ODI is 50 years old and employee-owned!
The company originally began life as Oxford Illustrators back in 1968. A sister company, Oxprint, followed in 1974 to provide design and typesetting services to accompany the illustration work. This meant that the two companies together could provide a total package for their clients’ book production – just as ODI still does today. After various other organisational changes, the two companies eventually became fully incorporated as Oxford Designers & Illustrators Ltd in 1998. Fifteen years later in 2013, all but one of the existing directors retired and a new General Manager was appointed from among the staff. It was decided that there should be a different approach for the company in the future. As newer recruits gradually joined the company, they brought in new ideas and there were discussions about the benefits of employee owned companies – this seemed like something that could work for ODI. The model we chose is 'indirect employee ownership', which is widely known for being the company structure used by the John Lewis Partnership. Put simply, it means that instead of any individual(s) owning shares in the company, all of the shares are held in a trust, to be run for the benefit of the company and the people working there at any given time. Trustees are appointed to oversee the running of the trust, normally one from management, one nominated from the staff, plus an external person. One of the benefits of becoming employee owned is that staff can have more say in the running of the business, so there will be regular meetings where we have the opportunity to comment on matters affecting the way things are being done. The management and trustees will also keep staff apprised of the company’s financial outlook; when the company is in the financial position to do so, there may be dividends and/or bonuses paid, so it is in everyone’s interest for the company to do well! As our General Manager Roger Noel explained in the Employee Ownership Association's article, "In an industry where it is difficult to predict the work, the move to becoming employee owned has made us more sustainable for the future and provides a more formal structure for staff to feel more involved in the running of the company." "We also feel it makes our business more attractive when recruiting and it has had a really positive reaction from two people who recently joined the business. There is more transparency now so the employees can see where we are financially, and that when we are struggling there will be no additional reward – but that in the future as we continue to work together we can work towards being able to share in the rewards." It has taken ODI a long while to get to this point, but the general feeling about this change is very positive, and we are optimistic that this is the right direction for us. Here’s to the next 50 years of great work from ODI! You can find out more about the different models and about EO businesses in general from the Employee Ownership Association, who have been very helpful and an invaluable source of advice and support throughout the transition process. John-Paul Clough, ODI Production Manager
The Angry Farmer
We are pleased to feature the delightful children’s book ’The Elephant and the Angry Farmer.’ This book is the first in an ongoing series based on the stories the author, Edward Bernard, told his eleven grandchildren when they were young. It follows the trials and tribulations of an increasingly perplexed farmer as he tries to find out who is responsible for the destruction on his farm. We follow the farmer and his trusty sheepdog on a romp through the farm and ruined flower beds, investigating a trail of mysteriously large footprints and comically large piles of poo! A keen-eyed child might be able to spot a tail or a foot peeking out from the undergrowth, something that adds an extra element of fun to the story. We have enjoyed working with Edward and the talented artist Jan Lewis to see his characters brought to life in this colourful and charming short story. All the proceeds of this book went to the Oxford Children’s Charity.
Kidlington Centre Frontage
ODI was approached by The Kidlington Centre, enquiring whether we could help them with creating some graphics and artwork for the front of the shopping centre
A guide to initially improve your website's Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
As a small business, ODI recognises the importance of ranking high in search engines like Google, in order to attract potential clients. Having recently had the big job of relaunching our website, we found it needed a lot of focus. So we decided to write this quick “guide” for anyone else that is trying to improve their Google rankings. 1. Set up a Google Business accountThis is pretty self explanatory, but having your company listed on Google is very easy, it’s free and enables you to appear in local search results – start small, right? This is also great to link to which is essential in order to understand your customers’ behaviour on your site. 2. Mobile friendly sites are keyWho doesn’t use their phone to look up stuff on the internet these days? You’d be very silly not to make sure that your site works perfectly on mobile platforms, and you could certainly lose a lot of potential customers if you don’t. These days a lot of web building platforms automatically do this for you, quickly and cheaply with plugins for your, so you really don’t have any excuses! 3. Keyword SearchesThis is by far the most important but equally the trickiest – you need to identify keywords that you can use throughout your website, ie. identify the search terms that people use in order to find your type of product/service. You will most likely need to do some keyword research and identify gaps in the market, because if you are using the same keywords as your bigger competitors you won’t really be getting any higher than them in Google searches as they are more established, and will most likely have more coverage online. 4. Online Tools for the winGoogle Keyword Planner is a great online tool that help you identify keyword gaps in the market and help you capitalise on this aspect of your site.Another great tool is Google Webmaster/Google Search Console which helps you track your site’s search performance, and provides you with a wealth of information to help improve the performance and any errors you may have. Give it a go, it’s also free! 5. Images/ALT TextOne of the most time-consuming jobs (but it’s worth it in the end) – if you run a heavily image based website like ours, then you need to optimize the SEO on these images! Start with the file name – this shows up in your website HTML so make sure you include your keywords here too so that the images show up high in search engines! Alt text is where it can get painful, as you need to your images – this is what will show up if the image won’t load or if someone is visually impaired, but it will also hugely help your Google ranking as you can include keywords here too! Think of it like, Google can’t ‘see’ your images but it certainly can ‘read’ them! The Alt text needs to be clear, concise and not use too many keywords – you are describing the image! 6. Backlinks!Internal and external linking is important for SEO as you are linking relevant topics and themes together in a sensible way – not only for website readers but more importantly for search engines. These links help establish the authenticity and credibility of your business, so it’s important to only use helpful links and avoid unrelated ones, as this may harm your rankings.Social Media is a safe bet when it comes to backlinks, not to mention the mass audience that it reaches, making it a very effective online marketing tool. You should really try to link as much of your business’s website onto your social media accounts as possible (without spamming your followers, of course!).Press releases/Blog mentions are another great way to get some backlinks to your website, although this can be very pricey. If you want to go the cheap way you could try free press websites like PRWeb.com, or try posting your links in the comments of relevant blogs or forums. As you will be aware of, SEO and online marketing is very time-consuming, and it can take a while to see exponential results, but if you start will these simple steps, then soon your website will be ranking on the first page of Google!Good Luck! :) By Savannah Rado
10 weeks as an intern at ODI by Savannah Rado
I joined ODI after graduating, for a 3 month internship as a Junior Designer. This blog post is about my time and what I learnt.
