We understand the challenges clients face when delivering an annual report and aim to help them deal with the shifting landscape and often challenging scenarios they face.

Not all annual reports are the same and clients vary from small charities to a multi-national banks. Having said that, over the 17+ years Navig8 has been delivering annual reports a list of scenarios crop up time and time again. It is the nature of the work.

A handy article (and PDF) about the process we take when delivering an annual report can be read here.

This article focuses on the challenges a client often faces and what we can do to help them through the process.

We understand the problems and can help  our clients with:

  • I’m not a designer, but…

  • The person in charge of delivering the report, may not have the last say

  • Tight deadlines and multi-proofs

  • Issues with poor imagery or the lack of

  • Last minute content additions and revisions

  • FCO concerns and best practise in displaying financial data

  • Multi-stakeholder input

  • Last minute print and PDF delivery

Let’s look at each of these in detail as a problem and a potential solution.

I’m not a designer, but…

As a client commissioning a design agency, you come to them for their expertise and skills. These should include creativity, ability to communicate the organisation’s aims and messaging, best practice in delivering financial information and production.

But, everybody will have an opinion, especially on the design (see Multi-stakeholder input below). As the old adage goes, ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’. To get the best result from a design, ‘remove yourself’ as much as you can, leaving your personal taste at home. If colleagues are chipping in on the minutia, review the creative solution – and ask yourself ‘does it answer the brief?’

As any great design solution shows, from Dieter Rams to Jony Ive, a single clear vision will deliver the best results.

If you are being challenged, ask you agency to justify their decisions and recommendations, if they are worth their salt, they will be able to do this and their answers will make sense.

The person in charge of delivering the report, may not have the last say

We all have people we are answerable to in business. That’s the way it is. It can often be frustrating for people who have been charged with delivering an annual report only to have a senior manager step in and stick their oar in when you thought everything was going swimmingly.

It is very difficult to avoid this to be honest. However early consultation with senior management, when writing the initial brief will go to help mitigate this later down the road. If senior management have signed off on a detailed brief, and the design agency have answered that brief it is less likely they will poke their noses in.

Tight deadlines and multi-proofs

In the 17+ years Navig8 has been producing annual reports, I would say 99% are delivered in a tight timescale and involve multiple proofs. It is the nature of the beast.

When an agency estimates for the work, they have to base that estimate on a fixed ‘deliverable’, even if that is likely to change. We include three sets of text revision as standard, that is an industry norm. Very few reports get delivered with so few rounds, so our estimates include a projected cost for each additional round of amends.

We have delivered annual reports that have only had three sets, and others that have gone to 20+ rounds.

When budgeting, include what you think you will need in terms of rounds of revisions, and them maybe add a third.

Tight deadlines are par for the course. If you agency can’t meet them, drop them. When they estimate, they should already have contingency plans in place to deliver – no matter what.

Issues with poor imagery or the lack of

Even with a bank of images at your disposal, it is often hard to find the right image to communicate and accompany the text. Images taken by staff  ‘in the field’ are often poor quality, despite being ‘real’.

The best solution is to have a suite of images, all taken by a professional in the same photographic style. But that is a very rare scenario. Consider letting the agency suggest images. Even using libraries can be a viable option if your design agency is sensitive to you needs and brand.

Never use images downloaded from the internet that you do not have permission to use. You may think you won't get caught, but you most likely will.

Avoid, at all costs, suggesting clip art.

If your design agency is telling you that the images you have provided are not of sufficient quality, listen to them. They are telling you that because if you insist on using the images, the result will be poor. There are always alternatives out there. But avoid like the plague stock shots that are set up.

Last minute content additions and revisions

Gathering together content for an annual report is a huge task. Once you have agreed the design concepts, the designers will set the templates and style sheets up in readiness for the content.

Sending draft text (other than at concept stage) is not an efficient use of time. It is best to wait until content is as close as it can be to signed off. In an ideal world content would be signed off by the FCO, CEO and board, as well as marketing and your Nan. But that never happens.

