Lincoln-born graphic design magnate Simon Shaw is surrounded by souvenirs of achievement in his quirky terrace offices in the city’s West Parade; a glistening Heist Silver Award, Top 100 Agency recognitions dating back to 2009, faded former emblems of brands reinvented and last vestiges of work before Mac computers. What started as a ‘knack for colouring in’ has evolved into a 27-year creative career and an enviable design and digital communications business.
Optima was born with a mantra that stuck: “Our next piece of work will be the best we ever do,” and since its creation, conceived during a seven-month honeymoon on a beach in India, it’s been forward thinking all the way.
This feature interview was first published in issue 66 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine, now available to read at www.lincsbusiness.co. Subscribe to the email newsletter to receive the latest edition in your inbox this Friday.
It all started in 1995 with just 27-year-old Simon, armed with 105 letters to send to prospective clients. Now a well-oiled team of 19 boast an award-winning portfolio and local clients such as Branston (Tesco’s biggest potato supplier), Pipers Crisps and Lincoln BIG, as well as national and international names like Tata Steel, WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and ILO (International Labour Organization).
Optima found its wings in breaking international borders, but its heart will always belong to Lincoln, and Simon believes that with the right infrastructure and enough innovators ready to push the boundaries, anything is possible from the ‘shire he knows and loves. “Lincoln and Lincolnshire is a great place to be. I’m very proud to live here and thanks to technology and our can-do attitude we know we can reach out to a lot of people.
“If you took a little bit of London and transposed it to Lincoln, the work we do, our ethos here, the way we plan work and the quality of work we do, it’s like that. When we come up against London agencies I know we can compete. Sometimes you just need to really confirm that in your mind’s eye and go for it. I think any business nowadays needs to think of itself as an international business.”
How times change
Simon was born in the village of Navenby and went to school in Branston near Lincoln. Thanking his art teacher father for his creative genes, he considers his most commended schooling pursuit to be ‘colouring and sciences’. “I was the kid at the back who was sat colouring in really well while everyone else could do the maths and English,” he joked. “I actually wanted to be an architect. I had a fantastic art teacher though who really inspired me and convinced me to get my graphic design portfolio together instead.
“At 18, when everyone else usually goes to do a foundation graphic design or art course, he got my level to such a standard that they took me direct to university. I was also the only one in the year who got a first-class degree.
“I’ve always had good tutors and people who have seen potential in me. I think you need to listen to the people who believe in you and what you are good at.”
On graduating from Coventry University, Simon cut his teeth at the (now former) Negus & Negus agency, based in London, and his first creative role certainly didn’t lack challenge. At that time, the company was working with brands including British Airways, British Gas, DSS and projects like Port Greenwich, which later became the Millennium Dome. “The first job I did for them was to put a brand on the back of a tail plane,” said Simon. “I also worked on Concorde in flight entertainment guides for first class, that’s where I learnt all about language setting. Now, when we do lots of overseas work like for Lincoln College Group’s Saudi Arabia campus, we can handle type settings and that style.
“You had to do a lot of leg work in those days. I’d be the one doing corporate identity manuals, and before they bought a Mac in 1989 we would design them, lay them out and stick them onto boards, they would be typed out by a typist and then you’d photocopy them.” Simon still keeps hold of his first manuals, easily reliving the tasks.
Continue reading the full cover interview with Simon Shaw in Issue 66.
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