

andjules 21 Oct 05

basecamp’s calendar is actually mentioned in the ‘food for thought’ section of the Hula-server project’s calendar roadmap page:

MarkW 21 Oct 05

A list-based calendar makes a lot of sense for someone who’s broken down complex tasks, put them in the correct order, and needs to see what’s due now and what’s on the horizon. For someone who prefers to schedule whole events, milestones, or deadlines, while separately tracking sub-tasks, the list approach has limitations.

Using the example above, items due soon, no matter how trivial, are, visually at least, more important than items further down the list. If you’re following a path, this clearly makes sense. But say you’ve put “Trip to Chicago” on April 25th. You know that before you leave, you’ll need to get a new carry-on bag, stop mail delivery, leave the dog at the kennel, have your suit dry cleaned, and buy energy bars. You know about how long each task takes, and when you’ll have to perform them relative to the trip, but you choose not to schedule them individually. On a traditional calendar, you can emphasize the date of the trip (outline it, shade it, etc.), list the corollary tasks under the trip heading if desired, and then fit them in as time permits when the date approaches.

It’s also much harder to gauge relative time. If you ask me the day of the week, 99% of the time, I’ll know it immediately. If you ask me the date, I may have to stop and think. If today is October 21 and something is due November 2, I have to calculate how many work days I have to complete the job. If it’s due the Wednesday after next, I understand it immediately. On the example, without looking at the dates, the 5 days between April 17 and 22 occupy the same space as the 23 days between April 22 and May 15. This is counterintuitive if you’re tracking time as well as tasks.

A traditional calendar is a graph. It’s a fast way to view weekly patterns and trends. A to-do list or a schedule may be inefficient when you include days in which nothing is due, but time still passes, and a calendar should allow you to intuitively gauge time.

Chris Brogan... 21 Oct 05

I am cool with veering away from grids. I forget where I read about the desktop with the whole “radar blip” overlay feeling for things like emails and other stuff, and that got me wondering about other ways to graphically represent information that matters to me.

The too-far side of this, though, is nifty design for design sake, like back when people made all kinds of flash just to make my cursor look neato, or crazy flash-driven scroll bar alternatives. Make it simple, visually queue-ing (sp?), and intuitive. (My $4.26).

Tim Laughlin 22 Oct 05

Well.. this might be the first thing I have ever disagreed with you on. There is a comfort to seeing the days that have nothing. It shows that you have “free time” and sometimes that is a nice reminder. Seeing only the days with things on them shows that “every day on this list I am busy”.. that kinda sucks when you think about it. Even if you don’t know how long the “list” is..

Jan Korbel 22 Oct 05

Hmmm, nice post. I have to let it sink into me and look later what becomes of it.

Andre Brocatus 22 Oct 05

A calender is not a list, it’s a map… A calendar is a navigation device; you use it to navigate your free time to search for space to plan stuff in. Therefore the 2D grid absolutely makes sense; you can navigate that without reading, by scanning, then moving in when neccessary. The grid should stay, if only as a navigation or top-level-view device. I absolutely love the gradular granulity of the weighted list, But a weighted grid would be more helpful. Time is space, not linear.

Greg 22 Oct 05

Here’s a *crazy* idea; Why not let the user decide how they want to view a calender, items in a grid could be weighted too. I think what’s important is people being able to do things in a way that works best for them. Surely the point of software should be to do things for you, not to confine you into one way of thinking, or behaving?

Nik Cubrilovic 22 Oct 05

Outlook has both the grid, and when you click on your dashboard it shows you the list. When I need to find out when I am free, I bring up the grid. If I am looking to book in something that takes an hour, I bring up today, then the week view and place it in. I can overlay somebody elses calendar on mine and check a time for both of us, or three of us, or the whole company. When I need to see what is coming up, I bring up the dashboard. Same list as you have above, except that the recent items aren’t in a larger font, big deal. Fact is, both views have their uses and Outlook realises this.

Most important thing, the grid displays time *to scale*

What a killer online organisation app will do is not change the way we view time, which is something instilled in our minds from a very early age - but the killer app will be the one to merge calendar, tasks, reminders and communication (email) into one interface, be it grid or be it list. In short, its taking the various sections of outlook and presenting them as one larger set of data. The complete data set has two views, as both grid (for scale) and list (for priority). It easily displays past, present and future.

