Jesse James Garrett’s Elements of User Experience is a great illustration of the components required to create engaging and rewarding experiences. But, it can be too much information for clients to fully comprehend during a quick presentation. The analogy of The User Experience Iceberg is a great way to help your clients realize that visual design is only the “tip” of the iceberg.
Clients with a lower level of design maturity have a tendency to focus exclusively on the Surface layer, the visual design (look and feel). This is natural, since it’s the most immediately processed emotional level of the user experience.
But the relationship between the user and the product is like the relationship between the user and another person. That relationship begins with a sensory input and evolves over time.
The user encounters the other person, usually by seeing and/or hearing them. If initial judgments based on appearance are positive (meaning pleasure or the anticipation of pleasure), the user approaches and the interaction then continues, evolving over time based on the behavior of both actors. This initial judgment is the “first impression”.
Over several interactions, the user characterizes the other person, attributing one or more personality traits. “Bill is a happy guy.” “Sarah is insecure.” etc. In the case of user experience, the user also characterizes the personality of the interface or product by how it interacts and behaves.
The Elements of User Experience is a great model for addressing the three emotional levels of Sensory, Interaction/Behavior and Personality. It’s natural and unconscious that the visual design of a product or interface should command the lion’s share of attention, just as appearance does in human to human interaction.
But when the User Experience Iceberg is used to add context to the Elements, it illuminates the dark, unknown depths for project stakeholders who are new to UX. Because in the end, the unseen elements of user experience are the parts of the iceberg that will sink your project, while your stakeholders are busy focusing on the “tip”.
UPDATE: The idea for the UX Iceberg came up in a conversation I had with Vance Blackburn about communicating the importance of user experience. After using the illustration with a client and writing this post, I discovered that Peter Morville had used this analogy back in 2000, calling it the Iceberg of IA.
For more on Design for Emotion Models, see:
Understanding Design for Emotion Models