The Tools: Analogue.

8th October 2023
10 min read

As I said on LinkedIn some time ago; Dieter Rams didn't use Keyshot. Charles and Ray Eames didn't use Illustrator. Philippe Starck doesn't use Solidworks (or a computer). Some of the most iconic designs in history were created with nothing more than paper and pencil. This then, is the core of it; design is none of these things I've listed over the last couple of weeks. Design is how you meet the needs of all stakeholders; users, business, manufacturing, etc. All these tools, all of them, are just the means to communicate the design in various ways to various parties. Sure, communication is a critical piece of the puzzle, but they are tools nonetheless.

Following on from my hardware and software run-throughs, here is a list of the analogue tools I use as an Industrial Designer. You might think it pretty simplistic of me to go through the very basic tools that we all take for granted, but trust me, there are not-stupid reasons to use these over some of the more tech-orientated options.


Planex Drawing Table.

I bought this table nearly two decades ago from a good friend and fellow designer when he moved out of his rental house. It's a Planex drafting table of some kind. Planex no longer makes tables like these, but do make a lot of other cool commercial furniture. It's all steel with a laminate top, and handily has an A0 paper draw under the table top (great for storing A4 paper!). It probably weighs 300kg, so fortunately it comes apart for moving.

Eurotech Ergohuman Chair.

This is kind of a poor man's Aeron, but isn't exactly cheap either. From my research it stacked up pretty well to the ergo chair competition, including the Aeron, and I was able to pick this one up near-new as part of an office refurb. I've been really happy with it, though I did pull the arms off. I like to run my chair really close to the table, and the arms were hitting the front edge. I also noticed a bit of a break-in period with the frame around the mesh seat base. The mesh is partially supported with a foam rim, which I could feel in my hips. Probably made worse because I have a fairly large frame, but after a few weeks it ceased to be an issue.

Work Lights.

For sketching and other close work I fabbed up a couple of LED arch lights that span the desk. I simply picked up a couple of 3m strips of LEDs with power supplies off eBay and mounted them to some 3mmx12mmx3m aluminium strips (Bunnings). I clamp these to the edges of the desk with some 3D printed clamps. Not elegant, but very cheap and effective.

Sunbeam EM6910 Espresso Machine.

My coffee machine is really the star of the show. Without it people wouldn't know I'm a designer. The EM6910 is now well and truly discontinued, but as far as I'm concerned is the GOAT of accessible domestic espresso machines. It was relatively cheap, is twin thermoblock (pull a shot and froth milk simultaneously), has a full size group head (Breville still can't get that right), and just doesn't quit. We had a couple of these at work previously and they made thousands of coffees without trouble. I bought this one about four or five years ago, second hand, and it still makes a fantastic coffee. I've coupled it currently with a DeLonghi KG79 grinder, and I buy my beans by the kilo from the local cafe.


Notebook System.

As I mentioned previously, I use Workflowy to track my task lists. For everything else I use a physical notebook. I actually run two A5 notebooks in a custom leather cover. I believe that writing notes by hand has two benefits over typing them out in Workflowy (or similar). Firstly; the act of writing out the words helps you remember them. The shapes we need to make as we write are more distinct for each word, over typing, which helps impress them on our memory. As Tris says in this No Boilerplate video:

I'm not writing it down to remember later, I'm writing it down to remember now.

Secondly, to be seen writing down notes when talking with someone in a business setting conveys the impression of listening and caring about what the other party is saying. It tells them what they're saying is noteworthy enough to be, well, worthy of noting. When you're trying to meet their needs as a designer, that's kind of important. Even on a video call where they can't see you're taking notes, you can simply tell them. They will give you the space to do so for the reason above. Conversely, typing away your notes while someone is talking to you introduces uncertainty that you're not doing something other than listening to them. Less of a problem if you're meeting in person, however, you're then also putting a physical barrier (laptop screen) up between the two of you.

I use two notebooks. One is for notetaking and sketching, basically work stuff. The other I use for journaling. I've been using Midori MD notebooks a lot recently, I find the paper to be excellent and behaves well with fountain pen ink. They also lie perfectly flat. I switch between dot grid and blank notebooks. I like the idea of a blank page allowing my thoughts to be completely unconstrained, however a dot grid is better if you need to write or make lists.

My notebook cover is loosely based on the Traveller's Company notebook system, but tweaked to suit most A5 notebooks and I've added a few extra pockets. Though in time I've stopped using the pockets.

Key Pencil Case Items.

I do all of my concept development on paper. No pen display, no graphics tablet, no Photoshop (obviously), just full analogue. Call me a Luddite if you like, however I believe there are solid reasons to at least begin concept development on paper before moving to digital sketching. Much for the same reason I like blank pages in my notebook, pen and paper is the most direct route from brain to medium with the least constraints. The cognitive load is at its lowest, and permits the ideas to flow easiest. They don't have to push their way through zoom levels, brush sizes/types, shortcut keys, etc. Feel free to fight me on that one. Something else I like to do is layout all of my sketches on the floor, review them, and order them. This allows me to ensure my concepts tell the story I'm trying to tell by looking at them holistically. From this [literal] high level I can identify gaps in my story and create sketches to fill them.

