Originally on Medium by Will and Kar

The Iceberg Canvas is a conscious design framework for re-evaluating value propositions. It departs from standard applications of design thinking in that it takes into consideration ‘below the iceberg’ ramifications – i.e. the forces at play below the polished surface of the products and services we use and experience today. These include invisible or unseen factors, unintended consequences and the STEEP analysis. By assessing broader societal, environmental and political ramifications, below the iceberg helps shift our predilection for digital copycats and short-termism to design more consciously for future generations to come.

We use the metaphor of an iceberg because it sits above and below the waterline, revealing only a part of its structure and make-up. What is seen above the waterline is entirely reliant upon what lies beneath, invisible to the eye. Understanding what lies below the waterline gives us a better understanding of the magnitude, impact and ultimate consequence of the object.

As designers, we are well-versed in thinking beyond the surface of an experience. We say we think “end-to-end” and “front-to-back,” but all too often, we end that thinking within the organisation we’re working with — we don’t think beyond it.

Below the iceberg thinking helps us uncover crucial and often overlooked consequences by flipping each ‘above the iceberg’ (visible) element to uncover what lurks below. For example, an on-demand food delivery service could simultaneously create entitled customer behaviours, a decline in restaurant traffic, road congestion, packaging waste, and more.

Below the iceberg thinking forces us to look beyond the benefits of a feature, product or service, and inject a form of conscious criticism in how and why we design. It also enables us to anticipate what risks or opportunities may come to influence a product or service. For example, data privacy was one such element lurking below the waterline for Facebook, and not addressing what lay below the tip of the iceberg has had severe consequences for the social network.

The Iceberg Canvas is only one manifestation of conscious design. We encourage you to adopt this approach to broaden your thinking and critique your own bias. Use it as a plug-in to your existing design process – from design research to ideation – and experiment with it to design for more sustainable futures.

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Part A: Ideate

  1. Start by filling in your value proposition canvas with the same coloured sticky note. For illustrative purposes, let’s start with yellow (we used Peter J Thomson’s modified version of Strategyzer’s value proposition canvas).
  2. Using different coloured sticky notes, start flipping each ‘above the iceberg’ [yellow] sticky note to its ‘below the iceberg’ counterpart. This means scrutinising each yellow sticky note and noting down [on different coloured sticky notes] its below the iceberg implication, if any.Questions to ask at this stage could include: what is the potential positive or negative impact of [sticky note] on the individual, people and society? What are some trickle down effects? What is the longer-term effect on the economy, society and the environment?Here, you can filter each below the iceberg sticky note into three layers and use corresponding colours to denote them:
    • Individuals [green]
    • Society [blue]
    • STEEP (Societal, Technological, Environmental, Economical, Political) [pink]

Part B: Synthesise

  • Bring in the Iceberg Canvas for synthesis. First, look at your tip of the iceberg [yellow] sticky notes on your existing value proposition canvas, and transfer the most pertinent and resonant ones onto the Iceberg Canvas. Paste them onto the corresponding quadrants above the water line (either customer or product/service).
  • Repeat step 3 for below the iceberg.
  • Now that you have your synthesised insights for above and below the iceberg, look at your canvas and try to briefly summarise each quadrant into themes.

Part C: Conscious Action

  • Now take a step back and think about the following:
    • What has changed with this new lens? What is visible at the tip of the iceberg vs. below? And what does this mean for your feature, product or service?
    • What social / organisational values are being manifest above and below the waterline? Which ones have been neglected, and why?
    • Which below the iceberg elements are beginning to rise to the surface, and which have the power to tilt the iceberg, causing it to flip upside down? This will help you identify risks and opportunities.
      • Does it have the potential to tilt an organisation? (E.g. the #DeleteFacebook movement amid the Cambridge Analytica scandal, or the ban of single-use plastic for food delivery apps)
      • Or more, flip the industry on its head? And even wider, the society and environment?
  • Wrap up by capturing what actions you will take as a group.
    • Ideation, e.g. generate new conscious design concepts
    • Further investigation and research
    • Communication with internal / external teams
    • Product/service redevelopment