The annual report has been around for decades and has continuously evolved over that period. From the first annual report published by U.S. Steel in 1903 to contemporary versions from companies, annual report design has drastically changed in purpose, goals, and approach.
Initially, annual reports were created primarily with one purpose in mind – to disclose the financial performance of an organization. Today, the Annual Report is so much more – it acts as a single source of information about the company from the company and functions as a powerful marketing and investment-garnering tool.
While most companies will likely have significant amounts of information on their website, the annual report is a singular opportunity for organizations to go into detail about what they envision, how they aim to achieve it, their performance so far, and their contributions to the environment and society they operate in.
The acknowledgment and realization that annual reports could potentially help raise funds, create genuine connections with stakeholders and raise brand awareness led to an organic evolution of how they are designed. The shift has been pretty dramatic and evident, as annual reports have changed from being insipid disclosures of data to vibrant, visually-appealing showcases of the company’s standing.
While reporting financial performance remains mandatory and regulated, companies have found more creative ways to tell the brand’s story. Some of the design elements that have become annual report trends are:
Annual reports have gone from directly stating facts to becoming an important medium of storytelling. By creatively guiding the reader’s attention to the key event that occurred in the previous financial year, companies can instantly increase their recall power.
At a time when annual reports were content-heavy and tedious to read, the use of infographics helped tell a story and allow for more information to be interpreted in less time. i.e., readability and accessibility improved massively. Infographics are the use of graphics (including charts, graphs, etc.) with minimal content (or words) to get information across to a reader in a clear, concise, and simple manner.
For instance, take the company Birlasoft’s recent annual report for FY 22 which uses a combination of pie charts, bar graphs, and colors to give readers and stakeholders an easy way to take in the key highlights of the financial year. Similarly, a simple and easy-to-understand infographic in the CSR section showcases how the different committees are split and uses minimal content to describe responsibilities.
With the availability of modern software tools, designers are now able to enhance the visual elements of an annual book with the help of illustrations. Illustrations, by definition, are visual explanations of a text, concept, or process. These could be used on the cover page of the annual report combined with a brand’s colors to get an abstract concept across to readers with minimal text.
For instance, Pfizer’s FY 22 Annual Report uses illustrations to get the theme and brand message across to readers in a visually stunning manner. Each hand-drawn illustration clearly captures the new identity of Pfizer India and represents its operations. The overall design of the report comes off as clean and vibrant at first glance and can be found here!
Images or photographs
It is pertinent to keep in mind that the design elements used in annual reports will differ from one industry to another. For example, some industries, like real estate may choose to use images or photographs as showcasing their properties and high-resolution professionally captured images would allow them to best represent the brand and operations.
As an example, Brigade Group’s Annual Report 2021-22 uses an actual image of one of their top projects on the cover of the page combined with their brand colors. In addition, a short theme line gets the company’s message across simply and effectively. A second interesting aspect of this report is the use of a combination of illustrations and infographics to showcase the timeline of the organization over the last few decades with major milestones in bullet points. You can check out their annual report here.
This is a relatively new trend in the world of annual reports. Isometric art is a form of rendering 3-dimensional objects on a 2-dimensional plane. Artists use what is known as “parallel projection” to make the “object” pop out. Many organizations worldwide have related to this form of design and opted to use this in their annual reports to give a uniquely engaging design. A couple of great examples of recent reports that used Isometric art to get their brand message across are L&T Integrated Annual Report 2021-22 and Jubilant Foodworks Annual Report 2021-22. While the annual report from L&T used isometric art on its cover page to stick out, the JFL annual report has used elements across the report to create a visually impactful story.
Digital reports and the use of emerging technology
An emerging trend in annual reports is the use of technologies of varying functionalities that also enhance a stakeholder’s overall experience and ability to interpret the information being provided. The technologies currently being used or that will soon be implemented include Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Blockchain, and QR Codes. Some companies wanted to engage their stakeholders in new ways and so added a layer of augmented reality to their digital reports, thereby increasing the number of touchpoints for stakeholders. Similarly, QR codes could be used to provide added information, where a reader could scan a QR code and get access to exclusive video footage.
Wondering about all those reports linked in the paragraphs above? You guessed it! They were conceptualized, designed, and written by Report Yak in partnership with the companies. You can check out our work and reach out and we’d be happy to discuss your next report!