I wouldn't consider myself an exceptional sketcher, however I do think I'm competent. Despite not doing any concept sketching for a large chunk of my career, I continue to improve with practice. That is to say, none of these things will make you a better sketcher. Pencil, pen, ball-point, felt-tip, doesn't matter. There is only one thing you need: practice. Sketch all the time, and if you don't know what to sketch, do some sketching drills. I'll probably cover those at a later date.

For the interested, these are my go-to writing and drawing instruments:

Opus 88 Demonstrator.

I have a lot of fountain pens. I enjoy the writing experience of a fountain pen over a ball-point or felt-tip pen for most writing. It's also fun to mix up different inks from time to time, including shading and shimmering inks, because life's too short to be boring. I've mostly settled on the Opus 88 Demonstrator because I like the bigger size of it for my largish hands, and prefer the eyedropper filling mechanism with a shutoff valve (great when flying). I use an extra fine nib for the precision it lends.


I use two pencils when sketching. I use a hard 2H pencil for my early blocking out. The 2H resists my heavy handedness to keep the wireframing light, and allows me to make lots of corrections without leaving lots of semi-erased lines all over my finished sketches. Once I've got my main wireframe dialled, I'll then switch to a softer pencil, something like a B or 2B (I use a Blackwing 602). I use this pencil to enhance the edges and details that I may or may not go over later with ink. I can be more heavy handed with the softer pencil, knowing I've already dialled in the shape and proportion with the 2H.

Artline Drawing System 0.3mm or 0.4mm.

I've only recently switched to the Artline Drawing System pens after decades of using the tried and true Artline 200s. The pens are fundamentally the same, so if you're a bit tight with cash, the 200 will absolutely serve you well. The 200s are less than half the price. I moved to the Drawing System pens only because they are the best pens I've found that will take a Copic over the top with minimal smudging. If you colour your sketches before outlining them, then the Artline 200s are perfectly fine.

Artline 210 0.6mm.

I use these for the obligatory designery bold silhouette edges. Not much needs to be said. I have played a bit with brush nibs which can add a bit more flair to your stokes, but to be honest I prefer the 210 for its simplicity. And they're the same price as the 200s.

Copic Markers.

Full disclosure; I have about 80 Colours, and refills for almost all of them. I've been buying them since I started studying ID in 1999, so it hasn't exactly been a massive outlay, even if you factor in the eyewatering cost of ink refills. If I was to go again though, I'd do a couple of things differently. I would pick a few light greys (both warm and cool), and then a few light shades of a few hues only. The strong colours I almost never use, so could quite easily do without them. You can also quite often substitute one colour for another - they are concepts after all. I quite often colour all my concepts in a presentation in the same hue, this can sometimes help clients understand the design variations without being confused by colour changes too. The second thing I would do is not buy Copics. Now that they've begun extorting their customers by doubling the cost of refills, I'd move to a different brand on principle. They're only markers after all.

A4 Paper.

Literally any blank A4 printer paper. As designers we're raised to believe A3 is the best format for sketching, but A3 is not practical by any stretch. You likely don't have an A3 scanner, and your client will almost certainly not have an A3 printer. A4 can be much more readily scanned or printed with consumer multifunction printers, and A4 paper is significantly cheaper.


I guess these are not wholly analogue, they do have digital displays, but I put them in here anyway.

Vevor 5000g Lab Scales.

I use these primarily for weighing resins and silicones for casting. The ability to cast flexible materials has been invaluable for prototyping medical devices. A large portion of which often have flexible components. Here's a pro tip for you; casting silicones in SLA resin prints won't work at all. I've had most success casting into PLA moulds.

Mitutoyo 150mm Callipers.

A staple in the designers toolbox. But calibrated. The calibration costs as much as the callipers did every year, but is essential if you're doing any proper verification work.

Future Tweaks.

From a stationary perspective, I probably won't do much tweaking. I have been messing with different pens, pencils and techniques since I started ID. I don't expect much to change now (though never say never). I probably won't change my desk setup either - it's too heavy! At the risk of fitting the stereotype, I'll likely replace the coffee grinder next with a significant upgrade. And then upgrade the coffee machine too once that pulls its last shot.

I write every week on the topics of design, medtech, and my journey in it. Sometimes I'm pragmatic, like this week, and sometimes I go deep. I've started including additional content in my newsletters that you won't find anywhere else, so consider subscribing. You can always unsubscribe. Or give me a follow on LinkedIn.

Tagged: consulting · design · design studio · stationary

ⓒ Lincoln Black 2024

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