When it comes to designing anything associated with a business or organisation, there are lots of things to consider to ensure the success of the final design. Whilst an annual report might not sound exciting this doesn’t mean that the design should be overlooked or not seen as important like a business’ website or brochure. There are many examples out there that show that the often dense and serious content can be displayed in a visually interesting and engaging way.
What is an annual report?
An annual report is a document containing information about the activities and financial performance of a company from the previous year. It is created to inform shareholders and other interested parties about the company’s performance, including any achievements. It’s therefore an important document in the continuation of that company or organisation. The design and layout play a crucial role in helping to get that information across, which is why labelling an annual report as ‘grey literature’ should be a thing of the past.
The target audience of a report is usually mainly shareholders, people who want to find out how well the company is performing. Annual reports are also read by potential investors and other people just generally interested in the company. The content therefore needs to be clear and ideally easy to follow and enticing to read. It is also important to understand the background of the company as shareholders and potential investors will vary depending on the sector or type of organisation. As with any design project, knowing the audience is important in getting it right and creating a successful design.
How will the design be presented?
The final format of the report will help determine the page layout such as size, final file output and possibly affect general page structure and design. It seems that more and more companies are moving towards having a digital version of their report. As more people are viewing documents on their smart phones a designer needs to take this into consideration as this will obviously affect the design. Having very small, complicated text and information may not be easily viewable on a small phone screen. Clear, concise and easy to follow graphics, icons etc would be a more obvious route to take. The increased use of smart phones has certainly made the digital report more appealing. One of the great advantages of having a digital report is the ability to see what your audience is interested in by tracking the clicks within a document. Another obvious plus of a digital format is that a report can be sent by email and/or downloaded from a website. This helps keep costs down and means a company or organisation can send out the report more quickly.
Whilst the digital annual report is on the increase the printed format has not yet taken a huge knock. Rather than ditching the printed copy it is more common for companies to have both a digital report and a printed version. Depending on the sector it is often important to ensure that you don’t alienate the more traditional audience who would prefer to have a printed copy. Choosing to offer both formats will help your audience access the information which is ultimately a main aim of compiling and creating an annual report.
Another thing to think about before starting the design, is will there be any other material to work alongside the report such as email shots directing people to an online report or a leaflet containing some of the report highlights. Planning and knowing the final outcome will obviously help, although a good design should be flexible and easy to adapt should other promotional material be needed further down the line.
Hire a professional designer or DIY?
Most companies would not hesitate to hire a professional graphic designer to produce their annual report. They recognise the importance of having a quality report that presents the information in a clear, readable and engaging way. Therefore cutting corners and costs by giving the job to a non-designer is not an option. However some companies and organisations including charities may feel they don’t have the option to spend money on hiring a professional. It’s always worth contacting a few graphic design businesses to find out about costs, just in case this option does fall within budget. Another way to keep costs down would be to just go for the digital format and therefore save money by not having the report printed. Budget is often the determining factor when it comes to this question.
The obvious advantages of having a graphic designer create your annual report, is that you should have a better quality design. However, always check their portfolio to make sure you like what they do before you decide to go ahead. Often design studios have their own style and look. Some questions to ask – Does their approach suit your company / organisation? Have they created other annual reports? If they don’t come up with a design you like initially, do they offer unlimited revisions or will there be extra costs?
Make sure you write a clear brief, letting them know the type of person who will be reading the report. Ensure all of your copy has been proof-read and you have all the ingredients for the report from the start. Adding in more text or information as you go along, can confuse the layout and structure of a report and possibly spoil a well planned design. A professional designer will appreciate having all of the correct content from the start.
If you do decide to create an annual report yourself, make sure you do your research. Consider which program would be best to use to create the design. Look at other reports to find out what you like and what you don’t. Sometimes keeping the design simple is the best option. Trying to create complex page layouts when you are a novice can often result in a messy and incoherent design. If you are on a tight budget you can always look into having a designer create some elements of the report such as graphs, icons etc that you can then combine with the content. You could also have a designer create a general page layout for you to work within. Acting as a template albeit bespoke to your company or organisation.
As with any design within a company or organisation, an annual report needs to work alongside other promotional material. The reader needs to be able to recognise the brand. You want investors or potential investors to feel they are reading something familiar to them. An annual report needs to work within any brand guidelines. The logo needs to be clearly displayed and any colour swatches, fonts need to be adhered to.
Graphics can be a great way to highlight key achievements. If done correctly, they can engage the reader quickly and get the message across clearly. Financial information is often dry and difficult to put into words! Using graphs, pie charts and other visual aids to display financial information is invaluable and can help to show what the company or organisation is achieving in a clear way. Often less is more, but in the case of some information you cannot edit out details and therefore graphics can help to dilute the quantity and intensity of the information.
As with any design, using quality high resolution photographs will help present a professional image. If you don’t have any in-house photos to use which look great, you can spend a little on stock photos from a variety of online websites. However, annual reports often require photos that are specific to that company or organisation. For example photos of staff or a company’s Headquarters. Therefore hiring a photographer can be a good way to build a portfolio of relevant and quality photos for your report. They can also be used for other promotional material and/or your website.
Photos can really help engage the reader with the content. They are usually the first thing a reader will look at on a page. They can help bring text alive and if you are able to use company specific photos they can really help to get a message across or bring a more real and human element to the content.
Always make sure the photos are of high quality. They should be 300dpi for print and at least 72dpi for online viewing. Also make sure photos have captions if they are specific to your business or organisation so the reader knows what/who they are looking at. Finally make sure you have the copyright, don’t use images taken from the internet without gaining permission first.
An annual report is often packed with information, figures and statistics. Pulling out smaller sections to highlight can help break up the text. Highlighting is also a great way to ensure the excerpts you want the reader to view stand out. You can make some text larger, bolder or place onto a different background. Keep highlighted text short and to the point and try to avoid the text shouting at the reader. You may want to highlight a quote from a director or ensure a positive achievement stands out on a page. These highlighted elements are extremely important as some readers may just skim the whole document, meaning these sections might be all they read!
Call to action
As with other promotional material, an annual report will want the reader to engage with the business or organisation by donating, purchase services, invest etc. Make sure you have a clear call to action, either throughout the document or at least at the very end. Don’t waste the opportunity to let the reader know how to get in touch. Similar to highlighted content, the call to action needs to jump off the page in a positive way. Having contact details on every page can be useful but not always necessary if you have an obvious contact page or section within the report.
The key elements to a great annual report design
Write the report and make sure all content has been proofed before starting the design process.
Who is your audience? Know your target market and design for them in mind.
How will the report be presented? Online (including smart phones), printed or both?
Hiring a professional – research designers and write a clear brief.
Or Doing it yourself – Keep it clear, know your design limitations and keep it simple if necessary.
Graphics – Invaluable and so use these wisely to get information across.
Photos – make sure you use professional photos.
Highlighting – Draw text out from a page by increasing visibility, changing the layout or using quotes.
Branding – ensure the report adheres to brand guidelines and works well alongside other marketing material.
Call to action – Don’t forget to tell the reader what to do next. If you want them to get in touch make sure your business or organisation’s contact details are clear to see.
Get all of this right and an annual report can be as engaging as a company’s website or an organisation’s brochure. If the designer takes his/her time to read and plan the content, their thoughtful engagement can help ensure the final design is a success.
am:pm graphics is a graphic design partnership based in Buxton, Derbyshire. We offer a range of quality, affordable graphic design solutions for print and web, helping our customers achieve a consistent professional identity across a variety of media.