Ideas for your next annual report.

Explore design tips and innovative examples to inspire engaging annual report designs.

Multiple annual reports side by side

Annual reviews can inform and inspire.


An annual report offers a comprehensive overview of a year’s worth of company business. It can be a challenge to design a business report people enjoy reading, but a good annual report can inspire trust and generate excitement both inside and outside an organization. With concise storytelling, strategic data visualization, and eye-catching design, you can create a report that delivers motivation, inspiration, and thorough information.

 

 

Content to include in an annual report.


Add sections for the following elements to ensure a thorough and informative report.

 

Chairman’s letter

The Chairman, CEO, or owner of the company tells the story of the past year to stakeholders and potential investors. This story might include a brief overview of the company and its mission, an outline of strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and challenges during the previous year, and key goals for the coming years. What does the company want to achieve, and how will it measure success? This section might also include a brief financial summary.

Two people standing and staring down at a laptop together to create an annual report

Table of contents

Help shareholders or potential investors quickly find the information they’re looking for with a table of contents. If the report is online, you can hyperlink each section so they can easily find what they need.

 

Business profile

Provide an overview of the company with vision and mission statements, a list of directors or corporate officers, the product and services that drive the revenue, a competitor profile for comparison, and any potential risks the business faces.

 

Management discussion and analysis

Examine business performance over the past few years. Highlight sales, profit margin, and income. Describe any substantial changes to the business or launches of new products and services.

 

Financial statement

Dig into the details of the company’s finances for shareholders, investors, potential investors, and employees. This section usually includes a balance sheet, cash flow statement, income statement, and statement to shareholders that adds context to the bottom line of profit or loss. If the company is public, this section must include the stock price and amount of dividends paid.

 

 

Get creative with your annual report layout.

 

To design a report people will read, be strategic in your messaging and layout design. Add headings and subheadings to help readers follow the narrative and find the sections they’re most interested in. Use text boxes and pull quotes to emphasize key points and break up long sections.

 

Use photographs to show the human side of the work, and include a bold color as part of your brand-consistent color scheme. For digital reports, consider making subtle animations to draw attention to particular sections and keep readers engaged. Instead of a big wall of text, create an infographic that helps readers visualize your data in more digestible bites. 

A cover of an annual report next to an opened annual report

Pique interest with the annual report cover.

 

Because people do judge books by their covers, the report cover design is important. Most annual reports are printed as books or offered online as PDFs, leaving you with some space to get creative. Through photography or graphic design elements, the cover page should establish the themes, typography, and color palette that carry through the whole report.

 

Even the shape of the cover can offer room for creativity. The Pirelli Tire Company produced an annual report for 2013 that was both book and sculpture. The spine of the case that held the report was cut so the book could rest at an angle, giving it the appearance of being perpetually in motion.

 

Sometimes less is more. The cover design for this 2019 annual report for Neurama, a company focused on aging, includes several brightly colored circles on a light background with no text. The circle theme continues inside, coupled with vivid portrait photography.

 

To see a truly creative approach, check out the annual report for Ablynx, a biopharmaceutical company. The creative agency Soon developed custom 3D-printed infographics for the report, complete with miniature figures, and then photographed the tiny scenes to illustrate data.

Make data meaningful with graphic design.

 

You don’t have to go as far as 3D-printed graphs, but it’s important to present data in a clear and compelling way. This is especially true for negative findings. Be clear about the facts, and then pivot to solutions. Clean iconography, strategic use of color, and clear labeling can bolster your argument.

 

To avoid overwhelming the reader with graphs, create infographics to show data in the most reader-friendly way — which you can make in an app like Adobe Illustrator. Begin by sketching out different ways you might visualize the data. Develop a visual hierarchy, so the most important information stands out, and arrange the information in a way that guides the reader’s eye through the story you’re telling.

A blowup diagram of components of an annual report

Design for clarity.


Never forget that the primary purpose of every annual report is to convey important information. An app like Adobe InDesign is one way you can create the page layout you want from scratch. You can also use an annual report design template from a resource like Adobe Stock. As you’re designing the pages of the annual report, keep in mind these basic design principles.

 

  • Begin with a summary page that sets up the information to come.

  • Use visuals to capture the attention of your audience and clearly separate different sections.

  • Choose typography that makes the report easy to read and understand. Simple fonts are best.

  • Use white space to add clarity and emphasize the most important points.

  • Make sure every photo or graphic adds something new to the content.

  • Edit copy down to its essential core. Where possible, use a graph or chart in place of a paragraph of information. 

  • If you’re going to use one color, stick to it. If you choose multiple colors, use no more than three.
Various pieces of an annual report floating around a blank document

Annual report design inspiration.


The right report design depends on the type of company, but no matter the field, you can find inspiration and discover design trends in annual report examples from Behance.

 

Corporate report

Most jurisdictions require corporations to file annual reports. These reports should stay consistent with the business’s brand identity. Charts, infographics, and bold headers can help make the financial information easy to understand.

 

This Associated British Foods print design by Beth Sicheneder gets right to the heart of the matter by balancing photographs and text with clear iconography and data visualization. Note that the first page offers a succinct company profile and mission statement.

 

Nonprofit report

These reports should speak to the organization’s mission. Because most nonprofits rely on fundraising, these reports should be directed at an audience of donors, stakeholders, and supporters. They should clearly outline the financial state of the organization and its accomplishments. And they should convey appreciation for those donors and supporters who make the good work possible.

 

This annual report design concept for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra inspires as it informs. Expressionist brushstrokes throughout the report represent the dynamic music of the orchestra. Designer Eunice Joaquin explains, “The concept connotes passion, fluidity, movement, and freedom.”

 

You don’t have to spend a fortune printing and binding your next annual report. Check out this design for Amnesty International Hong Kong in 2011. Constructed as a newspaper to highlight the 50th anniversary of the organization, the report begs to be picked up and scanned like the day’s news. Bright yellow highlights draw the eye to the most important details and numbers.

 

Sales and marketing report

Whatever the product, sales and marketing reports need to show investors or shareholders the sales figures in relation to goals and analyze the impact of the sales and marketing teams. These reports should identify the target market, audience, and strategies the sales and marketing teams developed to increase sales. Include case studies, identify sales trends, and explain how the company adapted to changing markets.

 

Explore the futuristic design of Sberbank’s 2019 annual report. With extensive icons, charts, and illustrations, the design effectively illustrates the expansion of the bank’s “synergetic ecosystem of sub brands.”

 

 

Create online or interactive reports.

 

Online reports are greener than printed reports, and companies can measure how often people view them. They also allow for more creativity in design and presentation. This 2014 annual report for Microsoft IT prioritized a responsive user experience across devices. Readers engage with the company’s success stories through animated stats, interactive graphics, illustrations, and original photography. Check out the 2012 report for the Holland Board of Public Works, which includes animation and a water usage quiz.

An annual report viewed on a laptop computer and a tablet device

Team up for success.


Design apps, like those available in Adobe Creative Cloud for teams, can help you create icons, charts, graphs, and layouts for your report. With the in-app tutorials and annual report templates in Adobe InDesign, it’s easier than ever to put together a polished annual report. And you can find visual elements in Adobe Stock to elevate the design and create infographics in Illustrator.

 

To make use of your annual report’s creative assets in other design projects, store them in a shared resource. Creative Cloud Libraries is one option for this, ensuring assets are quickly and easily accessible to your whole team.

An annual report being designed in Adobe InDesign

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