Imagine that it is the year 2020. You walk into your local eatsa, place your order on an iPad kiosk, and wait for your name to appear on a screen. You retrieve your order from an automated cubby, and you’re on your way. By 2020, it’s a tale as old as time. So, you wonder, where did it all begin? And perhaps even more significantly, by whom did it all begin?
Walk into our office and you will meet one irreplaceable talent after another. For every detail that you can or cannot see at eatsa, there is a brilliant mind to thank for it. Each eatsa-ployee contributes to the finished product that our customers interact with in-store, and in the same way as we like to get to know our customers, we’d like to give everyone the opportunity to get to know us.
Meet Charles, eatsa’s Lead Product Designer. He wears funky Nikes, plans sporadic trips to downtown LA with his wife, a photographer, and enjoys loft-life in the Dogpatch. We’re taking a few moments to chat at the Ferry Building, having a Blue Bottle and enjoying the view. Charles in Berlin. Photo by Melanie Riccardi
Annalee A little fresh air to help you get through the day.
Charles Yeah, it’s important. I can sit at my computer for hours in the zone; that’s how I get my best work done: long stretches, with breaks for sunshine and coffee.
A What other tactics help you get your best work done? I often see you with headphones on.
C Music is a huge part of my work day. There isn’t anything better than jamming out to Earth Wind & Fire, KC and the Sunshine Band, or an awesome (Michael Jackson inspired) Chris Brown song. Beyond acoustics, staying organized is key. I put all of my tasks for the day on my calendar and rely on the notifications to keep me on track.
A Do you feel like you have more creative license because you’re at a start-up? What are the most significant differences you see from working at a start-up vs. working at a larger company with a longer heritage?
C This might sound cheesy, but working at a start-up makes you feel alive. The sense of ownership, the quick iteration, the familial feel that you get from working with such a small team, and the satisfaction of building something from scratch- I wouldn’t want it any other way. I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to work on such a big slice at a larger company. I would be a smaller piece of the puzzle. It’s beyond rewarding to be a big slice of the finished product.
A You’re making me want pizza.
C Me too. We should ask the culinary folks about creating a quinoa pizza. eatsa pizza.
A Clever. I see the fresh air is providing a good dose of creative energy. I imagine you have to leave our office for perception, as lovable as we are at eatsa, you are likely finding your creative ingenuity elsewhere. Where do you find it?
C This is one of those questions that has endless answers. I find inspiration in unusual or unlikely places. Visual imagery isn’t the only source; it can be a conversation with a friend, the way a surface feels, or a sound I hear in a song. It’s challenging to create visual from non-visual and to instill emotions into products, but it’s a challenge I enjoy.
A What is the most exciting aspect of your work? At what point do you feel that reward or satisfaction?
C By far it’s seeing our customers go through and enjoy the entire eatsa experience. Our team has worked so hard to get to this point. The reward is the expression on our customers’ faces: a note of wonder, a hint of incredulity and excitement, and also hearing them explain the concept to their friends. If I am feeling stuck, I walk into eatsa at lunch time. The energy is contagious, invigorating. It doesn’t subside. Is there a word to sum all of that up? I can’t think of it right now.
A Do you think it’s more or less challenging designing for a very specific demographic or for a more ‘mass’ audience?
C I think it’s much more difficult to design for a larger audience. The amount of information you must gather from your users is nearly endless and constantly changing. You’re not just figuring out how a small sub-set of people operate, you’re figuring out how 10 different small sub-sets of people operate. Fortunately, there is always at least one common theme between these groups. In our case, everyone wants faster, fresher, and more easily attainable good food.
A How has your vision for eatsa changed since the opening, or since seeing customers interact with your designs?
C There’s something really special, almost surreal, about finally seeing your work out in the wild. New insights spring up, ideas that morph and change based on the interactive experience. My artistic vision hasn’t changed necessarily, but I am definitely more motivated to push eatsa’s vision for better, fast food to new heights.
A Where have you been recently that you’ve found visually inspiring? Where you’ve come away bursting with ideation and a fresh perspective?
C My wife and I just returned from a big Europe trip. We visited a breathtakingly beautiful feat of architecture in Milan. The amount of detail work that went into it was unbelievable; men and women lived and died while working on that building, and they never got to see their finished work. That drive and commitment is such a rarity today. I am admittedly guilty of the here and now attitude. I want the immediate satisfaction of seeing my design next week. It’s far easier to be impatient when everything around us is new and now and fast. The artists and craftsmen who built that building used their hands to make something beautiful and lasting, something that my children and their children will be able to see and appreciate. That was inspiring; it makes me want to keep challenging myself as a designer, to constantly raise the bar for myself, but it also made me want to constantly improve myself as a person. Another visually inspiring place was Monterosso, Italy. There are 3 elements that make up this area: the mountains, the beautifully colored buildings affixed to the mountains, and the bluer than blue sea that meets the edge of the town. We just sat and stared for quite a while. It is a visually spectacular vista. It’s really something. The Duomo, Milan. Photo by Charles Riccardi
A Okay, departing Italy and landing back in SFO. What’s your favorite neighborhood here in San Francisco?
C I’m not sure if this is a neighborhood, but I love the Embarcadero. Walking on the water, stopping by different restaurants, looking out at the bridge, and then turning around to look up at the San Francisco skyline. It’s a great place to clear my mind.
A Where do you like to go or what do you like to do to unwind after a long day designing or presenting?
C All I need to unwind is a coffee or a nice dinner with my wife. She completely gets me and knows how to put me at ease. I also love spending time with a few good friends, the kind who don’t want to talk about tech all day. :)
A Are there any other things that you find important to do to help manage the stress or anxiety of working at such a quickly growing company? It’s great fortune to be a part of it, but I imagine it can be quite stress-inducing as well.
C I think the key word is Managing. My way of managing is to first acknowledge that I am stressed. I need to acknowledge that something exists before I develop a solution. Laughter comes next: it’s the best medicine for anxiety or stress. I try not to let myself get overly worked up about any one thing. It doesn’t help me manage anything.