It's hard for me to get excited about Annual Reports, and I suspect you're with me. But done well, annual reports gauge an organization's performance and can be an informational showpiece – one that is both explanatory and exploratory. Sadly, many annual reports fail to engage their audience by providing limited data and a flat user experience
Moreover, most annual reports are published as PDF’s – an inherently closed content format. This is understandable since many analysts and shareholders are acquainted with document style financials reports. But some organizations are seizing the web as a platform to tell their stories and share their data.
As an example, 2012 marks the first year that Johnson & Johnson adopted a digital format for their Annual Report. They noted that the task at hand was to develop their 2012 annual report to entice users to... "read and watch the stories of our caring, showing how we care for the world one person at a time, [and to] show how we help people live longer, healthier, and happier lives." The site does a good job at that. The masonry design is engaging and it provides a very accessible and human-oriented way to get to know this company better. Each story draws you in with an image, a headline, and a synopsis.
Recently, J&J’s 2012 Annual Report was recognized by the MerComm, Inc. International Annual Report Competition (ARC) Awards Program with a Bronze designation in the Interactive Annual Report - Health & Life Sciences category. So, it’s nice to see recognition of J&J’s envelope pushing.
But why am I - the guy who focuses on improving Phase2's services in the public sector support - talking to you about how organizations such as Johnson & Johnson think about something like their Annual Reports? Well, one part of my job is to help deliver into government the innovations and advancements happening on the web in the private sector. So, when I see a commercial enterprise using web technologies (like jQuery and masonry layout design) to make an outreach and communications device like an annual report more accessible and meaningful…
I put my government hat on.
What can government agencies learn from something like the 2012 J&J Annual Report? Well, compare the J&J 2012 Annual Report to this DOL Annual report page:
Which are you more likely to dig into – DOL’s or J&J’s annual report?
This, of course, is just the landing page, which has links to annual report PDF's, but there's a lot of room for good design here to bring the reader in (not to mention that PDF’s are a “closed” content source). This may be somewhat of an unfair comparison. After all, it's not surprising that Department of Labor Performance and Accountability Report might be less approachable than Johnson and Johnson - a company that's in the business of personal care and medicine. So, let's look at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) annual report page.
To be sure, there are opportunities for improvement here with respect to conveying how HHS – as your taxpayer investment – is performing.
We want to see more organizations create and publish content “beyond the PDF”. PDF’s are not open. They’re closed. They’re not interactive, and they impede our ability to extract data and do interesting things with it. That’s why they only get 1 star out of 5 on Tim Berners-Lee’s 5 Star Deployment Scheme for Open Data.
We know that closed is bad…. and yet PDF’s and other proprietary document formats comprise the vast majority of unstructured content in government publishing. But, as the fields of experience design and open data evolve (and begin to converge), we have opportunities to transform the intersection of data, visualization, and the web.
Web circles are abuzz about this – particularly as it relates to curated content management, manual art direction, and content portability . For the end–user, these are just tools that us geeks use to open data up and make it more accessible and meaningful – and even make it more computable. In the end, this all equates to creating great experiences around that data across devices.
With respect to public-facing reports that combine various content types (e.g., structured, unstructured, geo) to tell stories… organizations like Johnson and Johnson are raising the bar, and we’re keen to help push this envelope.