Saturday, June 26, 2010

Case Study: Tacoma Skate

It was clear to most people that Tacoma's indoor skatepark was going to be short-lived. Tacoma skaters have a large choice of free skateparks to choose from but the facility itself never seemed to quite gel with skaters. It was slippery, was perpetually under construction, had whole rooms filled with junk. In fact it wasn't working on so many levels and in so many ways it's difficult to really identify any one thing that they could have done better to make a difference.

When they started they contacted me about some design advice due to my experience with Skaters for Public Skateparks. Naturally I shared what I felt should be the priorities in the skate course design...and they employ many of the same principles that graphic designers use:

• Meet customer expectations
• Provide a small number of exotic or uncommon, "signature" elements
• Keep it clean and simple so it is easily understood
• Don't pander

In the interest of seeing the business succeed I worked with an artist friend of mine to come up with some inexpensive concepts that could help on some of these fronts.

One issue was their logo. It was basically an oval with the letters "TS" stamped in the middle. The oval is meant to suggest a skateboard and the TS glyph stands for Tacoma Skate. It is set sideways to further conceal the forms. The owner suggested that this would be slightly elusive to a general public and feed into the "secret" world of skaters.

I'd suggested something a bit more cheerful and upbeat to suggest the place was active and vibrant. In order to communicate this concept I drew up a sketch of a logo that used the same basic premise of his, (the name in the middle of the board), but brought it out in the open so that parents and people walking by might get some idea of what the place was about.

He didn't care for it or felt it was too sanitary for the vibe he was trying to create. While I understand this position, I felt that a no-budget start-up should aim for anyone they could get...and that meant, (to me), creating a mark that most people would understand. Because this was a pro-bono effort I stepped aside and figured I'd find other ways to help him get his business off the ground.

The next challenge was the facade of the building. The facility populated an entire building. There was no store front to speak of—not that it would have mattered since the building was in the middle of an industrial neighborhood. The side of the building faced the road so I figured it would be a great opportunity to get some bold messages out to the street.

This was also work that we were willing to donate (minus materials, which would have come to about $100). The owner opted to go with window paints and a sandwich board.

The final attempt to bring some professional creative to the business was in dressing up some of the interior walls with motifs other than "urban graffiti." I suggested a floral design because I felt that it would appeal to skaters' sense of irony, parents and non-skating visitors, and be just controversial enough to get talked about among the locals. His response was essentially, "we're not doing floral."

And that was that. I went back once or twice to check it out. The business lasted 6 months before they closed. As much as I wanted it to contribute to its success—with my 30+ years in skateboarding and 20+ years in design and marketing—in the end I simply couldn't find a way to help them out. Lessons were learned.