It’s important to be aware that annual reports are statutory documents and there are things that have to be in them. You need to work within the statutory guidelines. Annual reports have a set structure and it’s important that you follow this in your design.
Understand the business. What’s happening in the news? How is the company performing? This will have an impact on the look and finish of your design – if the company isn’t performing well, it can’t look like it’s spent too much on the annual report.
Do the concept and early design work in advance. Know who is actually signing off the design so that you can ensure any creative route you follow is signed off at a senior level early on. We normally do a presentation to the board.
Front to back
The back of the annual report – where the hardcore financial data is – should look as good as the front. Some designers get excited by the front and neglect the back section, but a good annual report is always considered from start to finish. Every piece of information needs the same attention.
An annual report is a document that can never be delivered late. Ensure everyone is aware of the key dates for the client and that everyone knows they aren’t flexible. If a full visual needs to be shown to the board on a certain date, be aware of how many copies they need and when.
Some typefaces really don’t look good in tables and accounts sections. We often work with classic types and find that, on the whole, sans-serif typefaces work much better for tabular data. Serifs can work, but over a huge number of pages it can get a bit fussy.
Data needs to be legible and readable, and that often comes down to spacing. You see a lot of tables that are set quite badly, with too much information packed in or too much space. It’s about really compartmentalising information and keeping it structured and tight.
Some information can be very sensitive, so you need to be extremely careful with version control. One mistake will cost you the job. These are confidential documents until they’re released into the public domain, so any documents like proofs must be shredded.
Always bear in mind that clients will be under a huge amount of pressure, with lots of teams feeding into one person. Be flexible about how amends are supplied and be prepared to do the hours needed to get the project turned around.
The best annual reports usually have a core message running through them, whether it’s fairly abstract or more upfront. Understand your client’s key messages and strategies – if you can get that information from them, it can give you a hook to get the design right.