Regardless of when your company’s fiscal year ends, it’s important to think about the annual report early. While some people see this as a “design drag,” there are more than a few ways to turn this report into a piece that garners stakeholder buy in and can be used as a reference that’s enjoyable, not painful.

The benefit of having a well-designed annual report is improved reading and retention rates, which are two huge positives for any brand. However, heaps of companies don’t make the necessary arrangements for the design process until after the report is compiled.

Is your company one of them?

Even if (we dare say, ESPECIALLY if) you have extremely dry data, a great design can help you create an amazing annual report that captivates your audience while staying true to your brand.

Planning out and designing your annual report doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Keep reading to learn how to create a powerful annual report.

Plan Ahead

When you sum up the past year, what’s the one, significant accomplishment, initiative or theme that exemplifies what made the year so great?

Choosing a theme that’s evident in your images, graphics, and copy ensures your message isn’t lost on the audience. It’s right there. And there…and over there.

Consistency and repetition are essential for retention. Collecting quotes, imagery, and data from clients, executives, and staff in various departments can really help bring this to life, but it’s often challenging to do all in one go when people have competing priorities.

To make this process easier, tackle it over time. As you are creating content for your annual report, collect content that backs up your narrative in a folder on your desktop or in your email. It’ll make things a lot smoother when you’re ready to start mapping out your content.

Graphs and quotes are great ways to break up the text into easily consumable chunks. Images of all kinds (e.g., photos, illustrations, icons) also have a great impact when it comes to helping your audience connect with the story.

If you don’t have sufficient imagery on-hand to fill the report, stock imagery can help. Give the designer guidance regarding the style of imagery you prefer or require, and access to any stock libraries you may be a member of. Not a member? Don’t worry – sites like Unsplash and Pixabay have heaps of free stock imagery to use.

animation of a woman with short black hair holding up a slide on the right and looking at other designs to the left with the words "plan ahead and back up your narrative" on the left hand side

Start Off Right With an Eye-Catching Cover Page

The cover of your annual report needs to reflect your chosen theme. It only takes human beings 1/10 of a second to assign meaning to a symbol, so right away, the readers are going to get a sense of the story you are about to share. The design of the cover is to get readers ready for (and excited about) the information inside.

Carefully Consider Format

When some people hear “annual report,” they think of a thick, boring book of information or a ream of paper with heaps of information they have to get through. It’s not most people’s idea of a good time. Certainly not ours.

Ditch that and surprise them with a better option.

A well designed annual report can still be booklet-style, with captivating imagery and layouts that make the data manageable and memorable. Using a different format often allows you to present heavy information in a more digestible manner, thereby increasing uptake and retention.

Think about the last financial report you read. Was it the most thrilling, dynamic report you’ve ever seen?

We’d put our money on NO (but if it was, we’d love to see it).

Would you have thought a little more favourably about it if it looked more like this?

White world map on dark grey background with blue circles highlighting key locations for international residential property sales. Text on the bottom left of the page with the headline "where will they be from?" Photo is an example of a magazine style report design.

Knight Frank Report Produced by Persuaders

To make an annual report (or any report, really) impactful, there has to be something for the read to hold on to. Trust us – plain charts on white paper with an overwhelming amount of copy ain’t it.

If this is a big change up for your business, start planting seeds early! Go to meetings with some ideas around how to make information more visual and talk to your team about getting started on the report structure early so you’re not scrambling to finish it at the 11th hour. When you have content direction and planning in place, it’s much easier for you to create a report that’s both visually pleasing and informative.

Reports Can Still Have Some Colour!

We mean that in terms of personality and ink on the page. In many cases, an important factor missing from most annual reports is a bit of colour. We’re not saying every page should have a rainbow background, but simple accents to make important information pop and/or just make the layout a bit easier to look at can make a big difference.

Look at your company brand guidelines – usually there will be primary and secondary colour palettes you can incorporate into your report. If your business doesn’t have brand guidelines – that’s definitely something you want to look into (we can help).

animation of a woman with blue pants and a red singlet painting, but the image on her easel is a report with charts. The words "highlight key information with colour coding" appear on the left hand side.

Use Infographics to Bring Data to Life

Ready to take it a step further? Get all those stats and figures into an infographic!

Why spend time and money getting that created for your report? Because people are 30x more likely to read it. THIRTY TIMES. Not convinced? Hubspot has made an infographic with a whole slew of reasons why you should use them.

An experienced designer (ahem, like the ones we’ve got at Persuaders) can turn even the most mundane figures into attractive data displays.

Space It Out

Consider using margins that are almost so wide it makes you uncomfortable. Use images (infographics, even) and leave some good old white space hanging out there.

No one likes a wall of text. No one.

When you space it out, it’s easier to process and focus, versus the visual assault that is pages upon pages of narrow margins and words from top to bottom.

animation of a man holding out books in each hand with a navy blue shirt on that has a drawing of his lungs over it and the words "ensure there's plenty of 'breathing room'" on the left-hand side

Consider a Presentation Format

If you create your report in PowerPoint or another presentation program, you can incorporate functionality that makes it easier to present, but can also be used well as a PDF or print out.
Did you know you can set up a presentation to work like a website? Specialist PowerPoint Designers (wink wink) can help with that and ensure that it still functions as a PDF.

Determined to handle it yourself? Consider PowerPoint Training to make sure you’ve got the skills to shine (and save time).

Think in Terms of “Chunks” of Information

Chunking out content is going to break up content so it’s got a nice, natural flow. Readers can take breaks and easily pick up where they left off. Think of it as chapters in your report.

When chunking, if you will, consider colour-coding information even just with headers and menu items – just little accents. Colour-coding makes it easier for readers to understand what is being presented and quickly find what they want later when they’re sharing their favourite bits of your amazing report with the world.

Put simply, chunking content makes it possible to skim the information and eliminate the need to read it line by line.

Consider Unique Page Layouts

Take some time to play around with unique or unusual page layouts. Even if your organisation is formal, your reports can be eye catching without going full monty on the crazy scale.

animation of fold out brochure with different styled layouts and graphs and copy "consider creating unique page layouts" on the left hand side

Too Much to Process?

We’ve got your back. Our team have worked with all kinds of complex businesses to help teams streamline information and impress stakeholders and leadership with sensational reports. Get in touch today and let us know how we can help you.

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