10 + 1 Online Annual Reports: High marks on style, average on emotional design, low on multi-screen optimisation

10 + 1 Online Annual Reports: High marks on style, average on emotional design, low on multi-screen optimisation

It’s a fact that annual reports have moved online en masse. More often than not, an online annual report is a digital version of the PDF with added interactive charts and maybe a video or two; an approach that does not exploit digital media to the fullest. As part of our on-going research into corporate digital communications we looked at a number of online 2011 annual reports published recently by global enterprises. With some exceptions, the design standard is high, so instead of focusing our review on the hygiene factors of aesthetics and usability, we awill look at two other factors, very topical in 2012: emotional design and multi-screen optimisation.

Emotional design

Wooden corporate language is commonplace in corporate communications and this includes annual reports. Scrutinising an annual report will often reveal frequent use of emotional words such as people, teams, rewarding, community, social responsibility and sustainability, but glued together, the picture they paint is still that of a faceless corporation. A digital version of an annual report offers a great opportunity for the humanisation of such corporate language. This humanised annual report website will require the right tone of voice and can also be furnished with a number of emotional design elements such as:

  • Large, high quality photography featuring people, teams, communities and the environment where relevant
  • Videos focusing on people with testimonials, interviews and moments from every day life at work
  • User feedback tool
  • Links to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs
  • Corporate responsibility, sustainability, community and people sections which sit high on the website’s navigation and feature on the homepage
  • Employee stories
  • Employee awards

Multi-screen optimisation (or responsive design)

Indeed, a small number of organisations have launched dedicated annual report mobile and tablet apps, whereas a few others have incorporated such information within their IR mobile apps. So why should they worry about optimising their annual report websites for multiple screens? Having a mobile app is a great way to build stronger ties with your audience and to put specific functionality and tools in the palm of their hands. But this app will not stop your audience from accessing your website from a mobile device. A non-optimised website will lead to a poor user experience which can compromise your organisation’s brand, as well as sales, marketing, and client management efforts. So as the web traffic from mobile devices is going through the roof (and is estimated to exceed desktop traffic in 2014), having a website optimised for multiple screens is becoming a usability and accessibility imperative.

Below we showcase 10 annual reports selected because they offer a mixture of approaches when it comes to emotional design. We also want to emphasise the difference between websites optimised for multiple screens and ones that are not.

Royal Bank of Canada 2011 Annual Report

The RBC annual report website is an emotionless desert sticking to the hard cold facts, decorated just with headshots and videos of the senior team. On the other hand, kudos for a truly responsive design! One of only two in the group.

Centrica Annual Report and Accounts 2011

The superbly styled Centrica annual report website scores quite high in the emotional design scale. It features prominent social media links, uses empathetic language, includes a varied collection of large, high quality photographs and highlights corporate responsibility. Sadly, the design is not responsive, leading to a sub-standard user experience on smartphones.

Tullow Oil 2011 Annual Report & Accounts

Just like the Centrica website, the Tullow Oil annual report website is very well designed and features a number of emotional design elements. There are prominent social media links, a user feedback facility, great and varied photography and a noticeable corporate responsibility section including a great sub-section called “Creating Shared Prosperity”. Once more, the design is not responsive therefore making mobile viewing a challenge.

Vodafone Annual Report

The Vodafone annual report website is another well styled website with some elements of emotional design. Under Business Review there are some well written sections on people and sustainability and there is use of good quality people photography throughout. The website is not optimised for multiple screens.

Lloyds Annual Report & Accounts 2011

The Lloyds Banking Group annual report website scores high in style but has a very formal and brand-centric feel. There are elements of emotional design but are contained within the disguised “Relationships and responsibility” section that includes well written and presented sub-sections on people, communities and partners. This website is not optimised for multiple screens either.

M&S Annual Report 2012

Overall, the Marks & Spencer annual report website has a very corporate and brand-centric feel. The site has rich emotional content but it’s locked away in the “Plan A” and “People” sections outside of which there is little deviation from standard annual report content. The “Plan A” and “People” sections include rich content on community engagement, employee schemes, Fairtrade and the environment, however, the limited use of photography compromises the visual impact. On the other hand, the videos used sit on YouTube maximising their reach. This Marks & Spencer website features responsive design making mobile browsing a breeze. Good work M&S!


2011 Chevron Annual Report

The Chevron annual report is a very confused website, as the actual annual report content sits within the main website’s structure (see bread crumbs on homepage), although the URL suggests a different set up. Taking into account the content surrounding the annual report section, the website scores high marks on emotional design, not surprising given the constant pressures the industry is under. The website features a number of emotional content sections such as “Human Energy Stories”, “Corporate Responsibility”, “Safety” and “Social Investment” .This, coupled with the people-focused photography used, boost the website’s emotional appeal. The website is not optimised for multiple screens.

Bayer Annual Report 2011

The Bayer annual report website features an enormous amount of content in a very old-fashioned visual style. In our effort to dig out any signs of emotional design, we managed to unearth a section on sustainability that talks about people, the environment and social commitment but sadly, the style communication is very corporate and makes no room for emotional engagement. As one would expect, this website is not optimised for multiple screens; it does not even resize (on an iPhone screen) to at least give the user a full view of the content.

Volkswagen Annual Report 2011

The Volkswagen annual report website uses a very dry and corporate language saving all emotional design for the magazine. The magazine does a great job in bringing to life the culture of the company with great stories, trivia, photography and a conversational tone of voice. This website is not optimised for multiple screens.

Siemens Annual Report 2011

The Siemens annual report website is similar to the Volkswagen one in corporate tone and language, but without the magazine to bridge the emotional gap. The Siemens website does include some content on people but there is no effort to make this content more emotionally appealing. This website is not optimised for multiple screens either.

LyondellBasel 2011 Annual Report

The LyondellBasell annual report is the “+1” website as we have created it! The website features some very strong elements of emotional design such as heaps of high-quality photography focusing on people, a dedicated employee awards section, Bravo employee awards stories and videos, as well as prominent employee and community sections. And of course the website is optimised for multiple screens!


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