9 tips for designing a great annual report

An annual report is a document that tells shareholders and other stakeholders how you’ve performed over the previous financial year. It provides an opportunity to showcase your success to those with a vested interest in your organisation and its design can have a big impact on how effectively the information comes across. For that reason, we’ve created this quick reference guide to nine key design principles we use at Regency to help our clients’ annual reports look sharp. Read on for an overview on annual report designing, or use the anchor links below to jump straight to our design tips.

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annual report

How do you create an annual report?

Creating an annual report is no easy feat. This is one giant document that has to wow its readers, not just with its words but also its appearance. Everything from the feel of the paper to the font used will impact a reader’s experience of your report – and determine if they actually consume the content.

To make an annual report you need a combination of top-notch copywriting skills, first-class photography and professional graphic design. The content needs to be factually true but also hold the reader’s interest. This isn’t always an easy balance to achieve. Similarly, the layout needs to be engaging without overpowering and this boils down the strength of the design.

What makes a great annual report?

A great annual report is one the reader can’t put down – and one they’re inspired to pick up in the first place. It needs to be impressive without coming across as boastful, engaging but without too much fluff. Hard facts and stats are a must to include. While lovely stories about CSR initiatives have a place, these must be balanced with performance-based insights.

– How much did your company turnover?
– What profit was achieved?
– What are the expectations for the next financial quarter?

These are all key things a stakeholder in your business will expect to find in an annual report, and leveraging design to illuminate these figures is a big part of what makes an annual report successful.

How do you design a report?

Content is the crux of an annual report, so in an ideal world you’d get this firmed up first and then design the report’s layout around this.

That’s not to say all the design work waits until the content is ready. While the content is being produced you can still work-up concepts for the report’s visual identity. In fact, it’s a good idea to do this in tandem with the content being written so you can get approval on things like fonts, graphics, and other key elements of the design, prior to beginning work on the layout.

How much does an annual report design cost?

How much an annual report costs depends on factors such as production time, pagination, and how many brochures you’d like printed, as well as the type of paper and binding you choose. You may also opt for premium finishes like gloss and foiling for the outer cover, all of which impacts the final price.

So many moving parts make it impossible to cost a brochure without the above specifications firmed up. The answers to each point will ultimately determine how much an annual report will total, which is why we always provide a bespoke quote for each job, based on our clients’ exact requirements.

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9 tips for creating an engaging annual report

As we’ve touched on above, content is king when it comes to your annual report but design is integral to making that content sing. With that in mind, here are nine tried and tested tactics we employ at Regency, to ensure our clients’ annual reports read as well as they look.

1 – A captivating cover design

Look, we’ve all been told not to judge a book by its cover but do we listen? Not one bit. That’s no one’s fault. It’s human nature to form an initial judgement based on what we see with our eyes and all advice to the contrary won’t help us break the habit of a lifetime.

That’s why a cover that appeals to your audience is the first thing your annual report needs to succeed. Something that screams out: READ ME but not so loud it’s off putting.

A formula we’ve often used to success at Regency is to combine a strong hero image with impactful typography. The combination of an engaging visual with on-brand type follows a design principle used in books and novels, and always seems to produce the desired effect of making the reader want to find out what’s inside.

2 – A clear contents page

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The purpose of your annual report is to tell the story of your business over a twelve-month period and no doubt given such a big time frame there’s a lot to say. While the content should follow a natural flow throughout, it’s reasonable to assume that not everyone will read the report in its entirety.

That’s where a contents page adds so much value. It allows readers to see – upfront – precisely what information is contained in the report and where to find it. This spares people the agony of having to flick through page after page of content just to find the information that’s relevant to them and is a valuable time-saver. Don’t be tempted to sacrifice this.

3 – An executive summary

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In large documents, of which annual reports are a prime example, an executive summary is a great way to condense the key takeaways and set the tone for what the reader will go on to discover in more detail within.

It’s essentially an introduction that draws attention to particular aspects of the report and summarises (without going into too much detail) the main outcomes. It’s a nice way to set the tone for the annual report that makes a great lead-in to the meatier content you’ll want to break down section by section.

4 – Images that add value

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One of the biggest mistakes you can make with an annual report is to sacrifice images for the sake of saving space. There’s nothing instantly more off-putting than huge sections of text without an image to contextualise. Not only do solid pages of text look visually unappealing, psychologically, they also suggest a big time investment on a reader’s part.

Sure, you might want to cram in as much content as possible and cut back on pagination to save money, but by sacrificing imagery for the sake of prioritising text you risk designing a report that no one will be inspired or engaged to read.

5 – Engaging charts and exhibits

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Most annual reports contain a lot of data by nature. That just goes with the territory. But how you choose to present the data is entirely up to you.

Studies show that some people naturally absorb information easier when it’s presented in a visual format, and this is why the trusty infographic is one of your best design tools when it comes to designing an annual report people actually want to read.

Don’t worry – you won’t have to come up with the format for these yourself. Finding inventive ways to showcase our clients through icons and illustrations is something we get a real kick out of at Regency. But trust us when we tell you that quality infographics are the backbone of a great annual report.

6 – On-brand design

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When it comes to your company’s brand, consistency is key and your annual report is no exception. Sure, this is just a once-a-year document, not the business card you hand out on a daily basis, but any marketing collateral your business produces must adhere to consistent branding if it’s to have any integrity.

For that reason, your annual report must follow any brand guidelines your business uses in relation to the placement and sizing of logos, fonts and colours. This ensures that your annual report – arguably your business’ most important stakeholder tool – is on-brand (according to the identity you’ve established) and reinforces your brand positioning.

7 – Uncoated paper stocks

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If your annual report is due to be printed, one thing you’ll need to consider is paper stock. This ultimately influences how your report will feel to the touch, how much it weighs, how premium it comes across and how well the ink translates on the page.

We often use uncoated paper (recycled or from managed forests) for annual reports at Regency due to the way it feels (matte not shiny) and because the paper gives images a slightly faded, more natural look.

Of course paper stock choice is entirely down to your preference (and any stipulations in your brand guidelines) and we’ll happily advise you on all the different options available.

8 – A reference section

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A reference section sits at the end of a report and is essentially a resource for further reading and crediting of sources you’ve cited in the content.

Since you don’t want to overwhelm your report with these references throughout the body copy, it can be a good idea to condense them into one comprehensive list at the end. That way, all necessary credit is given and stakeholders understand who they need to contact, or where they need to go, to learn more on a particular aspect of the annual report’s content.

9 – A digital version

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One thing we’d always recommend at Regency is a digital version of your annual report that you can share online or make available for download on your website.

This satisfies the needs of any stakeholders who prefer to consume content digitally and offers a more economical and environmentally friendly solution to a printed report.

Similarly, while print is subject to lead-times and bulk orders, digital downloads can be shared instantly with any number of stakeholders. Creating a digital annual report also opens the door for moving graphics and video content to be incorporated into the design – both of which are proven engagement drivers.

If you’re preparing an annual report for stakeholders and would like the experience of an agency with a proven track record in annual report design for businesses, drop us a line at hello@regencycreative.co.uk or call us on 020 8144 1909

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