Where I Work: Aaron Edwards of The Charles

Aaron Edwards is one half of the award-winning digital agency, The Charles, which he co-founded with his sister, Samantha Edwards. The New York City based firm, which also has offices in Chicago and London, are the brains behind the advertisements of some the most notable brands in the business, like Cartier, MINI, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Media, as well as fashion related brands, such as Misha Nonoo, Ellen Tracy, and Armando Cabral. They also won the digital design award for Cocainenomics via the Wall Street Journal for Netflix’s show, Narcos. Wanting all of their employees to have a voice on some of today’s most controversial subjects, the duo encouraged each of them to write an article for their recently launched online magazine, Charlie, including topics like race, censorship, and fear culture. For this month’s Where I Work, Aaron takes us through his work days, creative processes, and the design behind The Charles’ NYC offices.

What is your typical work style?

I’d say my work schedule is pretty regimented but my best work is usually done at 7.00am when I am in the shower. I like to set one large overarching task for the week and on my walk to work, break those larger objectives into more bite-sized goals per day. My hours aren’t set but I’m usually in the office at 8.30am and out the door by 7pm but this can change especially if I have client engagements.

What’s your studio/work environment like?

Music is a staple here at The Charles. We spent months tinkering with sound levels, playlists for office mood / vibes and in every nook and corner lies a Sonos speaker gently massaging our creative juices. In general it’s a friendly welcoming environment with lots of natural sunlight, light textures and greenery. We love plants and believe in “nurturing our nature” so whether its one of our half a dozen fig trees or table top terrariums there’s not a space you won’t find some sort of living breathing organism.

How is your office organized/arranged?

I sit in a glass fish tank surrounded by piles of papers, pens and scribbles on notepads. I call it organized chaos, some people call it a mess but it works for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do miss being in the action and previously I always sat with the team as I felt it was important for them to know how invested and involved I was in the day to day. As the agency has grown it’s no longer possible but I do try to float around the office as much as I can being “that” guy looking over colleagues’ shoulders and throwing in my two cents.

The remainder of the space is divided into 4 areas, creative team area, technology workspace, client entertainment / waiting area and last but least our new content studio, Jane. For furnishing we turned to a Red Hook-based friend and designer, Kevin Burns to build sustainable modular desks made from recycled bowling alley stock. These desks were built to age, add a sense of warmth and character to the stark white walls, gradient Pantone books and tchotchkes collected over years of travels.

We’ve got 2 closed off areas, one serves as the formal conference room for client meetings and the other as a telephone booth for private calls.

Finally and most importantly, we designed a custom 12 foot solid maple wood bar with rotating wheels, which allows us to create a multipurpose area for entertaining.

How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?

We started off in an 800 square foot space on Broadway one block up from Canal St, it was a decried textile building with a not so friendly elevator guy. There were no windows and during summer time it was pretty unbearable.

We then moved to our current building and took up a photography studio which was larger than our needs, we really made it ours but with the exponential growth of the team and our client base we quickly outgrew the space.

Skip to our current space which was an old lawyers’ office untouched since 1970, we gutted the space and kept some items for memorabilia, most notably the rotary phone now hung on our monolith and an executive leather chair.

If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?

Privacy areas. We lack multiple areas to lounge and do work in private. We use our secondary conference room as a haven but it would be great to have dedicated areas for collaboration that were in a more open environment. A basketball court and a winding staircase leading to a second floor full of games and activities… that’s for Charles 5.0 – we are currently on 3.0.

Is there an office pet?

Sadly our office dog left and headed to Chicago with her owner when she relocated. She was a border terrier and named after my favorite drink, Stella.

Do you require music in the background? If so, who are some favorites?

If you do not like music you will simply not fit in here. We have a full spectrum of tunes that are played throughout the week from instrumentals / jazz vibes in the morning to the afternoon being more focused around indie / minimal tech / house and on a rare occasion garage. Solange, Sampha, badbadnotgood, Joy Orbison, King Krule are a few to mention.

How do you record ideas?

We have Charles Moleskines and I’m notorious for filling them in days with chicken scratch. Writing things down has always worked for me and it’s the only way I can keep on top of my tasks.

Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?

Pinterest and Instagram are my hourly sources for visual inspiration and the television in my office playing everything from Billions to Hitchcock on gloomy uninspiring days.

What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?

Talking and writing my way through a creative idea is relatively standard practice. It’s almost like therapy and allows me to escape the perpetual churn of P&L, forecasting and business planning / client strategy which is my day to day.

I’m a believer in collaboration and some of the best ideas come when you can bounce them off other people. You find weaknesses, strengths and promise in telling people your ideas and that feedback is invaluable.

I have a very diverse group of peers and collaborators whose unique cultural / business experiences provide tremendous value.

What kind of art/design/objects might you have scattered about the space?

I like small objects that have quirks for example lead paper weights in the shape of classic brogues, or my gold organic tree stump coffee table. I also have a piece created by a friend and client of mine, Austyn Weiner, that lives in our client entertaining space.

Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?

There are plenty of computers and cameras.

What tool(s) do you most enjoy using in the design process?

Pencil and Paper. It’s so important to sketch out and write down concepts. There are tools that can assist greatly in the efficiency of the work but they can’t influence the effect great design work can have on any environment. Pencil and paper are the second to the greatest tool on earth, the human mind.

Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.

Hardware – iPhone, MacBook Pro, iWatch
Software – Photoshop, Excel, Dashlane – I manage my personal finances through this app – I manage all my investments through this app

What design software do you use, if any, and for what?

Excel. Its great for designing creative businesses!

Is there a favorite project you’ve worked on?

Charlie, the internal culture-based publication we released was one of my favorite things we’ve recently worked on. I think enabling your team to have a healthy balance of discussion, debate and opinion shows that you trust them to make the right decisions. Furthermore, encouraging them to communicate these issues in a way that makes sense – not just for shock value – reinforces that point. It enables them to think critically.

Do you feel like you’ve “made it”? What has made you feel like you’ve become successful? At what moment/circumstances? Or what will it take to get there?

This is just the beginning. I’ve always been a dreamer, I’m wildly ambitious and so I’ll never be satisfied. Most people think financial gain is the barometer to success and whilst it is still a goal for me and the agency I really believe in the idea of personal growth, knowledge sharing and a desire to not stop learning.

Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?

We are now working with a hotel group Sixty Hotels. It’s an exciting project because it’s not a traditional design and build project. We are involved in a much bigger strategic capacity where we can flex our content strategy and content production legs whilst providing aligning KPI’s within data and analytics to the creative process. Plus the hotel sector has been an area I’ve been very interested in for a long time. I have a dream to eventually start and run a hotel group but as they say, one step at a time.

What’s on your desk right now?

Cereal, Man about town, Laphams Quarterly

Do you have anything in your home that you’ve designed/created?

Does my 2 year old count? My proudest achievement yet by far.

Photos by Genevieve Garruppo.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.