The 8 Best Strategies for Designing Annual Reports

illustration of annual report showing open book

Every annual report is a chance to share what sets your company apart. But the way in which companies are choosing to present their reports is changing. Today’s best annual reports incorporate elements of infographic-inspired design, including data visualizations, illustrations, and icons. They lean on visual content to communicate their message, because that content is easier to parse and more engaging for audiences. 

Traditional, text-heavy reports are no longer enough. It’s time to switch things up. This year, transform your report into an engaging piece of visual content with any — or all — of these 8 techniques. 

Visualize Your Data

First of all, remember that the best annual reports communicate in a variety of ways. For your next report, infographic-inspired elements can help give readers’ eyes a break. 

In this print report for Deloitte, bold charts and graphs break up the content. And of course, they put the data front and center. This makes it easier for readers to draw quick conclusions and recognize trends in the data. That would be hard to do if the information were buried in a paragraph.

mock up of Deloitte annual report

Illustrate a Story

If your report isn’t data-heavy, you can still incorporate other visual elements. First, invite readers to look inside with a unique cover page. Then, use illustrations to break your report into clear sections. Icons will help draw the eye to key concepts. 

All of these elements can work in tandem to tell a larger story, and help your readers draw conclusions. And if you do have some data to share, great! It can form a critical piece of the visual story. This annual report from travel agency Noord exemplifies a visual story that’s fun to explore. Data and characters are rendered in a creative, hand-drawn style:

Mock up of Noord Annual Report

With this style, storybook elements tie in perfectly with the subject. The overall style gives the report an approachable and down-to-earth feel. It’s hard to not love these Nordic gods riding on the backs of airplanes; now, that’s visual storytelling:

Use Photography Boldly

Photography is a tried-and-true visual element in annual reports. It can add a human element, or bring your products or services to life.

This report for Ball Corporation uses a photo of factory machinery for a dynamic feel. The powerful sense of movement in the photo leads the reader down the page:

One of the best annual report designs featuring bold photography

Bold photography can help balance longer blocks of text. Just make sure to choose high-resolution photos to ensure your annual report looks its best. Also, keep in mind that the best annual reports go outside the box. Subtle cropping or masking can elevate your whole design. Just don’t go overboard. 

Create an Interactive Experience

If your goal is to encourage more people to read your report, consider an interactive microsite. Check out this annual report for Bluetooth, which helps readers focus by showing the most relevant data. Notice how the subtle animations encourage scrolling. Even simple movement can enhance the reading experience.

data visualization in an interactive infographic

Showcase Multimedia Elements

Your annual report is an opportunity to show the best of your work from the last year. So why not make the most of what you’ve created already? 

An interactive piece also allows you to embed new content or existing assets, like videos or social-media posts. This interactive report for Warby Parker draws readers in with animated icons. Then it links to videos, blogs, and other highlights. It’s strategic and engaging at the same time:

Warby Parker Annual Report Illustration

Adopt Multiple Formats

The more data you have, the more it matters how you present it. So if you bury data in a long report, readers might never find it. Maybe you want to appeal to casual readers, while making your full data available to those who want a deeper dive. 

This report for the Seattle Department of Transportation pairs a printed report and an interactive experience. As a result, readers get to choose how they explore more than 20,000 data points. Above all, it appeals to more people than either of the 2 formats would alone: 

Seattle Department of Transportation Parking Visualization

Opt for an Annual Report Infographic

An annual report infographic uses a range of visual techniques. This approach pares down text, relying on illustrations, icons, and data. Sinai Urban Health Institute’s annual report infographic embraces this less-is-more approach to text. The result is reader-friendly and driven by data:

Sinai Urban Health Institute Annual Report Infographic

Note that, while the report above was created in a print format, an annual report infographic is just as shareable — perhaps even more so — as a digital file. And in that form, it can be presented in a variety of ways — as a long-scrolling infographic hosted on your website; as a PDF; or as a series of mini-infographics shared on social media. The options really are endless — so choose what works best for you.

Create a Motion Graphic

Some of the best annual reports don’t live on paper. If your goal is to boost engagement, consider a motion graphic. Most of your audience might not have time to read a long report. But a motion graphic can say a lot in just 30 seconds. In fact, 94% of video marketers say video has increased user understanding of their product or service.

Keeping it simple is key. This video brings KVC Health Systems’ report to life with movement and a clear voiceover:

The Best Annual Report for You

So which format should you choose for your next report? It depends on your goal. Above all, high-quality visual communication is key, whether you choose an infographic, an interactive report, a motion graphic, or a printed annual report. With the right visual strategy, your report can accomplish much more than you think. And it’s an opportunity that only comes once a year.

Sheridan Prince

Author Sheridan Prince

Sheridan Prince is a content editor for Killer Visual Strategies. She grew up in Indianola, WA, often exploring the woods with a book in her backpack instead of a map. She has a BA in English Writing, a collection of beloved plants, and a passion for concise, evocative communication in all forms. Before joining Killer, Sheridan worked as a content strategist in the sphere of higher education, and as the editor in chief of a journal for emerging authors and artists in the Chicago area. As part of the Killer team, she believes that the keys to crafting powerful stories and forming strong client relationships are to ask the right questions and listen well. On the weekends, she gets her creative fix from watercolor painting and floristry, and gets her fresh air by gardening, hiking the outdoors and learning about the native flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest.

More posts by Sheridan Prince

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