07. Design

Good design communicates effectively and has the ability to transform people’s thinking. It is also the most subjective part of the production – where one decision-maker may see genius in a design another may not – so it is really important that expectations are clear before the design process begins.   

Best practice

Key points:
  1. Identify key decision-makers early
  2. Refer to the brief early and often
  3. Separate subjective from objective opinions
  4. Ensure design feedback is thoughtful and clear
  5. Involve key decision-makers in initial briefing and design presentation meetings.

Design is the most subjective part of an annual report project. Everyone has an opinion, and they all should be respected. It is important to refer to the brief early and often to ensure that every design element contributes to your story in a consistent way and brings the theme to life.

Setting the parameters  

Inhouse discussions should include:
  • who will be the key decision-makers, and who will have the final say on design approval
  • who the target market is, and how they will be represented within the decision-makers
  • what the key criteria is for judging the appropriateness of the design – the aim is to get it from subjective ‘I don’t like red’ views, to objective ‘blue is our corporate colour and should be used’
  • the identification of key milestones where the project team gathers to review progress
  • who is responsible for which part of the report and whether they have any jurisdiction over other areas.


Designers should be given the opportunity to present to the key decision-makers and get initial feedback.

The presentation could be run as a meeting – this way everyone involved has the time to consider the design and give initial feedback. It is good practice for the chair of the meeting to refer to the brief when assessing the design – this ensures the judgements are objective rather than subjective. Remember there are no right nor wrong answers in design, but there are inappropriate designs that do not answer the brief.

The aim of this process is a design that is approved on every level before you proceed to artwork. Changing the design once artwork has commenced is time consuming and expensive.

Designers take different approaches to presenting their designs, but the first presentation may include:
  • cover design(s)
    this could include 3 completely different concepts (for example; an apple, an orange and a pear), or one strong concept shown within 3 different designs (for example the concept of an apple but it is shown complete, peeled and cut into segments).
  • text design(s)
    there could be as few as 4 pages presented or many more, depending on the difficulty of demonstrating how different aspects of the report will be treated.

    Examples of possible text designs include:
    • how the cover theme continues throughout the text pages
    • what the inside cover spread includes
    • how tables, charts and graphs (bar and line graphs) will be treated
    • treatment of photography: especially if there are case studies, or shots of board members, directors etc.
    • how the financials pages will be formatted.

    The timeline for the design process varies but it is worth remembering that extra time spent on the research / design section can make a good foundation for the rest of the project.


    It is not unusual for the project team to consider the design for a few days before feedback is collated and communicated to the designer. Feedback should be verbal, followed by a written report to avoid confusion.

    It is usual for the design to be tweaked to include the feedback. Depending on the amendments, another presentation may be needed to view and discuss the revised designs.

    Design signoff

    It is imperative that the project does not move past the design point without complete agreement. Not everyone has to love the design, but they need to agree that it meets the brief.

    Experience shows that possible issues include:
    The designer appointed is not the preferred choice of one of the stakeholders. This can be handled by ensuring that all the key decision makers are asked if they have a key supplier they would like included in the quotation process followed by a transparent selection process where everyone understands the criteria.

    There is not a unanimous decision on the approved design. Reaching collective decisions based on individual preferences is hard. Use the brief as a checklist to ensure that the design meets the brief. Some feedback can be taken onboard as design modifications, or perhaps some people will need to agree to disagree. There must be approval of the design before proceeding.

    Someone ‘higher-up’ vetoes the design. This sadly is a common occurrence.
    Recommendations to avoid this include:
    • ask the decision-maker early if they have a supplier of choice
    • try to get this person to the initial briefing meeting
    • document the briefing session and circulate it for discussion before releasing it to the designers. Include a deadline for feedback, and the date when it will be circulated
    • once the winning submission has been identified, circulate the results internally for discussion before proceeding
    • try absolutely everything to get the decision-maker to the designer’s presentation
    • lastly, use the brief to show that the design is appropriate.


