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by Emma Butler

Produce Annual Reports That Attract People, Instead of Alienating Them

Illustration of a computer screen with a rocketship and bar graph

Check out this annual report — it has no pictures, it’s 60 pages long, and it outlines every single thing our company did this year! Aren’t you excited to read it?! Oh, and it’s in a handy-dandy PDF. Everyone loves PDFs! (May I suggest printing it out double-sided, to save paper? I’ll go fire up the Xerox.)

If the text above sent chills down your spine and made your eyes glaze over, then welcome to the club. Annual reports used to be strictly printed territory — a stapled stack of pages armed with tables of data nestled beside lengthy portions of tiny text were commonplace (and perhaps even welcomed, by those with a penchant for self-harm via dry reading). Thankfully, many companies have done away with this uninspired presentation of information, choosing more creative ways of displaying their annual reports — enticing more people to actually read them and absorb some valuable data. The majority of these reports are specifically-made websites that look good and are easily shared — an idea that was pioneered by smaller online companies around 2012-ish, but has been adopted by many larger companies in the years since.

The majority of these annual report websites have a few things in common:

  • easy-to-read text
  • minimal colour palettes
  • aesthetically-pleasing visual elements (illustrations, photos, lettering etc.)
  • a little bit of dynamic movement or animation

If you’re ready to ditch the ol’ printed annual report format (or simply supplement it with a more digestible digital option), take inspiration from these websites that prove that data representation does not need to be dull:

Shopify's Annual Report reads 2015 Make Commerce Better for Everyone
Large illustrative text for the win.

Shopify 2014: A Year In Commerce


“Shopify is a complete ecommerce solution where you set up an online store to sell your goods.”

Shopify’s one-page website for their 2014 annual report hits all the right notes. A minimal colour palette is used to keep things simple and readable, and large illustrative text creates a comfortable distinction between sections.

Graphs, data, and images are animated in a subtle way to add a touch of movement as you scroll down through the site.

Five icons from Google Ventures Annual Report
Love that line-art!

Google Ventures 2014: Year In Review


“Google Ventures is the corporate venture capital investment arm of Google Inc. and provides seed, venture, and growth stage funding to technology companies.”

Google Ventures “Year in Review” site sticks to a monochrome blue colour palette, which lets the simple line illustrations and animated Javascript components do all the talking. The site is full of links to external pages — encouraging readers to click-through for more in-depth information if they want it.

BT Mobiles Annual Report says Investing for the future building on a history of innovation
Big companies can pull off annual report sites as well.

BT Group 2015: Investing for the Future Building on a History of Innovation


“BT Group plc, is a British multinational telecommunications company with head offices in the U.K.”

BT had a lot to share in their annual report, but chose only to display the most important information on this designated page of their main website (with optional downloads of PDFs available via the click of some clearly labelled buttons). BT utilized videos, infographics, and images to share their findings — and incorporated horizontal scrolling and expandable/collapsible features to include extra content but not take up more vertical space than necessary at any one given time. A top-fixed navigation bar also gives quick access to each section of the page. (They followed a similar style the year before.)

Mailchimp's annual report shows their monkey mascot looking over a city and reads A Look Back
Watch out for that monkey butt — it'll getcha.

Mail Chimp 2012: A Look Back


“MailChimp is an email marketing service provider, founded in 2001. It has 7 million users that collectively send over 10 billion emails through the service each month.”

Mail Chimp have been doing online annual reports for years, and their 2012 one is a stand-out. A two-column design that lets the data scroll on the right, combined with a fade-in background colour change (depending on what section you’re in) makes for a pretty good visual experience. The data — displayed in simple graphs, infographics, and large numbers — is easy to absorb, and the rollover animations on some of the icons are a nice touch.

CUPS annual report shows an illustration of a family fishing off a pier and reads Teaching Families to Fish
Ready to go fishing?

CUPS 2012: Teaching Families to Fish


“Calgary Urban Project Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals and families in Calgary overcome poverty.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking this website wasn’t an annual report at all, given that it is illustration-filled and sprinkled with animation. Focusing less on the numbers and more on the information, CUPS entices you to read their findings with bright colours and movement — and of course, there’s plenty of “learn more” links to offer up extra details in the form of overlaying boxes. Bonus points for the Easter egg: when you scroll up, the fish you caught as you scrolled down gets eaten by a bigger fish! (The only negative — the site doesn’t work on mobile.)

Ustream's 2013 annual report logo

Ustream 2013: Annual Report


“UStream is a do-it-yourself site that lets you be a broadcaster.”

Ustream knocked it out of the park with their look back on 2013 — parallax scroll, animations, animated numbers, full-width images — you name it, it’s here. Scrolling downwards animates certain actions and displays of information in a compelling way, and in case the scrolling gets a little too much for you, there’s a fixed nav at the bottom of the screen to help you out.

See? Reporting doesn’t have to be dull!

Just because a printed and stapled booklet has been the go-to for annual reports for years, doesn’t mean we can’t do better. Most people spend a significant portion of their time each day online, so why not approach them there instead? We can combine design and data to create a compelling website that people will actually want to read.

Another point: have you ever had a positive experience trying to read a PDF on your phone? Doubtful. If you’ve been on the internet at all in 2015, you’ve read something about how mobile traffic is still increasing — respect the people the annual report is for and give it to them in a format that they want to engage with.

Feeling inspired and what to discuss this more? Email us to talk about your next annual report.

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