Why Your Annual Report Design Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

By August 7, 2019 September 16th, 2019 Annual Reports, Whitepapers
3D data visualizations displayed on a tablet screen

In the current communication economy, falling back on whitepapers and heavy blocks of text will leave you with a wealth of information that nobody wants to read. Although the shift towards visual content marketing continues to transform the way we communicate, many businesses and organizations have yet to apply this approach to their whitepapers and annual report designs.  

With 70% of marketers reporting better results with visual content, why are reports and whitepapers getting left out in the cold? Perhaps businesses aren’t sure how to shift away from the traditional approach of dense, text-heavy documents, or maybe they’re struggling with allocating resources to translating more complex subject matter into a visual-first format.

How should this impact the creation of  your next report? First and foremost, quality visual communication is an opportunity to stand out. Even simple data visualizations and illustrations can make a big impact in separating your reports and whitepapers from the traditionalists. 

Capturing the Attention of Technical Audiences

Even if your target audience is versed in your subject matter and already primed to be interested, you still need to grab their attention. Like most audiences, they’re more likely to retain information presented visually. And while your audience likely has some specialized knowledge or interest in your subject, you still need to find a way to stand out from all the other content that’s being targeted specifically at them.

Start by making sure your report or whitepaper has an eye-catching cover page. Use visuals that clearly relate to the subject matter, whether in the form of an illustration or a photograph. If your audience is able to identify the subject of your report or whitepaper without even having to read the title, they’ll immediately be more likely to dive in.

Data Visualization in Science

Why Your Annual Report Design Needs a Visual Approach 

Your cover page is just the first step. The content of your report or whitepaper should be authoritative and persuasive, informing readers about a complex issue. What your whitepaper shouldn’t be is, well, a plain white paper. 

In most reports, your goal is to present your audience with your authoritative position, while allowing them to make their own informed decisions. You need to make sure your audience feels they’ve learned something that changed their minds — in other words, they need to retain enough information to feel informed. 

If you’re creating a technical report or whitepaper, your subject matter is likely somewhat complex and presents a new insight or perspective that your audience hasn’t heard before. Illustrations and icons will boost engagement, while data visualizations lend authority to your conclusion. Readers will be much more likely to remember a well-designed bar graph or set of donut charts than a series of numbers buried in the text of a paragraph.

Curious what visual communication can do for you?

Plan Ahead: Don’t Let Your Data Down 

You’ve taken the time to gather new data or insights, compile a detailed text-based report, and triple-check it for accuracy. Now it’s time to bring visuals into play.

As you draft the content for your report, look for opportunities to highlight compelling statistics and data points throughout. Then emphasize these with data visualizations, and let the numbers speak for themselves. 

Data visualizations are a necessity in annual reports and whitepapers, but don’t neglect to include some well-placed icons and illustrations. While data visualizations can lend a sense of authority and help readers comprehend the numbers, illustrations anchor your content to a memorable story and help to emphasize key concepts that don’t involve numbers or other data. 

When creating an annual report design, identify a story that spans the whole year: an important goal that was accomplished, or a series of improvements that led to success. Then highlight this story with a series of linked illustrations that lead your audience through the content. 

Most importantly, don’t be intimidated by the length and complexity of reports and whitepapers. Approach them as an opportunity to share a well-crafted, balanced visual story to your audience. And remember, as you craft your next whitepaper or this year’s annual report: design is just as important as data.

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.

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