The Iceberg Model


Today I’d like to share with you a visual metaphor that you might find useful, one to add to your bank of possible diagrams to use in the future.

Visual Metaphor: The Iceberg

That visual metaphor is the iceberg, which, when drawn from the side like this, makes clear that what’s seen from the outside is just a small percentage of everything else that’s going on underneath.

The Iceberg Model - sketchnotes, visual note-taking, doodling, visual metaphor, verbal to visual, doug neill

What makes this metaphor so useful (and widely applicable) is the fact that no matter what you choose to look at, there is so much more going on behind the scenes compared to what you see from the outside.

Diving down into the depths of what’s going on underneath is worthwhile. That’s where the interesting things live, the things that contribute to whatever is seen on the surface.

What’s Underneath a Single Action

For example, consider an individual action that someone takes.

The Iceberg Model: Individual Action - sketchnotes, visual note-taking, doodling, visual metaphor, verbal to visual, doug neill

Underlying that action is a whole lot of personal history, from things that happened previously that day, earlier in the week, earlier in the year, and even things that were formed from childhood experiences.

You can’t deeply understand an individual action without exploring at least some of those things that live below the surface.

What’s Underneath a Completed Sketchnote

For anther example, let’s keep it close to home, and explore what’s under the surface of a completed sketchnote.

The Iceberg Model: Completed Sketchnote - sketchnotes, visual note-taking, doodling, visual metaphor, verbal to visual, doug neill

While it’s easy to find plenty examples of polished sketchnotes online, what you won’t necessarily see is all of the practice that went into being able to sketch out ideas in a useful way.

You won’t see all of the experimentation that took place in order for the note-taker to find the right materials and style that works for them. You won’t see the intentional process by which the notes were taken, just the finished product. You won’t see the purpose that the sketch noter had in mind while taking those notes.

All of that time and effort is missed, unless you go looking for it.

And that decision to go looking for it is the main reason I’m so enthusiastic about sketchnoting in the first place – I see it as a way to explore ideas in more depth, to try to understand them not just on a surface level. And this iceberg model is one tool to help you do that. It encourages you to seek out the fuller story, and not just stop at the headline.

The Iceberg Model: Surface vs Depth - sketchnotes, visual note-taking, doodling, visual metaphor, verbal to visual, doug neill

The surface is only part of the story.

Seek out the rest of it.

I encourage you to keep an eye out for when you might be able to use this visual metaphor in your work, to add more depth and more nuance to the fields you care about.

Cheers,

-Doug

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