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The 6 things behind a well designed annual report

Gone are the days of annual reports produced as a simple statutory obligation and, generally, with the visual appeal of a telephone directory.

Today, there’s an unmissable opportunity to present your brand, values and achievements through a well-designed, strategically-focused annual report. Think of it as the flagship of your organisation and an extraordinary marketing tool.

The use of good design, typography and colour in your annual report, together with images and graphic elements, can reinforce your brand with stakeholders, competitors and the public, as well as building collateral for your ‘social licence’ and forging trust.

So, if you’re thinking about the design and content of your annual report this year, here’s six things to consider before you drag out last year’s for yet another revamp.

1. By design

Good design is the difference. Strong use of typography, images, colour and graphic elements, such as icons, charts, infographics and pull-out features, delivers visual appeal and makes your content sing. And it captures the attention of stakeholders to convey key messages and data in an easy-to-understand way. Thoughtful design and layout will reward you with a finished product that’s engaging, informative and visually appealing.

2. Let’s make it clear

Any document should flow logically and none more so than your annual report. For most organisations that means two distinct sections – the narrative and the financials.

The narrative provides a dynamic opportunity, each year, to present the growth of your organisation, its brand, activities and achievements. An artful mix of words, graphics and images in this section is the key to engagement with investors, employees or whoever your stakeholders may be.

The financials, while not open to the same creative license as the narrative, don’t have to be out of sync with the rest of the annual report. Typographic and table styles from the narrative can be used to incorporate the financials into the whole document, and still meet your statutory obligations for content.

Colour-coding your content into sections is also a useful visual device in helping the reader to navigate the report.

3. Going digital

Given the wholesale access to modern technology, traditional printing of an annual report is not necessarily required on the scale it once was, if at all. Many organisations are opting for a web-based PDF for download. Hyperlinks can also connect readers with web pages, videos, interactive graphics and animations for more effective messaging, and enable them to share your report across social media and extend your reach.

4. Stay on brand

Your annual report design showcases your organisation – its brand, tone and style. The more on brand you are, the more consistent you appear and the more familiar you’ll be. But it’s not an advertising spiel. Given the serious and regulatory nature of the document, you can afford to rein it in a little.

Essentially, your annual report is a guide to your company and brand; a record of its past performance and future potential. And, as a front-runner in your corporate communications’ stable, it should clearly sport that stable’s colours. There’s little to be gained in ‘telling’ stakeholders that your main point of difference is imagination if the layout of your annual report uses anything but. The same applies if you want to present a stable, conservative, corporate image. Keep it low key but stylish.

5. Use pull-out features

Pull-out features using larger text and, where appropriate, graphics, can introduce the key messages on a page. It’s a great way to catch the attention of a roving eye and highlight your performance. For example, ‘Why we’ve doubled our IT investment’, or ‘Our UK business is forging ahead’. Case studies, together with great images, can also be very useful in engaging the reader with a behind-the-scenes story.

6. Statistics can tell great visual stories

Graphically speaking, that is. Infographics, charts, tables and icons bring context to statistics, and colour and engagement to your annual report. Use them to highlight your strategy and performance, and bring numbers to life. Consider featuring your key achievements using a graphic presentation of ‘this year in numbers’. Graphic elements make it easier for readers to absorb information and also break-up pages into bite-sized chunks. As Zoolander’s Mugatu might say, infographics are ‘so hot right now’.