Analog vs. Digital Designer

There are certainly many ways to describe a designer, but one way I use is where do they fall on the spectrum of Analog versus Digital.

I don’t use this pair of words by their literal meanings, so a “digital designer” isn’t just referring to those who design softwares. Instead I use Analog and Digital as two kinds of vibes or general inclinations, mostly inspired by Galloway’s Analog and Digital philosopher.

Digital designers are rational and principled, organized and precise. They like neat, clean, and monochrome things and are often minimalists. They favor analysis and believe in logic. They break a problem down and follow the flow of deduction. They are rigorous and methodological in their approaches—no claim slips without corroboration. They look for evidences for every design decision. They are naturally drawn to structures, systems, and frameworks. You will certainly find simplicity and elegance, if not a sense of discipline, in their work.

Analog designers, on the other hand, are more organic in the process. Their whimsical ideas flout rules and norms. Their workspace is often chaotic and messy, full of books, stickies, and sketches. They are more vibrant and colorful. They live in an emergent reality and appreciate contingency. They thrive in spontaneous creation. Their thinking leaps in an intractable way but somehow captures patterns no one else sees. Ingenuity and intuition are their ineffable killer weapons. They trust their eyes more than numbers and they optimize for feelings.

Just like any other spectrums, there’s no clear demarcation on where one ends and the other starts. Most of us are a combination of both analog and digital, while some are more digitally inclined than others and vice versa. I used to be a fairly digital designer, but these days I feel that I am drawn more and more towards the analog side. I still very much rely on logic and rationality, but sometimes find the neatness and precision of digital too rigid and charmless.

Stammy also articulated a similar spectrum that’s more specific to digital product design in his tweet. He used “Scientist versus Artist”. Scientist designer “tend to view product design as something to be tamed with rules and systems. They have a principle for everything, they have their grids, they know the second any platform’s interface guidelines are updated” whereas artists designer are “aware of some of the design rules and guidelines but often choose their own path. They detach components. They don’t care about your grids. They need to see ‘how it feels’ before proceeding.”

Though design is neither art or science and it’s a bit cringy to call myself an “Artist designer”, in this particular framing I do lean more towards the artist side.