Annual reports are one of those necessary collateral pieces that organizations from all sectors (finance, non-profit, municipal, and many others) are obligated to publish, but don’t always spend a lot of time or resources on.
Usually fairly dry and boring to read through, there is a lot of wasted potential for a deliverable that could otherwise help build authority, engagement, and even entice leads.
As a designer, how can you ensure that your annual report designs provide value to your clients and their audience, and keep your clients coming back to you for more awesome design work?
6 Tips for Designing Better Annual Reports for Your Clients
1. Keep It On-Brand and Consistent with Your Client’s Look, Feel, and Messaging
Brand consistency needs to be the foundation for your annual report design: if the work doesn’t look and feel like the brand and organization’s other collateral to some degree, you’ve done something horribly wrong.
Always determine if your client has a brand standards or brand guidelines document. This will give insight on exactly what colors to use, applicable font-faces, how to apply proper typography, photo guidelines and so much more.
That being said, no matter how robust an organization’s guidelines are, always take a look at some of their collateral as well. Brochures, publications, and especially past annual reports are always hugely insightful.
Furthermore, since every good organization should have a website, it’s always wise to take some visual cues from there as well, since it’s often a major touchpoint for those who interact with your client’s brand.
Finally and most importantly, as you work through these documents and begin to understand the organization’s brand more, ensure that you discern who the organization is speaking to and exactly who will be reading the annual report: it needs to speak to them and their mindsets directly. The audience is literally never “everyone/anyone”, and if you feel that to be true, you are fully wrong.
2. Stand Out with Visuals that Excite the Intended Audience
Absolutely nothing will make your audience’s eyes glaze over faster than if they are greeted with nothing but a wall of text. Most organizations will have a small collection of stock photos that you can use, and if that’s not available, there are plenty of paid or free stock photos that can be found through some Google searches. Be sure that the imagery is impactful and delivers the right message to your intended audience.
Also, don’t be afraid t get creative! Experiment with visual treatments like color overlays, and mess around to create a really unique feel that captures the brand’s ethos while leaving an impactful experience.
3. Focus on Simple Messaging Through Infographics
Charts, graphs, and infographics are also important visuals to include, especially when it comes to creating digestible at-a-glance messaging. Rather than rows and rows of data and tables, take the high-level information and boil it down into something bite-size.
Charts and graphs can also be branded, and if made into an infographic should be used to tell a story as you take the audience from statistic to statistic in an engaging way. Infographics like this are highly sharable on social media platforms, meaning you can provide your client with extra value.
4. Think About Quality and Process, Not Just Design
You should jump at the chance to provide extra value to your clients whenever it makes sense. While you shouldn’t proof-read everything that you come across, I’ve always found it useful to make notes of content I just happen to notice seems off or erroneous and making a note to bring it up with the client. A good client will be appreciative of this, and it will build rapport and solidify a great working relationship with them.
It’s also incredibly useful to keep track of content on behalf of your client. Usually, they are distracted and busy, so things get missed or delayed. Keep track of what content is missing, needs to be updated, and especially due dates for this content to be delivered to you. Even if this ends up being redundant, most clients need some hand-holding, and the more you can do this, the more you build your own value.
5. Apply Some Final Polish
Your final step in creating an amazing annual report is to take things from a nine to a ten by applying some polish and focusing on details.
Look through your work and ensure that the design has great white-space usage, everything is on brand, and nothing seems out of place. I also recommend using this last pass-through to sprinkle in a few new images in some spaces that might be lacking visual interest. Often, I will have used up all the stock images allotted by the client, so it never hurts to visit a few stock photo sites, especially free ones, to grab a few gap-fillers.
6. Provide Printing Support
Now that the annual report design is done, what happens?
Not only should you be able to provide your files in a print-ready format, but being able to liaison directly with the printing company can be useful. The last thing you want is to rely on your client playing telephone between you and the printing company for specs and any specific setup requirements, especially if this is not your client’s expertise.
A last great finishing touch is the ability to provide opinions on paper stock and finishes. Do a little research to see what’s out there so you can provide recommendations to your clients. Sometimes you can even request samples from printing companies to see what special (or affordable) papers and stock they have. Investing a little bit of time into this, even just once, will be a great knowledge investment that will serve you for a long time coming.
These tips really sum up a few core ideas that should serve you well for all your design work, not just annual reports.
Add value to your work by being resourceful and managing projects well, maintain a good relationship with your client, ensure you understand their core audience and their brand, and finally, focus on creating an engaging, readable piece of work.