Every year TD Cascade designs quite a few annual reports. Creating annual reports is a major specialism at TD Cascade. Given our background, we are even unique when it comes to designing annual reports. We combine a thorough knowledge of information design with our vision on corporate design. More than any other communication tool, producing annual reports requires an analytical and methodical approach, along with an eye for detail and a very precise way of working. Because several people with different expertise and responsibilities are involved in making the annual report, thorough preparation, tight planning and good communication are of great importance. That is why we keep control of the process from beginning to end.
Noblesse oblige. Our name in the field of annual reports naturally means that we follow all relevant developments closely, and then make them our expertise. The three developments that have had the most consequences for the publication strategy, the content and the design of the annual report are:
- From printed and PDF to an interactive annual report website
- The annual report as a corporate communication tool
- CSR and sustainability (integrated reporting)
1. From printed and PDF to interactive annual report website
Will the target group receive a representative 'book' or a handy online tool from which all information of interest to the user can be interactively retrieved? There are plenty of arguments for both options, but let's be honest: the beautifully printed annual report with hardcover, die-cuts and spot varnish in a luxury storage box with ditto shipping packaging is far behind us. Like almost all means of communication, annual reports are almost exclusively distributed digitally. The technical further development of publication software has made the production process much more efficient. Another advantage of so-called Digital or Online First publishing is the possibility to report continuously, and in addition to the annual report from one online database, to publish the half-yearly and quarterly figures at any time.
2. The annual report as a corporate communication tool
Annual reports are no longer just a balance sheet and profit and loss account. In addition to the demand for financial figures, the annual social report was also introduced in the 1980s. It accounted for personnel policy. But what really had an impact was the development of the brand. Companies and organisations have become institutions with a story that extends far beyond the supply or services. Without that story, the company or organisation has no name, no meaning, and in fact no right to exist. The annual report lends itself perfectly to telling this story. And so the annual report no longer became the responsibility of just the financial department and the accountant, but took the lead from the communications department. The annual report became the annual showcase, in which the clearest possible picture of the organisation, its ambitions and future plans could be presented.
3. CSR and sustainability
A third development with major consequences for the annual report is the statutory 'mandatory' attention to our environment, initially designated by the term CSR, then by the 3 P's of People, Planet, Profit, but ultimately evolved into the all-encompassing term sustainability or sustainability. Sustainability has become an industry with its own consultancies and reports, and is now embedded in almost every company in both policy and process 'sustainable'. As a result, sustainability/sustainability is inextricably linked to the functioning and performance of the company and as such is integrally incorporated in the annual report figures and facts. Hence the term Integrated Reporting.
The implications for publication strategy, content and form(s)
The above developments have resulted in the current annual report, offline but especially online, looking very different from what we were used to. The annual report has become a versatile and dynamic corporate communication tool that can communicate much more corporate information than just the presentation of the annual accounts. As a result, the annual report also reaches far more readers than just the legally and financially involved stakeholders. With such a wide range of choices, the professional advice of an experienced design agency is certainly not an unnecessary luxury.
Transparency and design
The main requirement for annual reports was and is transparency. In today's society, concepts such as 'disclosure' and 'sustainability' have corresponding implications for the concept of transparency. Transparency means clarity about the facts behind the figures, i.e. openness. This is of course the client's own responsibility. From a technical point of view, however, we can promote the required transparency, starting with a clear structure and logical layout of the information. Using graphs, diagrams, interactive infographics and value creation models, we make the figures and processes more transparent. And by means of a clear design and a clear spelling, both linguistically technically and in terms of tone of voice, difficult texts are made more readable and also accessible to the uninitiated. Illustrations, photography, animations and film give our own story 'colour'. Moreover, they provide depth on the one hand and 'lightness' on the other. After all, the annual report is about more than just one year's performance. It also opens doors to the next year and beyond. At the end of the day, it is all about the long term and the continuity of the company.
Design is the core competence of TD Cascade. The tool most used for this is/was Adobe InDesign. In addition, our 'publication' partners f19 from Eindhoven and Tangelo from Utrecht have each developed their own tool especially for annual reports and similar reports. In order to work with these tools, the following four competencies are required: 1. devising a reporting strategy, 2. content creation, 3. working with CMS, and 4. web-based design. Not many other agencies can say they have this expertise.
But just an understanding of design and the newest techniques is not enough. Clients who want to be assured of an annual report that is delivered on time and appropriate to their own communication environment also have requirements with regard to: monitoring consistency in terms of themes and appearance, the efficiency and effectiveness of the process organisation, the guarantee of confidentiality during the creation process, and of course the possibility of making last-minute changes. The latter is often forgotten 'at the beginning' of the assignment, but 'at the end' just before the deadline turns out to be the most important reason to have a good working relationship next year.
An annual report can be set up in various ways. The choice of process depends on the objectives, wishes and possibilities of the client. As a result, every choice and every assignment is customised. And because we have more than 25 years of experience in information design (then called document design) and have been producing online annual reports for more than 8 years, as well as working with the market leaders in the related disciplines from the beginning, we can bring every project to a successful conclusion, regardless of its size and complexity. In summary, TD Cascade offers the following advice and services:
- Advice on strategy and form
- Project management
- Choice of partners with a different, complementary expertise
- Web design and user experience
- Content analysis and processing
- Concept development and design
- Word processing and final editing
- Publication and implementation of the corporate communications process