What is a UX iceberg model? Have you ever come across a situation when a “simple” function interferes with the entire ecosystem? The moment you start asking about it, you get the feeling that this seemingly quick project hides a much greater complexity. Some of your team members suggest: “Oh, after all, this one thing can’t be that difficult”? Congratulations! An iceberg has appeared in your path.

An iceberg means that something simple at first glance hides most of its complexity and problems under the visible surface. You must have seen the Titanic movie, so you know very well what happens to people who ignore the iceberg. They’re usually not too happy that they did.

When it comes to the domain of UX, the iceberg model seems to grow with each new simple task. The result? Failed projects, wasted money, time and other resources.

UX iceberg model – table of contents:

  1. Why can’t people see what’s underneath?
  2. New project – the tip of the iceberg
  3. What is under the surface of the water?
  4. So what exactly can we find underwater?
  5. There is an iceberg in my way! How to save me?
  6. Iceberg model – summary

Why can’t people see what’s underneath?

Some people ignore complexity, hoping it will disappear on its own or (at best) be handled by someone else. Some people are too busy or overwhelmed with other things to notice; too much focus on details blurs the full picture and its context. Others simply do not have enough experience to anticipate the difficulties they may encounter.

New project – the tip of the iceberg

The surface of the iceberg is beautiful. It’s also easy to do, especially for experienced UX designers. The tip of the iceberg model is carefully selected typography, aesthetics of the arrangement of elements, a pleasant color palette and many other striking elements. The client thinks he wants this. But he doesn’t know (and doesn’t need to know) how much remote work is involved in good design.

It is the role of the UX designer to look deeper. It’s your job to ask uncomfortable questions, point beneath the surface, and help focus on user needs. And those are never hiding on top.

What is under the surface of the water?

If you want to get to the bottom of the project – it’s below the surface. Strategy and user needs? These, too, are there. How about its backbone, function, the consumer journey and much, much more? Yes, you guessed it. It’s all below the surface. Let’s dive in then. Every little thing at the top of the iceberg model should always become the consequence of decisions made beyond the surface. That’s where the hard work and the real task of a UX designer are.

So what exactly can we find underwater?

  • strategy – which ensures that our activities are focused on the right things,
  • user research – crucial when designing experiences for them,
  • scope – everything related to the final specification and content needed,
  • structure – all the complex logic behind the functions (which at first glance, of course, seem very simple),
  • backbone – the relationship between all elements of the project.

See? Everything that matters in a great user experience is under the surface. How large is that part?

It depends on the project. You should consider many things. For example: what the ecosystem looks like now, how many and what changes the client wants to include in the project together with what part of the necessary strategy and research have been prepared.

UX iceberg model

There is an iceberg in my way! How to save me?

An iceberg model in itself is nothing negative. Applying the idea cleverly, spotting it in time and remembering its regularity will greatly facilitate a UX designer’s work. Are you expecting an iceberg in your path?

Admit that you see it. Stay bold! Don’t pretend that what lies beneath the surface is none of your business – then you’ll become the true professional UX designer.

Examine the mountain, define it, slice it into pieces, understand it then visualize it. Show others what they can’t see yet. Show how much logic is behind each “simple” function added to the surface. Point at the conflicts and shortcomings. Allow yourself and others to face them.

Share it with others. Yes, it can get, but you must demonstrate the power of the iceberg model. The response may be tension and silence. However, this is perfectly fine. You are doing your job. You are not responsible for the iceberg. Your knowledge enables you to spot it and warn others.

In commercial projects, this is usually met with one of two effects. The first is to simplify the project. The second concerns increasing resources. Both can bring about excellent results. They make it possible to reduce the iceberg or better prepare to overcome it. Whatever you do, don’t just focus on the easy part at the top and hide the other 90%. Don’t pretend you don’t see them and that it’s someone else’s problem.

Iceberg model – summary

UX work is becoming more complex every year. Coming to terms with this complexity will make you a better and more useful UX designer. Iceberg model is simply the concept of managing project complexity. It helps to direct the focus and work of the people around you. It reminds us of what is important. The iceberg model will facilitate your development as a UX designer by making you more resilient as well as empowering you to tackle more complex tasks. As with all icebergs, you just need to know what’s waiting ahead, so you can prepare for it before it’s too late, and your Titanic gets hit.

Read also: Double Diamond model in UX

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Author: Klaudia Kowalczyk

A graphic & UX Designer which conveys into design what cannot be conveyed in words. For him, every used color, line or font has a meaning. Passionate in graphic and web design.