Is The Level Dry

March, 2016

Is The Level Dry is a project undertaken by the entire studio for no paying client. It is a website where skaters can update the status of the local skatepark The Level, in Brighton, UK at the click of a button. This allows others to avoid going all the way to the park, only to find it wet and un-skateable.

Kevin Beck asks Will McLean about clarity of purpose in design and his favourite skate brands.

What is this website about and why did you build it?

This website was an idea I had one morning when I got to the local Brighton skatepark on what was a relatively clear day, only to find the park soaking wet. I had to walk my sorry self all the way home. I thought that it would be great to avoid that happening again. What if there was some way to see if the park was dry without leaving the comfort of my warm flat. Something like the surf checker websites I looked at when I was trying to learn that sport. The issue was not whether it was raining or sunny, as it is pretty easy to guess the state of the park then. It was for those particular Brighton days when it hasn’t rained for weeks, but for some reason, the polished concrete of the park is absolutely soaked. So I thought of a super-simple mobile-optimised site where people could log on and update the status of the park.

This site has one function and is built with a clear focus on that one function. Can you tell us more about how this came about?

I am forever trying to maintain simplicity in my work. I heard a story about Steve Jobs in a presentation when working on the iDVD interface.

Jobs was shown a cluttered set of proposed navigation screens for iDVD, which allowed users to burn video onto a disk, he jumped up and drew a simple rectangle on a whiteboard. “Here’s the new application,” he said. “It’s got one window. You drag your video into the window. Then you click the button that says ‘Burn.’ That’s it. That’s what we’re going to make.” - Source

I think about that a lot. This website is similar. It has clarity of purpose. An answer and then three options to update. That is all it needs and all it has. We discussed allowing users to upload photos but that is unnecessary. Users only need one of three words to know what is going. Is The Level dry? Yes, No, Partial.

How did you get people to use the site? How did you promote it?

That has been and still is a challenge. When we launched it we put some stickers up around the park. Then Rifke Sadlier mentioned that there was actually a Facebook group with the same name so we posted it on that. These methods generated some initial use but it has not been sustained. We are happy for it to sit there for now and be used whenever someone wants to. It is likely to go through periods of high and low use over time. At the moment a few of us use it regularly and that is all it takes to keep it functional. If anyone wants to take on the task of promoting it, get in touch!

Tell me about the background photos?

These are images I took as documentation of The Level and the surrounding streets. I took them one Friday when the park was wet and then realised they would be cool in the background of the site. Steve Jobs would probably remove them but I don’t think they hinder the site in any way.

How things are represented and look is an important part of skateboarding culture. Do you have any favourite brands that are challenging design within the skateboarding community?

I am pretty new to skateboarding. I am a classic middle-aged dad going through a midlife crisis. However over the past 2 years I have really thrown myself at it. I have always enjoyed the visual culture that goes along with subcultures and do have a slightly addictive nature that means I really go to town on making myself fit in. (I have started rolling my jeans up so they are a little bit too short. My wife says I am making a fool of myself and I should act my age. She is right, obviously.) Anyway, in that period of education I have stumbled across some very cool brands. My favourite is Frog Skateboards, because they look like they are having a lot of fun and I love anti-design. Tired, because they cater primarily for very amatuer Dad skateboarders like myself and aren't afraid to show it. Finally, Passport, because I am from Sydney and feel nostalgic for my parents’ second-hand bookstore when I watch their title sequences. All of those brands have originality in common so I guess that is what draws me to them.