Behind every successful corporation is a company philosophy, and beyond the “corporate look” are any number of individual corporate characteristics—such as strength, ingenuity, individuality and excellence. the graphic designer is essential in translating that philosophy and those characteristics into accurate and interesting visual form. Expressive imagery through photography or illustration, exquisite typography and careful decisions about paper choices are prime areas the designer must consider.
The purpose of an Annual Report is to give stock/share holders and other interested people a comprehensive overview about the company’s activities and financial performance over the past fiscal year. It is also meant to give an indication of where it is presently, based on the past year’s performance, and how it (the company) is projected to do in the near future. An additional use of this annual report is to also attract additional or new investors in the company, especially if the company is either relatively new, expanding or introducing a new product line.
Understanding this general purpose of what an annual report is used for is essential to design aesthetically but also to create appropriate clarity, meaning, and purpose. Striking a design balance between persuasion/promotion and no-nonsense visual presentation of complex information are key to your success.
Your design goals are always to interpret. In this case you are drawing your interpretation from two main areas; the company’s established visual identity and secondly, the single most important aspect of the company’s performance over the past year. This interpretation of the company’s performance is the most important—it is concept driven. It is a theme.
Remember that the quality of the products made or service provided are reflected in the design/look of the report through the combined effect of typography, image and paper. The result should be worth looking at, worth the shareholder’s time. Taste, sensitivity to detail—a totality. The CEO wants to satisfy his audience with the presentation of the report that their investment is a wise one. All the elements—photography, graphics, paper and typography are there in such a manner to reach the audience. To achieve great design—not merely competent design—get the subtleties right, it’s in the details. twst.com may provide helpful insight into how a CEO addresses the future of her company in a visionary conceptual way providing leadership for the company’s future.
“Strive for perfection, but settle for nothing less than excellence.”
The designer is the interpreter.
Most financial jurisdictions require companies to prepare and disclose annual reports, and many require the annual report to be filed at the company’s registry. Companies listed on a stock exchange are also required to report at more frequent intervals (depending upon the rules of the stock exchange involved).
Typically annual reports will include the following general sections. These may be titled or presented in different ways that vary from company to company or your specific company may not have all of these listed here:
- Accounting policies (explain how the numerical data was gathered. Typically an accounting firm does this)
- Balance sheet (part of the financial pages/section)
- Cash flow statement (typically accompanies the financial pages/section)
- Contents: non-audited information (this is the narrative or “story”. Beside the financial pages/section this is one of the largest single parts of the report)
- Profit and loss account (part of the financial pages/section)
- Notes to the financial statements (typically accompanies the financial pages/section)
- Chairpersons statement (May be also called “letter to the shareholders” or Letter from the CEO” etc.)
- Directors’ Report ( a second letter that might be a part of some company reports, alternatives might be called letter from the vice-president or assistant CEO, etc.)
- Operating and financial review (a form of narrative)
- Other features (thematic additions like graphics, images, or subsidiary company information that a corporation might have)
- Auditors report (might accompany accounting policies)
Other information deemed relevant to stakeholders may be included, such as a report on operations for manufacturing firms or corporate social responsibility reports for companies with environmentally or socially sensitive operations. In the case of larger companies, it is usually a sleek, colorful, high-profile publication.
The details provided in the report are of use to investors to understand the company’s financial position and future direction. The financial statements are usually compiled in compliance with IFRS and/or the domestic GAAP, as well as domestic legislation (e.g. the SOX in the U.S.).
Find the 10-K Form for your company online to get financial and narrative information to use for your design. If your company is a not-for-profit organization then try looking up the agency’s financial information from their annual IRS form 990 on Guidestar’s website or look for other sources HERE.
You are to give examples of how the financial pages, letter from CEO, company narrative, cover, etc. would look for your company. This means the look will be influenced by two main things;
- The company visual identity and
- The theme/concept that best illustrates the past year’s major accomplishment or development or innovation.
You are the designer. Create clean readable clarity through impeccable typography and inspirational or aspirational interpretation of the company personality through use of image and layout, paper and binding.
Since this is primarily a typographic assignment the focus is on how you treat charts, graphs and other tabular information. You are paying close attention to all of the type variables you normally consider (leading, size, alignment weight, etc.) as well as grouping and hierarchy that results from those choices. The main difference here is that this information is given in numbers (figures) not letters. You choose what numbers to use. In fact, in this case you could completely make up all of this information if you wanted to, but that seems like more work than necessary to me. You certainly do not have to use all of the info you find. Remember we are not creating the entire report, only samples of what the major pages would look like, in other words, the design concept.
As with all good and useful examples, don’t try to use everything, also don’t be too brief so that there isn’t sufficient info there to judge the potential of that design applied to the eventual complete piece.
Since you are not creating an entire Annual Report with this assignment you are instead creating sample design pages. You will have between 8–12 pages in the end that should include examples of the following:
- cover (front & back)
- letter from the director/CEO/President (edit to single page which includes signature)
- financial pages (spread)
- narrative (spread)
- graphs or charts that accompany a part of the narrative
- theme (the underlying “voice”, style or tone)
- photo/image treatments (spread and accompany narrative)
- paper choices
Look for ways of designing these sample pages that will showcase classic readable typography, organization of information, and visually indicate the “heart and soul” of the company over the past year and how this points to the future—The aspirations of the company. The “where we are going from here” plans for the future. Present/design sample pages that will represent the best examples of how you are interpreting the combination of theme, company mission and year’s highlights as a positive vision for the future.
Extend the Visual Identity of the Company. First discover what the existing ID “rules” for your company are. (corporate colors, typeface, logo, tagline or slogan, etc.) What are the variations currently in place and what do those variations represent?
Utilize choices of color, paper, typography, photography/illustration, etc. for the dual purposes of promotion and readability.
Theme your design based upon the philosophy or mission and goals statement of the company or what current direction/product is being emphasized by what they do or how they do it. How are they trying to reach their customers? What are they promoting about themselves?
Pick specific paper (cover, financial section, narrative, image) because characteristics of color, weight, texture, size enhance or positively contribute to the overall design message.
Use the tabs (not the space bar) to set indents especially for numbers that appear in charts or graphs (otherwise known as tabular material). If tabs are set correctly, there should not be a need to use a leader (series of dots) to connect between two different items on a line but under different columns (ex. a food item and its price on a menu)
Your choices of paper for the main parts of the Annual Report are critical because of their capability to express the visual Identity of the company or theme of this past year’s accomplishments as well as indicate the specific differences between the financial pages, narrative pages and the cover. So it is very conceivable that you might need to select a suite of three papers, not just one, for this assignment.
Images can be from stock photo sources as well as ones you take your self. They may be images of the products the company makes or images that illustrate a concept or philosophy that is driving the company direction.
In this assignment even though there is a lot of type, the report is driven” by imagery first. So the typography must compliment the imagery in contrast to many of our other assignments where the typography comes first and the imagery is to compliment the written word.
The hierarchy of the typographic presentation is very important. It is assumed that you will pay very close attention to use of all the typographic variables we have been exploring in previous assignments and minimum typographic management. Your increased sensitivity to use of space, choice of typeface, kerning, leading, size and weight should make reading a pleasure. The information itself is typically very factual in nature. It is a report. Your job is to present this so it does not seem to be a report, but instead insight into the company’s heart and soul—it’s essence. On the other hand your job is not to “dress it up.” Your guide should be to make it classically readable in every way that you can.
Final presentation will be mounted spreads of representative pages from the main parts or sections of the company. Keep in mind how commercial printing works in creating layouts, choosing colors, margins, etc.