The age of visual marketing was in many ways inspired by the infographic, one of the most popular types of visual content over the past decade. But the landscape has transformed significantly since then. Organizations are developing visual content for both external and internal use, including everything from interactive infographics to annual reports to motion graphic training videos, and they’re turning to a new type of agency to do this — visual communication firms that specialize in information design.
Consumers today are demanding higher-quality visual content. Marketing departments, meanwhile, are doing their best to deliver enough content without sacrificing quality.
But companies are discovering that it’s not just consumers who have come to expect most of their interactions to be visually driven. Executive teams and employees, too, increasingly want everything from professional development materials to internal presentations to be powered by high-quality visual materials.
And when it comes to internal materials, few are more important than the annual report.
Why should your annual report be visual?
Summing up all the successes and challenges that your team faced over the last year can be a daunting task. It can also be hard to ensure that your report has the right impact, inspiring change and growth for the coming year.
That’s where the power of the infographic can help. Infographics combine data visualization, icons, illustrations, and limited text to deliver the most compelling insights in a memorable, easily digestible format. Your annual report can do the same thing.
So with the end of the fiscal year fast approaching for many companies, make sure your next annual report, financial report, and/or other end-of-year collateral incorporates these key, infographic-inspired design features.
1. Minimal use of text to improve engagement.
Any well-made example of visual communication manages to deliver much of its messages through visuals alone. That means that you should be able to understand what it’s about without reading a word.
Visuals should come first. And that means text should come second. Text should only complement and elevate the visuals — not do the work that the visuals could do instead.
Why is this so important? Because people are only willing to read 20% of a web page that has 600 words or more. We have less patience than ever before for sitting down and reading long blocks of text. And that’s the power of annual report design that’s inspired by infographics: it cuts out all the filler text and only highlights what’s most compelling and important.
This annual report for RGI Corporation shows just how little text is necessary to deliver meaning:
2. Accurate data visualization to make trends clear.
One of the most important types of information your annual report will want to communicate is data. And whether you’re sharing sales figures, engagement stats, or site traffic, you need this information to be easy to understand.
What’s more, you need your audience — in this case, your manager(s) and/or your company’s exec team — to see trends in that data … and that’s where your knowledge of infographics can be your guide. More often than not, infographics include a wealth of data visualizations, because these make it easy to see changes or trends over time.
Sure, you can write that sales are up. You can even explain in detail which departments are seeing an increase and by how much. But that might require several minutes of reading, whereas an accurate, well-made graph can communicate that information instantly.
So use data visualization extensively, whenever you have important stats or trends to communicate. Your audience will more quickly and easily understand what you’re saying. What’s more, your team will be able to come up with a strategy for next year with more understanding and intentionality.
Check out this annual report design for the Marguerite Casey Foundation for an example of the variety of data visualization you can employ:
3. Infographic-inspired illustrations and icons to bring your annual report to life.
When text is paired with images, comprehension increases by as much as 89%. This means that, when you make your annual report visual, its potential for impact increases substantially.
Illustrations have the power to bring any story to life. They can humanize dry content — even your next financial report — or elucidate otherwise-complex concepts. They can hold people’s attention better, and for longer periods of time.
Imagine if the narrative of your next annual report followed a typical customer down the sales funnel. You might illustrate that character based on a particular customer profile or group of profiles developed by your sales team. An illustration would have the ability to humanize that profile — and this can have a powerful effect. Once your team is better able to imagine that customer’s experience, they can better respond to her needs. This leads to better campaign planning, sales processes, and marketing strategies.
Icons can also bring your story to life, but in a different way. They’re great for breaking up large blocks of text into digestible lists — lists whose components are more quickly understandable thanks to how much faster our brains process visual content than text.
Picking the right format for your annual report
Your annual report can be presented as a PDF, a print booklet, a brochure, or an interactive landing page — the sky is really the limit. So make sure to explore which option is right for you.
Meanwhile, this annual report for RGI Corporation can be either shared as a PDF or printed as a full-color booklet:
The whole point of an annual report is to inspire data-powered change and growth in your department and across your organization. If you want to achieve this, the strategies we’ve all learned from infographics not only can but must become a part of every annual report you produce.