For many organizations, an annual report is one of their most important pieces of content, responsible for representing their brand and communicating their proudest successes. It goes without saying that for this vital document, the stakes are high.
Intended to deliver a comprehensive perspective on all of an organization’s activities and big wins from the preceding year, annual reports are typically both a legal requirement and an opportunity to positively represent the brand. The earliest version of the modern corporate annual report dates back to 1903, when U.S. Steel published one that earned certification from Price, Waterhouse & Co. Before the advent of social media and other digital channels, annual reports provided a rare chance for an organization to expand their brand and flaunt their achievements from the past year — a stage of sorts to show off their biggest triumphs.
In the hundred-plus years since then, annual reports have transformed considerably. While they still serve to meet financial reporting requirements (including those outlined by the IFRS, GAAP, and SOX), the yearly reports have evolved into a vibrant representation of everything an organization is, what they do, and where they’re headed.
Generally, there are two lenses through which you can view your upcoming annual report:
- It can be formulated with the goal of becoming a statement piece, acting as a reflection of your organization over the past year.
- It can satisfy requirements for a legal document that can be given to shareholders and other intended groups.
It’s possible to create an annual report design that checks both of these boxes — if you know how to take the right approach.
Elevating Your Annual Report to the Next Level
Until recently, annual reports had a less-than-glamorous stereotype as one of the more tedious documents in the world of business. Packed full of data and figures, an annual report has the potential to push its audience right over the cliff of indifference and into the depths of boredom (a fate that’s tough to recover from).
But here at Page Design, we know a thing or two about building annual reports that don’t just meet all the core requirements, but also make the bold, memorable statement you’re hoping for.
Make Establishing a Theme Your First Priority
Once you realize that your annual report is the chance to tell the story of your organization’s past year, it’s easier to see the process in a new light. Building your report around a singular theme is the key to a cohesive and purposeful document, ensuring that your annual report won’t wander off into the territory of faceless data.
Ask yourself: what are you trying to communicate with this report? Are there specific highlights you want to cover, in terms of what your organization is currently doing and what your future plans hold? This is your opportunity to build a narrative and give your leader a voice, reinforcing your organization’s vision and larger mission.
For example, Sacramento-based electricity provider SMUD constructed their 2016 annual report around a theme that was summed up in a single word: “empowering.” By starting with a solid, well-considered theme as their foundation, SMUD and their design team created an annual report that encompassed everything the brand represents, past, present, and future.
Know Your Audience and Design Accordingly
There’s no such thing as an annual report that suits all audiences, especially because your specific audience depends largely on the type of company you are (i.e. private, public, nonprofit, a commission, etc.). These broad categories of audiences are even further characterized by the specific people that will be viewing your report. This can include banks, internal teams, shareholders, current clients, potential customers; the list goes on and on.
It’s important that you consider the subtleties of different audiences, particularly when it comes to what they want and expect to see in an annual report. Your organization’s mission, overarching values, and accomplishments should all be presented in a way that makes sense for the audience that will be receiving the report. Make an effort to humanize the information in a way that speaks to your target viewers. Your report is more than just an assembly of key data points; it should stand as a testament to your brand and everything (and everyone) it stands for.
Take an Intentional Approach with Visual Elements
The right visual elements have the power to elevate your annual report from bland data to engaging, conversation-worthy content. Best used to bring the front portion of your annual report to life, attention to visually-compelling details is critical.
The myriad of ways to incorporate visual elements into an annual report offers plenty of opportunities to highlight important points and capture your audience’s attention:
- High-quality photography, specifically shots that effectively convey a message, is a must. Avoid relying on generic stock photography, instead utilizing photos from professional, in-person shoots instead.
- Communicate data, including financial information, in creative-friendly graphing, statistical pullouts, and other aesthetically-pleasing forms.
- Create layers of information, highlighting the most important points and directing the audience’s eye accordingly.
- Abide by basic design principles, even when you’re thinking outside the box. For example, don’t overload each page with information; instead, include a generous amount of white space.
Weigh the Benefits of Online vs. Printed Reports
Although it’s easy to assume that digital now reigns supreme, print materials still hold an important place — and likely always will. Many of today’s companies are taking their annual reports online, like the California Cut Flower Commission (featured above), but that doesn’t mean that printed reports have fallen by the wayside.
A printed report is a tangible piece that makes a statement all its own, particularly when it provides a distinctly multi-layered experience for the recipient. The majority of people enjoy having something physical to hold in their hands, a document that’s pleasing to all the senses. Think high-quality paper, a strong visual element, and a statement-making presentation method, all the elements for an annual report that has permanence.
Integrating an online form of an annual report, based on its printed version, is a smart way to capture the best of both worlds.
Partner with Page Design for a Winning Annual Report
With a focused theme as your solid foundation, high-quality visuals, meaningful details, and a design that’s relevant to your audience, you can create your best annual report yet. Add in the help of a graphic design team, and you have a surefire success on your hands.
Page Design is counted among the top graphic design companies in Sacramento, and we’ve worked with a diverse range of clients to produce annual reports that hit their mark. We’ll merge your ideas and data with our design expertise — and mix in just enough of our team’s signature creativity — resulting in an outstanding annual report that sets a new standard for your company. You know your business, and we know great design; together, we have what it takes to knock your annual report project out of the park.
Ready to start designing your next annual report? Contact Page Design today and let us get to work for you.