Spotlight: Interview with Rowena Aitken
Rowena is a brilliant illustrator based in Scotland - we just had to know more about her charmingly mad characters! From starting out in RPG and fantasy illustration to your recent quirky and fun characters, you've maintained a healthy population of adventurous pirates, warriors and dinosaurs in space in your portfolio - could you tell me more about your own artistic adventure?I suppose I have always been on an artistic adventure - always drawing! I started finding my voice at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design where I started off on the foundation course and moved onto Animation & Electronic Media. The drawing side of animation was what I loved and I dug my heels in to stay away from learning 3D software! I love the freedom of drawing and it was clear after graduating that I wouldn't be happy doing anything else for a living so I boldly went into doing freelance illustration for RPG books and games. This taught me a lot and mainly that clients are (amazingly) people and while you have to maintain a level of professionalism you can have a lot of good banter! Over the years I have had many fun projects but I suppose my heart lay in "The Silly". I love silly expressions, fun colours, exaggerated poses - extremes, really! I made a deliberate move to go into children's illustration and I utterly adore it. You've recently finished working on a book called 'Ruan The Little Red Squirrel' - how did you build a working relationship with writer Rachel McGraw to bring the characters to life?Well thanks to the power of the internet this was made relatively easy! Forth Books, publishers of "Ruan The Little Red Squirrel" and Rachel are based near Edinburgh so in a combination of a few meetings and lots of emails we crafted the story of Ruan. Forth and Rachel are lovely to work with and I think it shows in the final product. Could you tell us a little more about the picture book you're working on at the moment? I can! The story is called The Kilted Coo - Rachel McGaw's second venture into children's books with Forth Books. Here's a poem by Rachel from her Facebook Page to tell you a little about The Kilted Coo:Facebook friends, if I could have a moment or two...I have some exciting news for you -I'm thrilled to announce that book number two Is on the way about a coo called Drew.Most of the details are still under wraps But for now I'll give you some of the facts:Illustrated by Rowena, published by Forth,I hope it'll be a hit here, up North.In case you haven't worked it out by nowIt's a rhyming story about a highland cow,Set on a farm on the West Highland Way About a cow and a kilt... and that's all I'll say!So please feel free to like and share(To spread the news everywhere)And look out for 'The Kilted Coo'In a bookshop soon somewhere near you!It's incredibly fun to work on as animals are my favourite thing to draw. There may be cameos from Pixel (The Studio Cat), some y-fronts and a certain Little Red Squirrel! What's your working process from inkling of an idea to fully-fledged Photoshop painting?Ooh it's a long one! If it's a book I start off by going through the story and reading any notes the author and/or publisher have added; If it's a painting I look at the brief or go with my own ideas if they're personal pieces then spend time looking for reference images of animals, environments, people, clothing etc to get the ideas going. Then I start VERY rough by scribbling out thumbnails - combo of digital and paper - to work out compositions. Then I mock up the pages, working out text placement (if this hasn't already been defined by the client), plan out characters, work out a rough colour scheme (this is all very messy!) and somewhere in between there and the finished piece the art happens! Lots of coffee helps too :) I loved the 'Haggis: a Simple Guide' - does the Haggis have a way to defend itself against the predatory Nessie and midgies?Thank you! For the Haggis avoidance is the best strategy but unfortunately they aren't very bright and can sometimes end up too close to the water's edge!Regarding midgies - no one can escape them! Revise your Haggis knowledge and see Rowena's brilliant work here