User Experience – What is that and how does it relate to diving?

Dive_Gear_Equipment_Competative_Evaluations_Design_CluesTwenty years (or so) ago I began my career working as a Human Factors Engineer (HFE) for a Fortune 500 technology company. HFE goes by many names these days…usability engineering, user experience design, human-computer interaction, and ergonomics just to name a few. In fact, when I did a job search 5 years ago I was shocked to see job titles I hadn’t even heard of for things I was qualified to do. It was crazy! But I digress…

As an engineer fresh out of graduate school in the 90’s I was finally able to fulfill one of my life long dreams and try scuba diving. I spent a week on a live aboard and had the time of my life! I was hooked!

The only thing was all the gear was designed for men. My BCD fit around my waist but the chest area was awkward. I would come up from a dive with half a tank of air (like most of the women in my group) because our male dive buddies had reached their 500 psi threshold. It was then I suspected that diving grew out of the American military and technical divers. Regardless of the demographic name, it seemed like the gear was designed for a bunch of 20-something young fit American men who learned to accommodate what they were given to complete a mission.

But it was the 90’s and the advent of women’s sporting gear was on the rise. Unfortunately, it was a time when industries thought that meant if they put pink on their goods they could sell it as a women’s product. A few dive manufacturers saw the value of taking a design approach with an apparent goal of accentuating women’s breasts. Some also replaced the metal rings for plastic – most likely thinking why should the fairer sex need to carry the same equipment as a man? Female tech divers were furious with all the work arounds they needed to make.

Fortunately twenty-years later, some things are better, although the industry as a whole has a ways to go. When I bought a BCD last year I was sold an XL Men’s Travel version so it could accommodate my long torso and any cold water diving I might want to do. When I dove Saba I was less than happy with my purchase. Fortunately Scubapro was on board with some test gear, which was much better in its proportions. Then I had an epiphany…

After 20 years of helping people be more productive in their working lives I realized that it’s time to help people have more fun. Even better, I want them to have more fun under water!

I enjoy working on consumer technology products. I love helping engineers make their ideas better by watching how people use and respond to a product (usability testing). I like conducting research to see how users are operating with things today and identify ways to make it better in the future (ethnographic research). These are just a few of the things that Usability Professionals are trained to do to help create products that delight their customers.

Tell me what you think… Do you think there’s a need to integrate usability best practices from the technology sector into the diving world? If yes, what specifically would you like to see done? If not, tell me why.

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