Five Tips: Report Design and Standing Out Without Face-to-Face Time

22 May 2020

It doesn’t look like face-to-face meetings are coming back any time soon. For asset managers that means thinking differently about making a positive impression. How can you make a strong impression without the help of a well-designed office, bold yet confident suit, and a firm handshake? 

Let your reports speak for you.   

In a world where there is little to distinguish one asset manager from another — and where rapid-fire communication of complex data is the norm — good design in marketing collateral and client reporting can help distinguish a firm.  

Your client reports and sales enablement materials are arguably the most public face of your firm, being viewed by hundreds of asset owners, consultants, and trustees every year.  

Here are five design tips to help you make a strong first impression with prospective clients.  

The following tips are based on our First Impressions series of white papers on design for asset managers. You can download the Importance of Color, Information Organization, and the Importance of Typography or keep reading for the summary version. 

#1: What’s your point?

Whether it is creating a new report or adding a few slides to an existing presentation, the first step for any design is to determine the story you want to tell or the point you are trying to make. Before you pick up a mouse, make sure you have thought through what you are trying to communicate and how that fits into the context of your overall story/message. 

Are you trying to communicate a complex idea or something more specific and subtle? Is the information on your page exciting or surprising news or background information needed for the rest of the report?  What you want the reader to know and how you want them to feel and respond to information is your design starting point. This will help you make the appropriate color, font shapes, and layout decisions.  

#2 Keep it simple – style 

Keep it simple when creating your design style/hierarchy. 

Your style/hierarchy is the system for how you use font size, weight (the thickness or thinness of text) color, case, and other design elements to tell your story.   Think of it as a guide, that visually leads viewers through each page of the document and reinforces the messages you want to deliver. You would never use a guide that got lost or took you the wrong way. The same is true for design.  

The style you create should make it clear where to start reading/viewing and how to move through the rest of the information. It should be intuitive and consistent across the entire document.  

Tips for style:

  • Start with 4 levels for your style/hierarchy. Create a distinct look for headings, subheadings, the body of text, and chart descriptions. Too many levels can confuse readers. 
  • Use one good font. Multiple fonts will make your document look unplanned or chaotic (see Tip #3 for more).
  • Use one supporting or highlight color. Using black, grey and one color for text mixed in with different sizes and weights of text gives you plenty of ways to create emphasis.
  • Use uppercase characters to differentiate different types of text. Avoid ALL CAPS in the body of text, unless you really want to shout.

This example shows how you should create a visual hierarchy using the size and weight of a font. It also highlights the use of white space which we discuss in Tip #4.

#3 Fonts Matter

Fonts (also referred to as typeface) are a powerful tool in your design arsenal. They convey feelings and as researchers at MIT found, good typography can even improve the readers’ moods. And let’s be honest who doesn’t want a client to be in a good mood when they read your report?  

Select your type of font based on the mood/feel you want to create. The mood of the fonts you select should match the mood of your overall design and support the story you want to tell. To begin your font search you need to decide which family of font you want to work with:  

  • Classic serif fonts (eg: Times New Roman and Garamond) are easy to read in print. Because of their long association with literature, newspapers, and academics, they convey a sense of dignity, authority, and tradition.
  • Sans serif fonts (eg: Arial and Calibri) are easy to read in print and on-screen. Their more contemporary look conveys a less formal, more modern, no-nonsense feeling.  
  • Novelty and script fonts should be avoided for professional reports and presentations.   

#4 Keep it simple – layout

When it comes to the layout of information — either charts, text or other graphics, keep it simple continues to be the guiding principle.  You don’t want to create a chart or page that is so cluttered it gives viewers a headache just looking at it. A simple design that clearly communicates your main messages and uses your style/hierarchy to help readers through the information is always best.  

Tips for layout:

  • Have a focal point, something that pulls the eye into the information or captures attention. Your focal point could be as simple as the heading on your page, making something a bright color, or placing an object in an unusual direction or position on the page. 
  • Avoid distractions. Don’t use multiple elements that compete with your focal point. 
  • Do not cover every inch of your page in text or images. As the image above highlights, use white space to create curiosity and give viewers’ brains and eyes a breather. White space can create a more modern feel yet at the same time is welcoming and accessible. 

#5 Stick to a Grid

Whenever you design, use a grid to ensure your elements are precisely aligned. Content that is in alignment conveys confidence and trustworthiness and makes the information clearer and easier to process. On the other hand, misaligned content is always noticeable, distracts viewers, and looks sloppy. 

This example shows how you can use a grid to align the text and the grey image placeholders in a layout. Notice that the text in both columns aligns with the left edges of the placeholders, creating a well-balanced and visually pleasing layout.

Tips on Alignment: 

  • Keep alignment consistent across the document.  
  • Don’t forget about the edges of the charts and graphics. Keep the space between the edge of a chart and text (or another chart) consistent. 

Interested in more design information for asset managers? Our First Impressions series of white papers dives deeper into design topics such as the importance of color, information organization, and the importance of typography.