    When the design direction is approved by the key decision-maker final artwork suitable for reproduction and page proofs can commence. At this stage the designer will utilise the appropriate programs to develop the page layout, format the graphs and charts and prepare the images for reproduction.

    Best practice:

    Key points:
    1. Mark up changes clearly. Unclear or ambiguous changes make artwork slow, and can introduce errors. Supplying electronic files for any large sections of new text makes corrections to artwork faster, reduces opportunity for introduced errors and lessens the amount of proofreading needed.  
    2. Ensure everyone knows their role. Changes should only be made by the person responsible for that section of the report. There can be a tendency for second/third page proofs to incorporate many more changes than are appropriate as ‘new’ eyes view the layouts for the first time. The danger is the schedule/budget blows out as additional author’s corrections are added. Agreeing roles/responsibilities and identifying the key decision-makers early in the process should avoid this.
    3. Keep true decision-makers in the loop. It is unwise to surprise the true decision-makers with page proofs for the first time late in the schedule. Their time is valuable, but exposing them to the project as it progresses allows you to manage their expectations and incorporate their feedback earlier.

    Artwork: The process

    The artwork process commonly includes a handover/briefing session, finished artwork (the formatting of the report) and approximately three rounds of changes.

    Handover / briefing

    A handover meeting is always advantageous so everything is clear right from the beginning. It should include the project manager, the designer and perhaps the writer (if there are details that need to be communicated clearly).

    It’s valuable to talk through the manuscript, discuss any changes that may have occurred in the writing and gathering of graphics and identify any pages that may need additional care. These may include flowcharts, maps, tables and graphs.

    Building the files / formatting the report

    Graphs and charts are built in one software program, photographs are treated in another, and then both are combined with the text in a third ‘assembly’ program.

    There are many programs that can do this – industry benchmarks are Indesign (part of the Adobe CC suite with Photoshop and Illustrator). These programs control the page layout, the typefaces and the graphics.

    The result is artwork suitable for a reproduction, and page proofs that can be circulated for approval.

    Artwork: First page proofs

    Expect the most changes in the first round of page proofs. Everything looks different – the text is set in different typeface to the manuscript, graphs/charts have been designed and placed next to the relevant text. Images are treated and placed on the correct pages.  

    Sometimes the project manager will do an interim check before these first pages are distributed to the key decision makers. (The approval process has already been decided as part of the briefing process.) The aim is to identify and fix any major issues before circulation to others.

    To keep to deadline, it may be necessary to circulate incomplete first page proofs. This may be better than missing the deadline, but it is important to communicate what is missing and why.

    Ensure that the people checking the pages are clear about their role, what they are checking, and when their comments are expected. It is advisable for internal staff to check only the material they supplied, otherwise there are likely to be debates that are not appropriate at this stage in the process.

    Any replacement images/text/graphs should be gathered and ready for handover. It is beneficial to have another handover meeting at this stage so the more complex changes can be clearly explained, however it should not be necessary to go through changes that are straightforward and clearly marked.

    Artwork: Second page proofs

    It is usual for the second pages to go to ‘higher’ level decision-makers and there may be more corrections needed after these ‘new’ eyes. The proofreader may be introduced as part of the review of the second page proofs. If so, it is important to include all the internal feedback on the pages supplied to the proofreader.

    Again, a cover sheet identifying roles and responsibilities should be used so everyone understands their tasks and deadlines.

    Third and final page proofs

    There should be only a few corrections needed by the third round. There are no new eyes, and most of the detail should now have been finalised.

    The role of this final proof is to prove that all changes have been taken in correctly and the file is ready to print.

    Key decision-makers should sign off this proof as approved to print.

    Native Files
    All artwork is created using Adobe Creative Cloud software unless stated otherwise. The transfer of these native files will incur an additional fee. These native files are the professional working files of designers and not templates. If an Annual Report template is requested as part of the brief, the native file transfer fees do not apply. All fonts, stock photography, stock illustrations or stock icons used within native files or template packages will be charged at market value.

    Contact us on 03 9529 1037 or email stuart@spdesign.com.au to see how we can help you improve your Annual Report.