Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Scott McCloud's Four Tribes - Developer Edition


Last year I was fortunate to catch Scott McCloud here in Sioux Falls. It's doubtful that he'd ever find his way here under normal circumstances but he was doing a 50 state tour in support of his book, "Making Comics."  I believe a dual aim was to provide his two young daughters, who travelled and presented with him, an experience of a lifetime. 

I was particularly struck with a classification he had for comic (and indeed all types) artists.  He placed them into four quadrants:

Here is a quote of an explanation of how the classifications work:

Those who value draftsmanship the most, and who are the most invested in the idea of mastery, beauty, and craft find themselves on the opposite side of the fence from those whose strongest values are raw honesty, authenticity, and a kind of rebellion against the status quo. That dichotomy comes between what I call the classicists and the iconoclasts. The children of Hal Foster versus the children of R. Crumb.

That’s the truth and beauty diagonal that separates two of the four tribes. The other two corners are the formalists and the animists, who represent the distinction between form and content. The formalists like to experiment and take the medium apart, figure out how it works and put it back together, and try new things; while the animists really just like to tell a compelling story, and want the form to vanish, to become transparent, so that you don’t know you’re reading a comic at all.

I wonder how well these notions apply to the practice of programming.  I can easily see the classicist: mastery, beauty, and craft - the person who uses things like recursion excessively for the computer science elegance they bestow.  Opposite them, I see the iconoclast -  the hacks that make things work and could care less about the principles or structure of a thing and instead devote themselves to the beauty of experience.

I think the animists and formalists can be distinguished as well by the metric of language/tool preference.  The obsessives of language would seem to tend toward formalism and understanding every moving part.  An animist may be the type of person who excels at making a tool do legwork with no particular interest in exactly what that tool is baking under the covers. 

Of course we all will have elements of each but I like to think of myself patterned after Scott McCloud. The formalist who might write the same software over and over in different languages just to see how expression and power vary at the lowest levels.

Interesting food for thought.


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