Annual Report Design You Can Bank On

Business

annual reports on a desk

CONTENTS

26 min read

An annual report design can be much more than a drab legal requirement. It can be a tool, a resource, and an advert all rolled into one.

It’s something we know all too well about, which is why we’ve decided to put together some of our favourite annual report designs in one place.

A) To give you easy access to some legitimate examples, and B) To give you some real-world examples to help you understand how to write an annual report to begin with.

To be clear, this post will cover everything you need to get your annual reports up and off the ground, while highlighting some of our personal favourites.

If you’re really bored, or super into annual reports, you can even play along with this blog post.

Grab a pen and paper, and rank these annual reports from most to least interesting before you read the post.

  • HSBC (Banking)
  • Mailchimp (Marketing Agency)
  • Marks and Spencer (Retailer)
  • Starbucks (Catering and Hospitality)
  • Tesco (Retailer)
  • Tesla (Automotive)
  • Unilever (Consumer Goods)

We’ll begin with a quick definition before looking at some annual report design examples.

What is an Annual Report?

An annual report is simply a report that covers the previous financial year, discussing challenges, profits, auditor’s reports and strategic reports, and director’s remuneration for the year.

It is an open and honest assessment of the business over the previous 12 months, that is transparent enough to be read and understood by anyone who might have interest in the business.

So, what the hell does that all mean?

Basically, at the heart of it, an annual report is your round up of the year, where the money came from and where the money went, who is in control of the company and who isn’t, what’s the plan for the future and how well the plans for the previous year went, and all of the nuts and bolts of the company in general.

The issue with that is… it sounds incredibly dull.

It’s corporate.

The good news is the annual report doesn’t have to be all that tragic. Yes, it is a corporate document, but it can also be so much more than that.

It is a corporate STORY, an engaging narrative that roadmaps the future of the company whilst respecting it’s past.

It’s a single source of truth for the business and can be:

  • a marketing tool
  • a branding statement piece
  • a single source of truth for the organisation
  • a resource for anyone else making reports in the current year
  • a benchmarking tool
  • a chance to assess your brand’s key messaging
  • a masterful showpiece of stakeholder engagement and elegant design

What Is Required To Be In An Annual Report By Law?

In the UK, the FRC (Financial Reporting Council) regulates the annual report and decides what needs to be included. Generally speaking, from the UK regulations, the annual report should include:

  • a strategic report
  • a corporate governance report
  • a directors remuneration report
  • financial statements
  • a directors report

That was a quick whistle-stop tour of what an annual report is for those not in the know. Stay tuned as we’ll cover what to include in one after these short messages (aka examples of designs we like).

Should we look at some annual report design examples now?

shopping trolley in supermarket

Tesco Annual Report

Tesco’s annual report is a great example of how to do it.

Sturdy, informative, not too dense, it checks all of the legal requirements and presents a full picture of Tesco’s financial performance over the last 12 months with not much fluff.

It does come in a bit on the longer side, at 176 pages, but each page is nicely presented. The majority of pages don’t just present a wall of text, but uses graphics, tables and highlights to great effect.

The diagram accompanying their page ‘A robust approach to risk’ is a particularly well designed part of the report, and they get bonus points for pointing out exactly how their sections meet UK legislation requirements.

It’s a bold move, but leaves no room for error or audit. A bit of a power move, but you’ve got to respect it.

All in all, I like the Tesco annual report.

It does what it sets out to do, no nonsense. I like that the report comes across as polished without being too inauthentic or manufactured. There is a polished feel to it all, and the use of the core Tesco colours throughout is a nice touch that is well executed. There are definite areas for improvement, and some parts of the report are incredibly pedestrian.

I give the Tesco annual report…

“BRANDING IS WHAT PEOPEL SAY ABOUT YOU WHEN YOUR NOT IN THE ROOM”

Jeff Bezos
Amazon

It’s a strong start, but not unsurmountable.

