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Annual Report Design Guide: 6 Valuable Tips For Businesses

Annual report designs are more than just about aesthetics...

As earnings season draws closer, most businesses will be busy preparing their annual report for both regulatory and investor relations’ needs. While written content is important in that aspect, the way visuals help relevant stakeholders engage and process the information is equally substantial as well. 

Essentially, your annual report design can subconsciously influence stakeholders on how they perceive your brand, it’s competency, and performance within the past years. While some businesses have already thought about how they would want to present their annual report, others might still be searching for the best way to reflect their personality as well as their achievements in that current year.   

But regardless of where you currently are, it never hurts to learn a little more on how one can produce an even more compelling annual report. So with that being said, let’s explore these 6 valuable tips that could help your business produce a compelling annual report.

A Small Disclaimer

Before approaching the selected agency to produce your annual report, having a theme or direction in mind is important as this puts both of you on the same page with the overall annual report design. 

This not only saves both parties ample time in the early stages but throughout the entire process as searching for the right references can end up delaying and obstructing the project from starting. 

01.
Create A Visual Hierarchy For Your Written Content

Now that you’ve got through the preliminary phase, you have to first think about how you want to present your report’s written content. While chunks of words may be unavoidable due to the nature of an annual report, you can however, plan out ways to separate them with a visual hierarchy (layout) to improve readability.

Here's an example:

Through that, the visual hierarchy creates a reading structure that follows the natural eye-movement (from left to right) while letting readers easily navigate around the page to absorb the information with a quick glance at the headlines and subheads.

This is particularly useful for readers who usually skimp through information rather than diving in deep for the entire paragraph. 

One other way to improve content readability is shown in this next example:

“Utilize empty spaces to break up the content into smaller digestible chunks.”

While the design’s direction for the annual report focuses on a minimalist approach, you can replicate the same style on certain pages where written content can be summarized and fit within your visual hierarchy. 

Moreover, this structure aims to present a pleasant reading experience by giving readers a ‘mental break’ from large chunks of text every now and then by leaving out empty spaces on your pages. By doing so, readers won’t feel overcrowded by the text and can easily process the information better. 

Hence, plan out your report’s visual hierarchy so the agency can get a better grasp on the page’s structure and understand how their designs can fit in and complement your written text.

02.
The Right Typography For The Right Mood

Next, we need to choose the right typography that’s based on the report’s context. As small as it may seem, typography can affect not just the design and readability but the readers’ feelings and emotions as well.

(We’re not making this up by the way.) 

A quick google search can lead you to a few articles on why typography plays a crucial role in the design, which is why we’re bringing this up in the first place. 

Now, we’re not telling people to go through an endless list of fonts in search of the ‘perfect’ style to match your annual report design, but rather consider the context in which they are used because of the effect it has on the overall report. 

For instance, the wrong use of typography in an annual report can lead to an outcome shown on the left: 

But what if your business is a theater company? Or a restaurant chain with a ‘traditional heritage’ as their image? Can you then use these individual typographies interchangeably shown below?

As you can see, there’s a psychology behind picking the right typography as it not only blends and complements the entire design. 

“It expresses an idea to people, and the ideals your business stands for.”
Based on the examples, one of them portrays a bold and progressive mindset that dares to explore controversial ideas while the other conveys a sense of tradition from humbler times.  
With regards to that, typography isn’t just the icing on the cake as they can subconsciously influence our likeability towards visuals and written content, where choosing the wrong one will make it stand out like a sore thumb from the entire report. 

03.
Proper Use Of Data Visualization Techniques For Important Data and Information

After planning out the presentation of your written content with a visual hierarchy along with the appropriate typography, it’s time to simplify the report’s important data and information. 

Through several data visualization techniques such as infographics, charts, graphs, and other relevant elements, readers will likely be more engaged as they can easily comprehend and compare important data and information over several years. 

Here are a few examples:

As simple as it seems, data visualization techniques do just that:

“Turning complex data and information into engaging and compelling visuals.”
But keeping in mind of its simplicity, it’s also easy to choose the wrong graphics as there are some general rules to keep to when presenting your data and information.

For example:

1)

Incorrect Graph Scaling - Readers might assume that the majority of people use Bank of America when in fact, people don’t use any major banks at all.

2)

Wrong use of chart type - Each graph (line, bar, pie chart, etc) has its own specific use for tracking specific data. This example misleads people into thinking that there’s a decrease in expenses at first glance when in reality, it was trying to show the individual spending by each department.

3)

Leaving Out Descriptions - Without context, readers won’t understand if the information is good or bad.

4)

Mislabelling - Not only does it provide inaccurate data about the subject but going over 100% makes it hard to imagine what the actual 100% of this pie chart is.

5)

Impossible Comparisons - While the data shows a comparison over the years, identifying any positive or negative changes between them gets difficult as they look too similar to one another.

In those few instances, data and information can easily be misrepresented which makes reading and understanding annual reports even more difficult. Furthermore, those same mistakes can carry over to infographics while also having clashing colors, cluttered visuals, or even holding too much text to name a few.  

Hence, keep things simple and concise to the point while avoiding those data visualization mistakes as the main goal of it all is to simplify complex information for ease of comprehension.

04.
Focusing On The Right Colors

Let’s jump straight into the examples to illustrate the point:

From a bird’s eye view, using the right colors can help breathe life into your annual report by making the pages seem vibrant whilst communicating important data and information within a short period of time. 

In simple terms, the use of bold colors and visuals creates contrast within the pages by highlighting information which helps direct the readers to the section they should be looking at. 

Although useful in that aspect, overdosing on it can have the opposite effect as the bold colors will set and dictate the design theme within the page, making it difficult for you to include additional colors that aim to highlight important data and information to readers. 
But one way to get around that is to:

 “Base your color choices around your business.”

For instance, Maybank’s 2011 Annual Report:

By centering the color choices around Maybank’s main colors, the annual report becomes cohesive with the brand’s elements as the design theme engages readers with one main color to focus on, while its bold black typography helps highlight important data and information with ease. 

Here’s another example from AirAsia’s 2015 annual report:

Similar to Maybank, AirAsia’s signature red is the main focus in their design theme alongside complementary colors that helps create a pleasant reading experience. Moreover, you could experiment with the colors for your background page as shown by AirAsia in which they moved away from the traditional white and replaced it with a subtle color that is easy on the eyes. 

To sum it up, be mindful of your color choices as there should be a balance between aesthetics and functionality when producing your annual report.

05.
Transforming The Annual Report Experience

Speaking of which, both the Maybank and AirAsia’s examples tend to have their front covers produced beautifully, which is an important aspect for businesses to consider as their annual reports are part of its overall brand collaterals. 

Like any product, the functionality may play an important role in influencing customer purchase, but it would be reckless to ignore the aesthetics aspect of it as consumer preferences are becoming ever more demanding with every progress in the world.    

After all, people crave for good experiences, in which brands are projecting through its image, personality, products, customer interactions, and etc. 

So how do you apply that into your annual report? 

Here are some examples: 

1)    Amnesty International’s 2011 Annual Report

2)    D&AD’s 2011 Annual Report:

3)    Apple green’s 2013 Annual Report

As you can see, you’re not limited to being creative with the page’s visuals alone as this can extend into the actual report itself. By doing so, you’re creating a new experience for relevant stakeholders when they receive the report which breaks the status quo of ‘boring whitepapers’.  

Hence, consider making a great first impression by getting creative with the front cover all the way down to the actual packaging of your annual report as it could become a template and reference for future promotional, branding and marketing efforts.

06.
Don’t Be Shy To Move Past Traditional Formats

While print and ‘electronic’ formats are conventional industry standards, your annual report can be adapted to other formats such as digital, interactive or even video as the possibilities are near-endless! 

On the digital/interactive front for instance, an interactive website report can be made with this tool to create interactive gifs that showcase the business’s performance and necessary information when clicked: 

Another example of an interactive annual report design is this:

The company turned their annual report into a narrative experience by summarizing their history, milestones, performance and other relevant information with an interactive website that users can navigate using their mouse or the keyboard’s up/down arrows.

While impressive, interactive reports such as these don’t come by easily as they act similarly like browsing a website. If the visual data loads too slow or is hard to navigate around conveniently, users will become frustrated and choose the traditional format over this instead. 

What about video? Here are two examples: 

In the first video, the annual report is presented with a pop-up book style in stop motion, done through moving cutouts of 3D objects. On the other hand, the second video suits businesses who prefer a corporate direction as it jumps straight to the company highlights with stop motion graphics in a black-and-white film. 

While traditional formats provide a comprehensive look into a company’s business, videos are meant to engage stakeholders with a summary of the detailed report over the past years without taking up too much of their time. 

Thus, consider other formats to present your annual reports as they can come in handy for not just investor relations alone, but be used as part of your marketing collaterals to attract new stakeholders towards your company!

Conclusion
To recap:
1)
Create a visual hierarchy (layout) for your written content
2)
Choose your typography according to the context
3)
Properly use data visualization techniques to simplify data and information
4)
Focus on the right colors
5)
Transform the annual report experience physically
6)
Move into new formats of presenting your annual report

While that’s a lot to keep in mind for an annual report design guide, these 6 valuable tips can act as a handbook for you whenever you’re facing difficulties in producing your report. In fact, bookmark this page so you can easily access it whenever earnings season is around the corner! 

On the off chance that you’re still feeling confused about how you can improve your annual report design, you can drop us a message or call as we’re always eager to help businesses to bring out the best versions of themselves.

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