When it comes to User Design (UX), the world of scuba diving has been honing the craft since 1867 when Henry A Fleuss developed the first workable, self-contained diving rig using compressed oxygen. According to Halvorson (2011), “content strategy … isn’t a trend, and it’s not a silver bullet. It’s a long-term commitment to better content, a practice that beautifully complements the art and science of UX strategy.” Scuba diving training is a long-term commitment that has changed very little in 153 years. There are core lessons every diver must master in order to stay safe 30, 40 or even 100 feet under the ocean surface. Information architecture draws heavily on cognitive psychology according to Babich (2017). Two areas of cognitive psychology that apply strongly to both scuba diving and UX, are cognitive load and recognition patterns. Cognitive load is the amount of information that a person can process in any given moment. When architects consider a user’s cognitive load, it helps them prevent the user from being overloaded with too much information all at once. In the world of scuba diving, the process of breathing underwater is a series of simple tasks that even in a high stress situation (a shark arrives, a buddy runs low on air, a diver is entangled in sea week), divers are trained and practice repetitive actions that allow them to not become overloaded in those situations and work through the tasks to avoid panic and remain safe. Those actions are recognized patterns throughout the industry and in every diving certification agency. The underwater hand signals of scuba diving are common across the world. These common patterns allow divers to explore all over the world and yet understand and recognize the scuba diving patterns that are familiar to the industry regardless of location, culture, and language.
There are more than 50 scuba diving certification agencies worldwide and yet they all teach the same principles. Their philosophy and teaching methods may very slightly but all of them are based on the procedures developed by CMAS (World Confederation of Underwater Activities) and the International Standards Organization (ISO) recreation diver training standards. Whether you are certified by NAUI – National Association of Underwater Instructors; PADI – Professional Association of Diving Instructors; SDI – Scuba Diving International; or SSI – Scuba Schools International, divers can expect to learn and understand the same under-water language. This is a critical component of scuba diving as divers tend to travel the world and are often paired with a dive buddy they may not know prior to jumping in the water. However, divers can rely on an industry that has adapted a user experience far beyond a website to a common world-wide “scuba” language. As Babich (2017) said, while the principles of user design “are tailored to creating information architecture for a website, it’s possible to adapt them to other digital or even non-digital products.”
There are a number of parallels between the world of scuba diving and the world of user experience design. The lessons UX designers can take from scuba diving start with simplicity. Tobias (2016) encourages designers to immerse themselves in the client’s industry in order to truly understand the environment in which you are designing tools for, similar to how divers are immersed in a strange world under the ocean surface. Evolving tools is another parallel between scuba diving and UX. While the basic equipment (oxygen for diving and a pencil and paper for UX) make both tasks functional, utilizing new tools and systems (think Nitrox for mixed-air deeper diving or the wireframing tools used to organized UX) can improve the end result for both tasks. Planning is critical for both ventures. In the world of diving, the adage “failing to plan is planning to fail”. Understanding the obstacles and potential dangers in both diving and UX are critical for preparation, navigation and ultimately success. Perhaps the most vital parallel between diving and UX is the importance of continuing education. Learning and continuous improvement will result in better experiences in diving and a better product in UX.
Babich, N. “A Beginner’s Guide to Information Architecture for UX Designers.” 2017. Adobe Stock.
Halvorson, K. “Content Strategy and UX: A Modern Love Story”. 2011. UX Magazine.
Skills, Posted in Scuba. “Diving Certification Agencies Overview.” DIPDNIVE, dipndive.com/blog/diving-certification-agencies-overview.
Tobias. “5 Things Design Innovators and UX Designers Can Learn from Diving.” Tobias & Tobias, 2016, www.tobiasandtobias.com/5-things-innovators-can-learn-from-the-world-of-diving/.