Top 10 tips for creating compelling reports

Whatever the purpose, a report has to communicate valuable information. A good report design will target the brain’s visual processing centre, helping to communicate that message more effectively to the reader with design elements such as colour, imagery, shape and visualisation making content aesthetically pleasing and easier to comprehend.

Over the last 20 years (and quite a few more years before that!) we’ve designed all sorts of reports. Some for use in marketing and sales such as white papers, others reporting research findings or being used in bid proposals and funding applications as well as annual reports containing accounting and legal information.  As a result, we think we can confidently claim to know a few good tricks of the trade for creating a compelling report that delivers so here's our top ten tips for report design:

1. Use colour to increase comprehension

Colour is a visual cue that helps the brain instantly identify and process information. Use it to highlight certain information, whether it’s the highest bar in a bar chart or an important note in text.Be clear and strategic in the ways you use colour. Try to stick to one colour for highlighting key information, if you want to use multiple colours, no more than three in addition to black.  And don't overlook the importance of using typography and whitespace, used in conjunction with colour these are just as likely to create the response you want.

2. Add callouts - make it easy

Your readers want to know the most important, high-level information especially if they’re short on time and reviewing the report on a deadline. Use callouts to identify particularly meaningful insights or provide important context.

3. Visualise data - show not tell!

Good data design is about increasing comprehension, so it’s important to not only visualise data but choose the most effective visualisation method or style for that data.Use a graph or chart in place of a paragraph of text explaining the data. Create a graphic to visually explain your information and then highlight it in the text to boost engagement.

5. Include imagery

This is especially helpful with annual reports which promote your brand’s mission and values and reflect your brand’s personality. Illustrations or photos can really help to communicate your organisation’s personality or add a more human element. Not only that they provide an essential visual break from text making your report easier and more attractive for your reader. Make sure to use images that directly relate and add to your content. This will enable readers to immediately recognise what the report or the specific section is about but make sure to use images wisely, using an image just because it's aesthetically pleasing runs the risk of actually being a distraction to your intended message.

6. Adhere to branding guidelines

Regardless of the type of report it’s a communication tool and reflection of your brand so make sure to adhere to your brand identity to maintain consistency and cohesiveness.

7. Condense content - clarity is king

Use design to streamline information, reduce content length by looking for opportunities to let design do the work. For example, comparing two data sets instead of visualising them separately.When planning your report, consider composition. Heavy text blocks or too much information on a page can be daunting so condense your content and give your page space to breath. Get to the point, readers tend to want the highlights — key concerns, most relevant data, and action items. Most readers skim reports to find this information so don't overwhelm them with text. 

8. Play with interactivity

If it’s an interactive report, you have an exciting opportunity to play with interactivity, use it to provide more depth or add personality.

9. Use pull quotes

Pull quotes found in magazines and other editorial pieces can be very effective when trying to make a point or to emphasise important information. People tend to scan documents so pulled quotes can work well to grab the reader’s attention where and when you want it.

10. Finish with a simple wrap-up

Communicate efficiently and effectively by ending reports with a simple one-page wrap up featuring key takeaways to ensure your key messages are delivered. Like we said inpoint (7) most readers skim reports to find this information so make it easy for them to find it.

If you’d like to talk to us about your next report then drop us a line at info@designeclectic.comor give us a call on 01635 278388. Or to see more example of reports we’ve produced and find out more please visit our Report Design page.