Good for you, Tesco.

Maybe put this in next year’s annual report as something to build on?

starbucks cups on a table

Starbucks Annual Report

The Starbucks annual report is a decaf ice latte you pay £6 for.

It’s cold.

It’s disappointing.

You don’t feel any more awake after reading it.

And it’s covered in Starbucks logos.

This is an annual report that is designed for one thing and one thing only. To fulfil the legal obligation of producing an annual report.

For a company with such a creative audience, I was a little bit disappointed in this offering. Their Instagram feed is wonderfully curated, bright and on brand, so it’s a shame that they haven’t injected a bit of creativity into their annual report design. Add to that the distinct move away from general usability and readability, and you’re onto a loser.

I have to give the Starbucks annual report…

4/10

It isn’t the worst report in the world. It just wasn’t created for human consumption.

The use of colour and branding isn’t nuanced or subtle, it’s just slapped on there as a corporate logo on a corporate document.

Not the worst designed annual report on this list but by no means the best, so if you had Starbucks in first or last position… close but no unicorn frappe.

marks and spencer

Marks & Spencer Annual Report

Moving back to the world of retail, we’ve got the Marks & Spencer annual report.

We return to the sturdy, usable annual reporting style we saw from Tesco’s, and again, M&S get the job done.

Inarguably, this is a far more readable, consumable, and scannable report than the Starbucks one, so that puts it above a 4 out of 10 straight out of the gate, scores wise.

It employs a lot of the same techniques as the Tesco’s annual report, so that instinctively puts it in the same ball park.

I like the use of the M&S green, and how it has been seeded throughout the report- I think I prefer it to the blue, white and red of the Tesco report.

The use of the chalkboard font adds a lot to the uniqueness of the messaging, and enforces the brand identity really well.

The actual structure of the annual report, and the ways in which the information is presented, is not quite as good as Tesco’s.

In particular, there are certain key victories that aren’t really sung about or focussed on as much as they perhaps should have been.

The celebrity endorsement of the Marks & Spencer charity (Holly Willoughby, take a bow!) is almost a footnote, although it is used as a highlight of the year.

I give the M&S annual report…

6/10

I like the annual report put out by Marks & Spencer, but overall it just isn’t quite as good as Tesco’s. Marks & Spencer’s report doesn’t cater to the ‘auditing’ audience as well as Tesco’s does, and misses the mark with a few key messages from the year.

It was close, and catch me in a good mood and I’d have possibly awarded the extra half mark to M&S to bring them even with Tesco’s, but for today I’m of the opinion that they just fall short.

Is this the controversial decision that splits the audience?

Am I flying in the face of public opinion here?

Am I getting way too excited about annual reporting?

Either way, the next report up is…

HSBC Bank HQ

HSBC Bank Annual Report

HSBC Bank have a really strong sense of brand and branding.

There is an authority, a gravity, you can really feel in the black and red colour scheme.

Even before you open the actual HSBC annual report, I love the fact that you can access the relevant sections in separate downloadables rather than having to trawl through the full report to pull out what you’re looking for.

Well designed user experience is sexy.

The report itself opens with a beautiful and colourful compound image of various iconic city skylines, showing HSBC as a bank with global concerns. This global image is built up by the tag line ‘Opening up a world of opportunity’.

Very cool, HSBC, very cool.

Going into the guts of the report, we see splashes of colour and good graphic representation of information.

I like the use of the larger text for important figures, as it really draws your eye to that part of the page. This caters really well to the skim readers who will just want to browse this in a leisurely manner rather than reading it word for word.

The use of brand colours and secondaries are consistent and well established throughout the report, and all of the salient points are covered.

You can tell you’re in the banking sector with this report as well, lots of figures and ‘big business’ going on everywhere.

It never feels too fast paced, which sometimes works against the report, but it also just narrowly avoids being dull as dishwater, even though the content can be a bit of a dry read at times.

It ticks all of the boxes, but is still designed to be read by a human rather than just to fulfill an obligation.

Overall, I have to give HSBC Bank a score of…

8.5/10

HSBC have smashed it here.

You look through the annual report, and they cover everything off in a really clean, neat, easy to digest format.

They lost marks here and there from some deeply unsatisfying story telling.

On page 72, they talk about shutting down some suspicious bank accounts but never clarify if they were right to do so, or what happened as a result.

It could have been a really cool highlight, (data analyst takes on the mob!) but instead it just made it seem like HSBC can and will shut down your bank account if you make large cash deposits.

The other major place they lost points was the length.

At a gargantuan 382 pages, this report is an absolute leviathan.

Sure, it has things to say, and the beautiful graphics do take up a little bit of space, but at some point you have to aim for a bit of brevity.

This is offset somewhat by the availability of all of the major sections in pdf form, but still… keep it a bit tighter HSBC.

A strong frontrunner, it’ll take something really special to beat this report (spoiler alert: Something does…)

Following up from that, we’ll jump to the most disappointing report on the list…

Tesla Annual Report

Tesla is like marmite (and by Tesla I mean Elon Musk).

You either love it or you hate it.

On the one hand, launching a car into space and playing David Bowie’s Starman is an incredibly obnoxious thing to be doing.

On the other hand, it’s genius from a PR standpoint.

Same with launching Tesla Tequila, smashing unsmashable windows in a safety demonstration, launching limited edition short shorts to cock a snook at Wall Street for shorting Tesla stocks, selling ‘not a flamethrower’ flamethrowers under a Tesla sub brand.

The list goes on.

Where you fall with Tesla on the obnoxious to genius sliding scale is irrelevant really, it just shows that Tesla and Elon Musk have an incredible knack for polarising people and getting them talking.

It definitely isn’t the only electric car brand out there, but it is definitely the most talked about.

Which is why the Tesla annual report is such a disappointment. Such an opportunity to bring in the aspects of branding and personality, and we get… nothing.

Well, not nothing- we get worse than nothing, we get dull.

Perhaps it’s entirely geared towards an audience that hate the crazy PR stunts Tesla go in for. The ‘standardised black text, white background, times new roman’ audience.

It just seems like a missed opportunity, and a surprising admission from a company you might expect to be a little bit more creative or exciting.

I’ll not dwell too much on this (YOU BROKE MY HEART, ELON!) but yeah… there’s not all that much to talk about.

Dull, colourless, corporate in the worst way…

2/10

Let’s swiftly move on to our next contender, a company with many fingers in many different pies.

They own over 400 different brands, including Lipton Ice Tea, Dove Soap, Lynx, Magnum, Pot Noodle and… Marmite (do you see the link? It’s almost as if I planned it).

Unless you are king of the pub quiz, you probably don’t know the company I’m talking about, so I’ll stop trying to pad out the Tesla section and just reveal the next section.

a bundle of miscellaneous consumer goods

Unilever Annual Report

Unilever, (who definitely aren’t the bad guys from Wall-E), have A LOT of sub brands to be concerned about.

They make an incredible amount of money.

They managed to fit all relevant information in just over 200 pages, which is a phenomenal feat in itself.

There is a good use of pastel colours which makes the report friendly, although some of the colour choices are a bit questionable (using the same colour for human skin as you do for the planet Jupiter is a bit of a jarring palette choice, in my humble opinion) but overall it’s nice.

Pleasant enough? Check

Presents information in a highly readable way? Check

Shouts about it’s successes? Check

Includes everything it needs to? Check

Is it as good as the HSBC report? Probably not.

It’s grab quotes and the things it wants to shout about aren’t as attractive as the HSBC report, and the stylistic sensibility just doesn’t measure up.

Is it as good as the Tesco annual report?

I’d say so. It doesn’t do some things as well (like catering towards auditors) but it does some things better (the image of the man and the cow on page 11 is a surprisingly lovely bit of illustration work).

Side by side, it’s a question of personal taste- I think the information is presented in a very similar style and probably speaks to industry sensibilities as much as anything else.

Unilever’s annual report does a lot more with blocks of texts, making it slightly less scannable, but the colour palette is softer and more accessible.

I think the Unilever annual report is probably as good as the Tesco annual report. For the sake of ranking them at the end, and solely for the fact that I prefer the imagery used in the Unilever annual report, I award the Unilever report….

7/10

At this point in my annual reports journey, I was thinking that perhaps what separates the good, the bad, and the ugly might be a legislative thing. I was leaning heavily towards preferring UK based companies over American companies, and the way the annual report is regulated is different on either side of the Atlantic.

And then I found it.

The Holy Grail of annual reporting.

And I found it in Atlanta, Georgia. This shows that Starbucks and Tesla do just have rubbish annual reports and it’s nothing to do with legislation.

The undisputed winner of the annual report designs you can bank on is…

mailchimp monkey toy on desk

Mailchimp

The Mailchimp annual report is a thing of beauty.

Gamification.

Interactive.

Interesting.

Parsed down to the vital facts and figures, no padding.

Colourful.

Fun.

And just so, so, so creative.

What a brilliant concept.

Taking something that is classically not the most exciting corporate document and creating a fun and interesting tool that works as a powerful marketing tool as well.

I’m green with envy.

Of course, Mailchimp probably have a more corporate version of this report. But I don’t care. I’m not going to look for it.

At the time of writing, the Mailchimp annual report has over 13,000 backlinks. Good, relevant, quality backlinks. The report itself functions as a compendium of success stories, while still finding space to shout about Mailchimp’s own successes. It’s marketing gold. It is short, punchy, and graphically pleasing.

There are probably faults with the report that I miss because I’m so blown away by the production value of it all. I understand that one lone marketing manager with no time and less budget didn’t put this together on a whim.

This is an extremely polished, well produced and precisely executed bit of marketing, and although it is unlikely that anyone could emulate it successfully without some serious time and budget allowance, it does show what the annual report can be.

This is probably the best annual report to ever have been created, by virtue of the fact that it is the only annual report that wasn’t written as a dour corporate document to be jazzed up a bit for readability, but as a marketing tool that just so happened to be an annual report.

It also combines real world annual report data type stuff, and things you’d normally find in a marketing report, so it’s a super interesting read.

Kudos to Mailchimp, who are awarded…

11/10

I know that breaks the grading scale, but so what. The difference between Starbucks and Marks & Spencer is far closer than the difference between HSBC and Mailchimp.

In an alternate universe where I used a 1-100 scale rather than a 1 to 10, I’d have given the exact same ratings to all of the other reports, and awarded Mailchimp 1000 out of 100.That’s how much better the Mailchimp annual report is.

How to Write an Annual Report: A Step by Step Process

Now that you have a pretty good idea of the various annual report design examples there are out there, it’s time we switched focus to talk about you.

You and your own annual reports, to be specific. The above examples can act as a rough template for what to include and what not to include. After all, every business is different and will have its own set of requirements, audiences and whatnot.

Let’s break down how to write an annual report step by step, so that you can get to a similar level as Mailchimp and less like Tesla (sorry EV fans).

Step 1: Plan for Your Audience

This is an easy step. Far easier than ensuring all of the regulatory stuff is adhered to. This is simply considering who you want to reach with the annual report.

This is stakeholder engagement 101, moving away from all of the legalese and accounting doublespeak and back into your wheelhouse. Who are your key stakeholders for this project? Who is your external audience? Who else will use this report? Let’s run it down.

First of all, the chairman and shareholders will be at least a little bit interested in the annual report.

It’s their house, and they need to make sure that it’s all in order.

It’s easy to write with this audience in mind, because they are incredibly invested- in all senses of the word- and want to read what you’re creating.

