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Annual Report Design: How to Impress Stakeholders

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:

  1. It can be formulated with the goal of becoming a statement piece, acting as a reflection of your organization over the past year.
  2. 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. 

Page Design annual reports

Make your annual report design unforgettable

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. Here are a few things to consider when creating your next annual report.

Establish a Theme

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, California Rice Commission constructed their 2022 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, the California Rice Commission 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.

Be Intentional 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.

Put it all together

With a focused theme as your solid foundation, high-quality visuals, meaningful details, and a design that’s relevant to your audience, it's possible to create your best annual report yet. But, if it all sounds like too much to handle, we are here to help.

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