However, the later you leave it, the ‘cleaner’ it is, the faster the report will be delivered.

At Navig8, we are super fast at bringing in content, once it is in, we dedicate a team to design and ‘flesh out’ the report, we’ll make sure you hit your deadlines.

It’s the same with revisions. Gather them up into rounds. The bigger the rounds, ie get a stack done in one go, the cheaper and faster it is.

We are used to revising right up to the last minute. It is part of our job and we are happy to do it. Mark your amends using ‘stickies’ in Adobe, straight onto the PDF.

FCO concerns and best practise in displaying financial data

We follow best practice defined by the National Audit Office https://www.nao.org.uk/

Typically accounts are exported into Excel and supplied to us. Because of the nature of the data, numbers are tabbed to align in Excel or Word.

When we bring this data into inDesign, the data will be entirely misaligned. For instance, if a column that has a number below and above it, but has no number in that column, that tab will not show, and so the data will fall into the previous column. It’s not easy to explain, but let’s just say things get a little messed up. It is almost impossible to avoid this and it is up to the designer to look at the Excel sheet and marry the two.

Errors are likely to be introduced here, despite due diligence. It is very easy to miss a figure or dash that is roman and should have been bold.

Underlines, the thickness of the underlines, the boldness of the number and the number alignment are vital to adhere to common accounting practises.

We know this is important to an FCO, but it must be recognised that accounts are not merely imported, they must be hand styled, one by one, by the designer.

The accounts will need a very careful check.

Multi-stakeholder input

You may know the old saying that ‘a camel is a horse designed by committee’ or what about ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’. No matter how many times we are told and no matter how much we know it to be true, multi-stakeholders all want their say on how the thing looks.

Most opinions are of course based on taste (I never liked purple, it reminds me of my ex, etc.), but some opinions, as we know, carry more weight than others.

Managing a load of opinions is difficult – we recognise that. There are a few things you can do to smooth the way.

At this point, the FCO isn’t usually the problem, more likely the CEO or similar (even the board) can throw a spanner in the works.

Unless your design agency has not understood the brief or delivered something inappropriate, then the selection of concepts (typically three) should be a great starting point.

When responding to the concepts, try not to ‘direct’ the agency. It is better to explain the ‘issue’ rather than offering potential solutions. For instance if the cover image sends out the wrong message, explain to the design agency what their chosen image portrays to you and what your would rather the message be.

Get the agency to explain their thinking, so that you can explain it to the stakeholders.

Don’t mix concepts. For instance, ‘we like the cover of design a, but the spread of design B’. That is the quickest way to end up with a camel.

Agree a plan of action and stick to it, gather opinions, record it and share it with all the stakeholders. If there is conflicting opinion and that is likely, call your design agency and discuss it. They should offer expert advice that is not based on taste.

Once the plan is agreed, you can move on and if anyone wants to change the plan at a later date, they would need a jolly good reason.

Also explain that changing the templates, pagination etc. can have cost implications and may have little or no impact on the final reports effectiveness.

Last minute print and PDF delivery

Last minute print jobs for board meetings or lodging at parliament are just the way it is. With digital print, annual reports can be printed in one to two days. But be warned, they normally cost a lot per unit. Even with a reasonably short number of pages and a short print run.

If you are printing anything over 500 copies litho is the only viable option and you can expect that to take seven working days, so plan ahead.

What does Navig8 offer?

We can do as little or as much as you like, we are experts in corporate reporting of all kinds across all sectors, these include:

  • Charity annual reports

  • Finance and banking reports

  • Construction and housing

  • Retail and consumer reports

  • BIDs and business and public consultations

  • Music, media and digital reports

In addition to annual report design, we offer a host of support services, these include:

  • Data analysis

  • Infographics

  • Photography – globally

  • Translations

  • Optimised PDFs

  • Copy editing and proofing

  • Charts, diagrams and financial visualisation

  • Interactive online data visualisation

  • Animations

  • Social media assets

  • HTML email and e-comms

If you would like to discuss your annual report and accounts design,