The Iceberg and the Swan

I’ve heard a phrase used recently a number of times and it has struck a cord. The phase was [and I paraphrase]:

… the product should be like a Swan, serene above water, legs kicking frantically below…whooper-swan.jpg

The insinuation is that although there is work occurring below the waterline that work is compact and simple and should not impact the product; the serene Swan. This is a very valid view to hold and one that also conveys the some separation between form and function.

iceberg.jpgHowever, most modern systems do not approach the elegance of a Swan. A more adept metaphor is probably that of the Iceberg. There is typically a lot more below the water line (i.e. not visible to the user) than above the water line.

The waterline on our Iceberg is somewhat movable also as different people may see varying amounts of it. But most importantly an Iceberg and a Swan have very different maneuverability characteristics.

Some projects are Swans and some are Icebergs. Neither is implicitly better, but if you mix the 2 up; you’re going to be in big trouble.


One Response to The Iceberg and the Swan

  1. Ian says:

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. I have heard the Swan analogy before (although a duck was used instead), however have not heard the iceberg comparison. I think it is especially interesting when you present the concept of maneuverability.

    This is particularly interesting to me as I am currently involved with a start-up called On the surface, it just looks like an ordinary social network. However, below the surface we are working like crazy to create something much better – a place where you can gather together all your social networks, various email accounts, manage blogs, and stay involved with your other sites like fantasy sports leagues and book readers.

    Thanks again for your post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: