Annual reports can be thought of as a company’s equivalent of a yearbook, where all of its most exciting moments are recorded within a single document. An annual report showcases what the company did the previous year and is most often filled with simple data templates. Companies are obliged to provide annual reports to shareholders, however, adding a creative design to is something that is optional.
Yet, by including creative ways to present data, a company can turn simple charts into a source of visual stimulation. With some creative design, an annual report becomes an interactive tool that informs, educates and excites. From icons to charts and even color choices, an annual report that implements creative design is one that provides readers with a rich visual experience.
Once thing that you must know about annual report designs is that there are two parts to its: the front and the back. The front part usually consists of an eye-catching graphic while the back includes all of the company’s financial information. Although both are a part of the same story, they do have different weights assigned to them by the graphic designer. By combining these two distinct parts, you can allow each reader to have a distinct reading experience.
Annual reports are important as they are a great way for you to showcase your company culture or extend your brand. Hence, if you opt for an exciting, unique, and memorable annual report design, the data will be that much easier and interesting to interpret and absorb for readers.
During the past years, some companies have gone above and beyond what’s expected to craft an amazing annual report. Most memorable examples are:
1) Vrijwilligers Academie 2011 Annual Report
Printed on origami paper, this annual report features instructions on how to create paper creatures out of individual pages. The design stands out as it includes the use of bright and bold colors as well as fonts. The template is simple yet absolutely stunning.
2) Podravka 2006 Annual Report
This annual report of a food company created by a Croatian creative agency, Bruketa & Zinic, is definitely one for the books. The report comes with a booklet printed in thermal ink, and what’s extra fascinating about this annual report is that it has to be baked in the oven before it can be read! Once baked, the book will reveal pages filled with recipes and images.
3) Pirelli 2013 Annual Report
Pirelli’s annual report was designed into a black and yellow binder with the title “Spinning the Wheel” on the front. The annual report has a diagonal cut on one of its corners to make it seem like it’s a rolling, just as the title suggests.
4) Ergo Hestia Group 2016 Annual Report
This annual report consists of a silver print on glossy black paper. It depicts data visualization with red circles and dots in such a clean and attractive way. Each page has one single image on black background and no other messy details that drift your attention to them.
An annual report is a compact way to present all of the company’s achievements, yet at the same time, it may also include information regarding its employees and the social impact of its activities.
While bar graphs and pie charts are the easiest ways to can fill up an annual report, they are also the least rewarding in terms of reader engagement. Hence, a bold and ambitious design can help transform annual reports into a rewarding project for the company and its shareholders.
If you’re unsure of what an annual report actually entails, here is a list of all the basic types of information an annual report tends to include:
1) A company or organization’s mission statement
Each brand comes with a distinct set of goals, whether we consciously know them or not. In short, a mission statement reveals the sole purpose of the company, what it does, and how it operates to achieve these goals.
Apart from their goals, a brand’s vision and values can also be something that makes up a huge part of their mission. Technically, those brands that we choose to buy from have a unique set of values that we agree and personally resonate with, and these values represent what the company does for:
- Local community
- The world
Growth is great. There is no doubt that everyone wants to get involved with a company that’s constantly evolving, growing, expanding, and creating something that makes an impact in the world. However, not all growth can be expressed in numbers. When the company starts creating a positive change, whether culturally, socially, or environmentally, it’s always a great idea to acknowledge that in the annual report through some creative design.
A company can have different offshoots that still belong under the same corporate umbrella, such as an in-house marketing agency. Giving each business segment inside the company its own spot in the annual report is a great way to motivate employees and show appreciation for their hard work.
What do executives think about the company they’re running and how did they manage some of the tough choices they’ve made this past year? An annual report can be a useful source to build connections between executives and the company’s internal and external stakeholders.
By providing this information, readers will gain an insider view of the executives job, what they do as well as their thoughts and opinions on the company. By allowing executives to be an active part of the annual report, this can help increase the level of transparency and generate trust with readers.
Some goals in life are too difficult to accomplish all in one year. So, for those types of projects, we tend to set up milestones and slowly work on reaching them; companies are no different to us in this matter.
From year to year, a company can be working towards some long-term changes in society, and especially so when it comes to specific communities. Hence, success stories should also be given a prominent part within the annual report to reflect on the positive impact that the company has in its community. Once their social contributions have been recognized by readers, this can lead to a better reputation of the company.
Now you understand what needs to be included within an annual reports, let’s discuss some of the solid fundamentals of an awesome annual report design. From picking a format, to wisely using space and focusing on the cover, there’s a whole slew of tips you can use to make your annual report stand out, and perhaps someday be featured in an article just like this one.
What comes to your mind when you hear the words “annual report”? For most people, they often imagine a glossy booklet with about 20 densely packed pages of information. So, what’s the only way to absorb such a high volume of information? A great and comprehensible format.
We recommend using the booklet format, however you should also give it a unique spin. For example, you can create it in the form of an app, a mix of paper and digital content, or purely digital with searchable pages. It’s hard to convince the higher-ups to eliminate all that bulk, but you should always at least give it your best shot to cut down on the visual clutter.
Simply cramming numbers on a page can quickly overwhelm the reader so how about turning them into a part of the visual design? Instead of a plain old table, use just a few elements that go into making a table, make them near transparent, and create a stylized numbers table.
With digital files, perhaps the best format for your annual report would be PDF, a rich textual file that allows complex element arrangements with multimedia.
It’s no coincidence that infographics are so popular online – they are an excellent way to present information. Mix some icons with color in a simple, creative template and you’ve got a rich source of data that’s easily digestible and actually pleasant to look at. Consider which data is the most relevant and give it a prominent spot in the annual report.
Keep in mind that the average viewer will scan your infographic from left to right, top to bottom. So, consider the topmost part of your infographic as the foundation and present information in a way that naturally flows downwards. Most importantly, a good infographic turns dreary old numbers into a good story, one that is definitely worth reading and sharing. With that being said, group your data and present it in a scannable way, so that readers can go back to the infographic and cite some data from it in an instant.
Furthermore, make sure you decide on the color palette early on and stick to it. The colors should compliment each other to create a nice visual appeal to your report. You may even use contrasting colors to make your design pop even more.
However, if you choose to work with digital formats, make sure you find a balance between fidelity and file size. Keep in mind that infographics are often saved and passed around as treasure troves of information, so work on refining your own style and start producing consistent, engaging and informative annual reports that will be saved and read for years to come.
Your selection of font is what can actually make or break an annual report. When you’ve got bland numbers and nothing to tie them together with, choosing a bold typography can transform the annual report from boring to amazing. This is especially true if you have just a few images to work with.
Letters transformed in an unusual way quickly attract the eye and serve as visual anchors for the reader. For those with dyslexia, which is believed to be 15% of the population, increased font size and letter spacing help immensely with absorbing information.
Note that when held back by restrictions, that is often when your creativity shines. In the case of annual reports, this means cutting down on word filler wherever possible. Omit “the” and “a” and keep adjectives to a minimum to keep the text as short and as factual as possible. To make this easier for you, you should consider making a list of keywords related to the company early on in the project in order to incorporate them later on into the annual report.
Every principle that applies to making a solid infographic also similarly applies to the process of making an annual report. The one difference is that you have more space in the latter case but that also means you have to use it wisely. It’s very easy to get absorbed in making a massive annual report but you should constantly narrow down the word count to make the overall text more readable and digestible.
Refer to how major newspapers presume certain information is already known and omit words from headlines but then explain the context further on. By doing this, you can produce textual content that someone who is familiar with the situation can quickly scan but at the same time also make it so someone who is completely new can learn from it.
Margins should also be wide enough so that information has enough space to stand out. With annual reports printed on paper, consider the idea that a reader might want to jot something down on the margins, so be sure to leave it blank and in neutral color. The more usable a printed annual report is, the better. In fact, it should invite interactive edits from the reader to increase engagement.
Generally, a good rule of thumb when it comes to space in annual reports is to leave a minimum 25% of it blank. There is a fine line between leaving more blank space that makes the document feel empty and leaving less space that makes it feel crammed. To figure out the balance, experiment with different ratios and create a few different versions with each different ratio.
It’s quite likely that whoever’s in charge will want a typical, run of the mill annual report with blocky spreadsheets and black/white color palette. While that kind of design does work, it’s not very memorable for readers.
Therefore, what you can do is focus on the cover of the report and make it shine. This is the “front” part of the report mentioned earlier and may include a dozen or so pages depending on the overall size of the annual report.
When creating such a document, what matters most is that you make sure they possess the following qualities:
- Visually appealing
Every company will place different importance on each of these, which may hamper your creative design. However, these qualities are what makes a great annual report that readers will keep looking forward to every year. So, aim to meet all these requirements when designing your report.
It’s understandable if you can’t make your creative vision come true right at the start. It always takes a few tries to get it right. However, the best part is that there’s always next year’s annual report to work on. So, based on these tips, strive to keep improving the design of your report each year, and you’ll hopefully come across the perfect style that works best for you.
Besides having grown up in the design Industry, Christiaan has advised some of the world’s largest companies on their branding & packaging designs. Has been the resident judge for design awards, and has spoken at numerous global design & marketing events. Christiaan founded the London office of the award-winning Cartils agency, and has founded the DesignBro.com platform.