Ok, who else? Potential investors? Again, if they are considering putting a load of money into the company, they’re pretty much a captive audience.

Let’s think of a more difficult audience to capture.

The rest of the workforce.

How do you engage the 9 to 5 in the top level operational stuff of the business?

There are a couple of approaches, but the easiest one is to ask them what they’d want to know about the business, or ask them what they’d like to see from the business.

At the heart of it, there has to be an understanding that all businesses, or most at least, live and die on their employees. In a business with 250 employees, do we really think that the 5 people who meet up in the board room are carrying the business?

Put the work force at the centre of the report, and celebrate their achievements and accomplishments. They are the beating heart of your organisation, and should be recognised as such.

Is there anyone else you should consider when writing an annual report?

Well, yes, actually.

You.

In 12 months time you are presumably going to have to put together another one of these, and you’ll find yourself in a very similar pickle.

Why not write this report so that when next year rolls around you have a wealth of reference points for next year’s figures and dates? Make them easily digestible, understandable, and clear, in a replicable style.

You’ll be astounded by the wisdom of your younger self in a year’s time.

Step 2: Structure your Content

No sugar coating, this report is going to be massive. It is a monumental task to try and capture a year’s worth of business in one easy to comprehend report.

Start by frameworking your sections. What do you want to say, when in the reader’s journey do you want them to hear it, and where should it be so that it makes sense.

Once that is all frameworked out, think about how you want to deliver your messaging.

That complicated bit of money management? Pie chart it out to make it easier to understand.

That one epic win that totally changed the course of the year?

Go big with it- graphics, positioning- even consider making it an interactive piece of content if your report is going to be presented digitally.

There are tons of tricks that can be used to make the good news really explode off the page.

This can build trust.

Think about the last time you spoke to someone truly passionate about something. That’s what the annual report should be- passionate about your business.

It should come across as genuine and honest first and foremost, but passion is vital. You can be passionate about the negatives too, if you’ve had a tough year.

It’s all about positioning your messaging right, and placing focus on the right things- resilience, bouncebackability, flourishing in the face of adversity.

Placing different weightings on different events is a very powerful tool in any reporting, and can make all of the difference between a reader coming away with a bleak impression of your company or a really optimistic one.

Thinking of your audience from Step 1, which would you rather?

aged book pages hanging on a wall

Step 3: Tell a Story

I very nearly included this in the regulatory requirements section, as it is included in the guidance from the FRC. It was left out of the regulatory requirements section as you’re unlikely to get a telling off or trigger an audit for lack of storytelling.

Narrative storytelling in the annual report is key for stakeholder engagement, transparency, ease of access, and, vitally, for designing an annual report that isn’t just an unreadable jumble of facts and figures from your business.

A lot of people struggle with this aspect of the annual report, but it is the easiest bit to account for. If you ask any CEO or owner of a business what happened over the year, you’ll quickly find out what parts of the narrative they care about.

All businesses have an intrinsic story, and while it might not be a grand soap opera, it is a way to engage readers and hold interest throughout the facts and figures.

It also strengthens your authenticity, it opens the business up and invites people in.

Step 4: Account for the Skimmers

If you put a 100+ page report in front of anyone, odds are they aren’t going to read it word for word, cover to cover in its entirety.

Account for those who would traditionally leaf through and skim for key points.

Make the key points they’d be interested in easily findable, and really noticeable.

Strong graphic components, such as bold photography, well designed charts, or even simple illustrations to go along with your points can make all the difference.

Step 4.5: Flair- Don’t Be Afraid To Let Your Hair Down

The annual report doesn’t have to be boring, it just has to be honest. Have fun with it, you’re going to have to do it either way- you may as well do it creatively.

Step 5: Ensure Honesty

In all of your storytelling, planning, facts and figures, at some point you will get lost in the report like a child in a maze.

You’ll be up to your eyeballs in it, steeped in it.

