EST 1980
CoBank Annual Report 2017 2

Apr 25, 2016

5 Tips for the Best Annual Report Design

Gini Queen headshot
by Gini Queen
While the only thing required by the SEC is a 10-K filing, many corporations fail to recognize the opportunity to capitalize on this “necessary evil” by turning their annual report into one of their top marketing tools.
Here are 5 tips to ensure your annual report design will be one to remember. 


Catch your stakeholders’ attention by treating dry content in new, visually-compelling ways. Infographics and creatively designed timelines are a great way to present fascinating company facts that might otherwise be glanced over when presented in a text-heavy format.


You’ve heard the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” so convey your story with images. Make sure to use high quality, creative, professionally-shot photography that will connect emotionally with the reader, as well as represent your company as contemporary and relatable. Even the most “yellow metal” manufacturing company can achieve a dynamic and compelling annual report by using unique, emotion-evoking images. 


Too many times a company chooses a theme without:
  • Investigating what themes their peers have used in the past two or three years, to make sure they don’t come across like they’re following a trend
  • Realizing that a popular company buzzword in July might not necessarily be relevant the next January or February, when the annual report design is in full gear
  • Tying the internal content back to the overall theme
Any of these above scenarios will result in the designer either going back to square one when the theme is redirected, or even worse, force them to “fit a square peg into a round hole” by trying desperately to conform the new theme to a design that was created for a completely different concept.
Either way, your audience will be left with the impression of “wow, do they run the company as disjointedly as this annual report was put together?” If you choose to theme your report, stick to the one you (and more importantly, your CEO) decides on (after you make sure your closest competitor didn’t use the same wording the prior year).
If you’re lucky enough to be working with a highly creative design team, a spelled out theme on the front cover is unnecessary. The overall theme or concept can be conveyed by designed typography and visuals carried through the annual report, compelling the reader to continue beyond the cover.


There are many ways to make your annual report memorable in your stakeholders’ minds without breaking the bank:
  • A cleverly executed cover that suggests something totally outside the expected realm of what your company represents, but is spot on in conveying the message you want to your audience.
  • A different size, shape or delivery vehicle (it’s all in the packaging) makes your company stand out among other books on a coffee table.
  • There are many cost-effective printing and finishing techniques available today to enhance the look and feel of the most budget-conscious project.


In today’s digital world, more companies are opting to satisfy their stakeholders’ need for information (and save printing expense) with digital annual reports. These can range anywhere from indexed PDFs of the company’s printed piece to comprehensive annual report microsites housed within the corporate website. The beauty of digital annual reports is the flexibility given to add information without worrying about increasing page quantity. Roll-overs, pop-up windows, embedded links and video and image scrollers all enhance the user experience of a well-designed online report.
Video components are a huge plus in today’s online annual reports. They “personalize” the company, showing the employees in action, interacting with the CEO, and give the viewer a “behind the scenes” glimpse of the company’s day-to-day operations.
You can market to a broader audience with a smaller printed summary annual report, or “push the envelope” with a robust online microsite that goes above and beyond your required annual reporting. Whichever direction you choose, make sure you have a talented design team who knows how to deliver the most compelling custom annual report that reflects your company’s unique differentiators.