Displaying emails in a list is meaningless to me, overlaying emails on a grid on the other hand becomes a lot more interesting.

That is what I am working on.

steve 25 Oct 05

Seems like the consensus falls around needing to maintain the grid concept, for no other reason that it shows empty days (spacial relationships as derived through a grid are only useful based on traditional paper size. I have no problem scrolling down to see further into my future). With a few tweaks to backpack, (display of empty days…categories…) I think it could become quite usable. In the mean time, who will write the code to have backpack suck a day/week/month’s worth of events out of my calendar?

TomC 25 Oct 05

While you are at it, please make sure all measurements are metric. Familiarity has no place in the future.

Mike G 25 Oct 05


Thats funny that you mention that poster, were each of the months sitting in the branches of a huge tree?


(andre) 26 Oct 05

u win

Phil 28 Oct 05

Somewhere on my home PC I’ve still got a bootleg copy of Lotus Agenda 1.0, one of the great products of Lotus’s “no, we can’t tell you what it does, but it does it really well” period. I used it as a calendar/diary/scheduler, in which guise it had an interface very like the screenshot above; it’s the only diary system I’ve ever managed to keep up. (I also used it as a planner, a brainstorming tool and for several other things.) Unfortunately 1.0 runs under DOS and Agenda 2.0 was borken*, so that was the end of that.

*Or else I was exploiting a bug in 1.0 - I had a rule set up that any incomplete non-repeating task dated before ‘today’ would be redated ‘today’ until I’d cleared it, & 2.0 didn’t like that.

mm 28 Oct 05

The example isn’t really a calendar, at least not a general purpose one - it’s a to-do list ordered by date or schedule. If that works for you, great, but revolutionary it ain’t. I still think that the general grid based calendar is far more clever and much more useful for organising/planning/etc.

Daniel E. Renfer 24 Nov 05

I think this is a really neat idea, but would only really be useful if there was an easy way to switch back and forth between the linear list view (great for knowing what’s comming up) and the traditional grid view. (better for orginizing things into the day of week / week / month patterns we’re all used to dealing with.)

If I was using a tool like this, I would probably keep it in linear view for most things, but switch back to grid view to find information like what I’m doing on Thursday, three weeks from now.

This may be way too much feature creep, but I think it would be really cool to be able to adjust the focus and the zoom as well. One set of sliders (or a multi-slider) could control what day I’m looking at, and another control could set how much detail I want to see around that date. If I’m working on strictly a daily basis, I could set the zoom to low, seeing fine-grained details on just today with all other dates given a lower priority, but if I need to plan a larger period, I could increase the zoom to see details for the next 7 days, 14 days, 23 days, 64 days etc.

just a thought.

Ann Kirby-Payne 06 Dec 05

Personally, I like to stick with a monthly calendar grid option, but I see no use at all for the time grid option, which most calendars seem to insist on. I want to see what I have to do each day—appointments as well as tasks—in one quick view. And I only want to see the tasks that i have to that particular day (along with the ones I didn’t get to yesterday!). Tasks that I don’t need to think about til later, I don’t want to see until later.

My dream is for an integrated calender and task list, where the tasks are moveable with due dates inbedded; and for that calendar to be web-based with emailed reminders, similar to those Yahoo offers. Oh, and of course, it woudl be nice if it were free..

Once upon a time (around 1998), I got a new Mac at work that came loaded with what I have come to believe is the best calendar program I’ve ever used. It was a simple grid based calendar that posted tasks on whatever date you wanted to start them, and indicated the due date. Appointments came up as bullets (or icons, if you prefer) at the top of the day’s list, rather than sitting in a time grid halfway down the page. The beauty of it was that when you opened the monthly calendar,you saw the most important things sitting at the top; the checklist of tasks followed. Items in your task list that weren’t important YET didn’t come up on the calendar until you wanted them to come up (i.e., “status report due 12/15” wouldn’t show up until, say 12/13, when you would be able to pull it together with the most recent info). Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the program or the developer, only that it came installed on a Mac I got around that time (it was, i believe, the last generation before the g3s). Any ideas?

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