The UX Iceberg for Shared Alignment

Occasionally the task of gaining shared alignment on a project or team has complexities. I have found being as visual as possible is quite an effective way to get one’s point across. The UX Iceberg is a great diagram for discussing design process and is easily translated to a workshop activity.

It is fairly common knowledge that an iceberg typically only has about 10% volume above water. While visiting an Arctic location you surely will not see much from shore. So imagine this scenario for digital design. The finished thing we see of working apps which gets released out there to the public, is the visual design, that tiny bit of visible iceberg. As the story goes, 90% of a good product team’s focus is upon what falls below the waterline.

In the above iceberg I consider exploratory research which is often a designer’s responsibility. A future iteration of this illustration could also include ‘collecting metrics’ above the waterline or beyond but I will stick to the build process for now.

My polished UX Iceberg is great for a blog post, however for the purposes of collaboration workshops a whiteboard is the perfect tool. Drawing an iceberg makes for an engaging presentation activity and while the facilitator sketches they should tell a story about starting broadly with research and concepts, then narrowing as progress comes closer to visual design. Pro tip: Make sure to draw from one side of the board so your audience can see.

This example was drawn on a standard size whiteboard at less than 3x3 feet in size. The ‘Concept Design’ area is filled-in to detail progress. The activity has taken me 15–20 minutes to lead, depending on how many questions are asked. If time does not permit this can be drawn in advance of a meeting and quickly walked through. Feel free to iterate and use terms that best align with your team’s process or tasks.

While I took initiative to experiment in using this at meetings, I must give credit where credit is due. I originally learned about the UX Design Iceberg at a talk given by Dan Olsen author of The Lean Product Playbook. This is a slide from his presentation available on Slideshare. Side note, when Google image searching for Dan’s slide I saw so many wonderful variations and styles of the UX Iceberg.


Darcie Fitzpatrick has focused most of her adult (and young adult) life on honing a passion, craft and skill for graphic design. Her professional expertise crosses functions and industries allowing her versatility and a broad career background. An innate sense for business strategy and full-stack design capabilities give Darcie a well-rounded approach to design leadership. Please feel free to request a resume/portfolio review via darciefitzpatrick@gmail.com and check her out on LinkedIn or Instagram.

Many thanks to my thenounproject.com subscription for a few of the base illustrations used to create my UX Iceberg!