It’s easy to lose sight of what is important.

There is a very slight distinction between truthfulness and honesty.

Even if all of your facts and figures are 100% accurate, and all of your assurances and statements are so true they could be added to an extremely niche wikipedia page, if your annual report doesn’t capture the zeitgeist of the year, the general overarching feeling of your company, then what’s the point?

Don’t be afraid to admit you had a bad year if you did.

Be unashamedly proud if you’ve had an absolute flyer of a year.

Just be honest.

If you feel like the company underperformed, even with some positive stats, don’t be afraid to articulate that.

Create an accurate, honest account of the year as a historical record.

If in five years time your company has a bad year, they’ll have a roadmap of recovery ready and waiting, a resource that speaks to a time when things weren’t so good but the company flourished anyway.

It’ll be much more useful long term than a booklet of statistics without any meaning behind them.

Step 6: Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Cheesy MC Hammer puns aside, you have no greater resource when it comes to writing the annual report than the people around you.

Department heads, CEOs, receptionists, cleaners, solicitors, accountants, whoever.

They all have something to offer the business or else they wouldn’t be there, and they all have their own unique experiences of the business.

If ever you aren’t sure on something, or feel like there is something missing from the report- ask around. 9 times out of 10, People will be more than willing to help.

It’ll help on the flip side as well, once the report is published. People are more likely to engage with something they feel like they’ve helped create.

Step 7: Get Sign Off

Everything in the annual report has to be true.

The entire purpose of the annual report is to provide a fair, balanced, and easily understandable overview of the whole business over the last 12 months.

It should be a single source of irrefutable truth for the business.

Get a legal team to look over it to ensure everything is above board and fulfils the regulatory obligations.

Get an accountant to look over it to make sure it is, in fact, fair, balanced, and true.

Get as many people to say ‘yes, this is fine and publishable and true’ as possible, so you are less likely to make any costly mistakes in the final, published edition. Better to be safe than sorry.

a car stuck in the mud

I Am Still Totally Stuck With My Annual Report And Don’t Know What To Do

Ok, so you still feel a little bit helpless and don’t know where to start. That’s ok. There are ways and means around that too.

You’ve done your due diligence, read this guide, and probably have a better understanding of what you need to do than you did when you Googl’d this.

Take a breather.

Get up, stretch your legs, get away from your desk for 15 minutes. A blank page awaiting words is daunting, especially if it has been haunting you for a while. Do something to distract yourself, doodle on a piece of paper.

If you’re still feeling totally lost with it all, consult last year’s report if there is such a thing available. Look at how that report is structured, and factor it into your own structural planning.

Look at how you (or whoever else) weaved the company’s story into that report… and if they didn’t, you already have an easy win on your predecessor.

Consider the key messaging of the business as a whole, and how that messaging is reflected in the day to day, month to month operations.

There are so many ways to get into the annual report that might work for you, but if you still can’t get started, go and ask for help.

There’s no harm, or shame, in asking someone else for a little bit of guidance on how they would crack that particular nut.

It plays into collaborative working well, it will engage them with the content when it is eventually published, and it will help you get a foothold with the report.

They’ll appreciate that you’ve came to them for help, and you’ll be able to get out of your own way and just start the damn thing!

If none of that works, well… maybe a little bit of inspiration is in order.

Annual Report Design You Can Bank On

To write an annual report, you need to tell the story of your business over the past year, including everything that is covered in the legal guidelines, in an aesthetically pleasing, well designed, and most importantly, honest way.

That’s all you’ve got to do.

The rest is in your hands.

Did this help you understand how to write your annual report? We hope so, and we also hope that the annual report design examples mentioned also play their part in helping you get the most out of yours.

If going through this post has got you considering where your company is, and where it should be, check out our post on reasons to rebrand and see if it’s time to make a change.

Oh, and remember to get a good look at Mailchimp’s annual report, it’s a great starting point and a worthy winner of our 11/10 rating!