Interactive is an Iceberg

By Shabnam Gideon

You may have heard that 90% of icebergs are underwater and an interactive project isn’t that different. 90% of the work is below the surface. I’m here to explain a little bit about how we start creating the perfect online experience for your brand, long before any visual design begins.

Iceberg Focus Lab@2X

So, you need a website? Awesome. I have lots of questions.

Would you like it to feel approachable, clean, easy to use, professional but personable, engaging, creative, and unique, but still accessible?

How about comprehensive brand representation, streamlined content geared towards impacting your audience, and a mixture of photography and illustration to convey a sense of culture and empowerment?  

Do you want it to have clear calls to action, be engaging and interactive without being too crazy, load quickly, be responsive on phones and tablets, integrate with your marketing campaigns, be built on a CMS that is easy to use, and, ultimately, boost conversions to a new level?

YES! We want that for you, too. (Hell, we want that for ourselves.)

But First...

It is our job to take a crash course on YOU and your audience, and to be able to tell that story better and to more people. To do that, we have a process that we customize for you, but which almost always contains certain high-level phases.

But before we get to that, think about it for a minute:

  • How clear are you on, for example, what your key messaging is, or which visuals best represent your culture or your product?

  • Do you have full stakeholder buy-in for all the subject matter areas that will be covered on your site?

  • How long would it take you not only to figure out what you think the content should be, but also to get those internal approvals?

Even Focus Lab and agencies like ours have to think long and hard about how to tell our stories best, and that endeavor is our bread and butter. We wouldn’t expect you to understand all of what we do and get inside the heads of our audiences in just a few weeks, yet doing that and all the other line items in our proposals are critical to educating us for however long it takes to put ourselves in your shoes.

I’m here to explain a little bit about why creating the perfect online experience of your brand, product and/or company should take some time, and possibly more than you expect it to.

We wouldn’t expect you to understand all of what we do and get inside the heads of our audiences in just a few weeks, yet doing that...[is] critical to educating us for however long it takes to put ourselves in your shoes.

The Iceberg

Yes, the familiar metaphor, the fact that the part of an iceberg that is visible above the water’s surface generally represents only about 10% of the whole berg mass, pretty much applies here.

And not just because of all the code and the other mysterious working parts of web things, but also because it takes time, inside of an ordered process, to truly understand how to achieve all those wonderful outcomes above specifically for you.


Lucky for me, I was able to invent some math that is definitely not official but will help us understand what the other 90% is all about. Here’s the theoretical breakdown of the steps we consider, with only broad, non-exhaustive descriptions, before your site gets to live in the wild.

10% Relationship

The widest part of the iceberg, getting to know you, understanding how you work, and forging a good working relationship, are foundational to the success of your project. Building trust and open lines of communication takes time, and we are committed to it. 

Outcomes: warm fuzzies, fun and productive meetings.

10% Discovery

Learn about the importance of a good sussing out in this other post

Outcomes: documentation and project plan.

10% Information Architecture

Generally, information architecture as we refer to it here is taking stock of the breadth and depth of your content, then cataloguing and re-organizing it (if needed) to create logical structure and aid comprehension both on the front-end and behind-the-scenes.

Potential outcomes: sitemap, content hierarchy,

10% Content Strategy

The essence of and prerequisite for good user experience, content strategy tells your story. It takes into account the user’s needs and expectations; brand voice, tone, and messaging; and how best to order and organize that content from a hierarchical perspective.

Outcomes: content audit, visual sitemap, content briefs, content drafts, copywriting, content element definitions.

(This is where it can get messy and confusing. This is when clients often start to second-guess themselves. This is normal, but if you’ve done your homework in the steps leading up to this, your decisions can be trusted.)
10% User Experience

Working in tandem with content strategy, user experience begins to apply and translate the written story into an audience-specific hierarchical structure for easy consumption. These processes go hand-in-hand, and one cannot thrive without the other.

Outcomes: personas, user journeys, content drafts, wireframes.

10% Multimedia

The multimedia phase encompasses any task required to create supporting visuals like icons, illustrations, video, motion, photography, etc. These assets and this phase should be concurrent with CS and UX/UI to ensure that your visuals are an accurate representation of the story being told and the way it’s displayed.

Potential outcomes: icons, illustrations, video, motion graphics, photographs, etc.

10% User Interface

You can consider the user interface phase as, roughly, “design.” Finally, the eye candy we’ve all been waiting for. If my math is right, we’ve already formed 69% of our iceberg mass by the time we got here.

Outcomes: static design files.

10% Front-end Development

Front-end development takes the static image eye candy and turns it into the dynamic, lively eye candy of a web page. The UI designer consults along the way to ensure that any added transitions or motions are handled as envisioned.

Outcomes: HTML/CSS.

10% Back-end Development

Back-end development encompasses anything required to build the overall functionality of the site. This includes the content management system or other platform,  e-commerce,  integrations and any other functional or transactional code that makes your site work. A lot happens in this phase, which takes input and direction from most of the previous phases.

Outcomes: everything that makes your site functional – CMS training, launch, etc.

We’ve already formed 69% of our iceberg mass by the time we got [to interface design].

THE 10%

Back to your question: Why does your interactive project take so long?

I won’t patronize you by explaining how complex it can be to juggle multiple workflows, or to proof those phases above.

The points I will argue are the conscientiousness, deliberate action, and design thinking upon which we believe good interactive outcomes depend. We do our best to apply that type of awareness and thinking to every aspect of your project, from your changing marketing goals to the gifs that sometimes come with our deliverables, and we think that arriving at intelligent decisions is better than crossing off checklist items. We also know that making intelligent decisions depends on doing intelligent research, and that is what that pre-eye-candy 69% of the berg is all about.

Unlike an iceberg, a good interactive experience does not cleave itself into existence from some larger one. In other words, a great website isn’t just something that a designer spits out in day or two, and isn’t based on a simple formula or template. The site you want and need should be the result of a lot of very intentional, and necessary, production work. And, well, that takes some time.