A for effort; C for execution
Writing an “Annual Report” even as a paper product is a hazardous undertaking. That quotient doubles or triples when the standard demands visual and interactive engagement of a high calibre as it does on the most advanced and creative websites and apps.
I applaud Rotary International for attempting to meet this modern standard with the publication of its 2017 Annual Report on its website. It would have been easy to create a traditional paper product and simply make it available as a pdf document to download.
The Creation Challenge
The toughest traditional decision has always been to what audience do you aim your information because this in large part determines the length, depth and language or reading level of your content. Finding the happy medium between those who only want a quick overview and those who want lengthy in-depth data is tricky.
The added challenge today is to design a Report that takes advantage of our desire for a more visual and engaging presentation. Annual Reports have always been part marketing and promotion and part state of the union addresses. Finding that balance has only gotten harder given the tools available for the creation of multimedia products for Internet broadcasting. Having to make an electronic report available for optimal viewing on three different platforms: desktops, tablets and smart-phones compound the task.
As if that wasn’t enough, the designer has to consider whether or not the end product is easy for the user to manipulate. Does it function properly or is it likely to frustrate the reader?
It is obvious Rotary International has put considerable effort & resources into producing a high calibre modern interactive product. In my opinion, they have erred a little too far on the marketing and promotion side of the spectrum but could easily in future reports integrate more data. The reading level is appropriate for a general audience and text/picture/multi-media layout, and spacing is attractive and easily navigated with your eyes. The report uses cascading or layers to present the information. In each of the three platforms, the layers move from bottom to top but once started you can scroll down as well. It is at the manipulation stage, however, that both the desktop and tablet versions ran into problems. Viewing on the smartphone was trouble free with the result that in a few minutes the report was read.
Desktop and Tablet Problems
I viewed the report on a Dell XPS 15 9560 laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor, a 3rd generation Apple iPad tablet and an i6 Apple smartphone. All three have touch control screens. Bell Canada supplied the Wifi feed via fibre-optic cable. All platforms were viewed using Chrome as the browser.
The problem with the laptop/desktop version is that one needs to manipulate two scroll bars, one for the browser and an inserted one for the report.
Keeping the two in place is harder than it looks. However, what makes the matter worse is that as this next slide shows you must not click on the report scrollbar
between the scroll points or you will go to another area of the report. At this point the frustration mounts.
It was also very difficult to control the speed of the scrolling with your finger or the mouse wheel. I often went right past the part of the report I was trying to find.
The iPad issues were of an entirely different nature. It began well even though scrolling with your finger was not as smooth as on the iPhone, it did work. However when the first layer of maps appeared an error occurred, and the page would not load.I tried six times before clearing the history and images cache but this did not solve the problem nor did switching to the Safari browser.
The report begins with brief statements from the RI President and Chair of The Rotary Foundation. The font is large and needs to be because the line is “narrow” and a soft grey. In the Education example below I had to blacken the font in order for it to be readable at this scale.
The report is divided into ten categories as listed in Graphic three. Each section begins
with a full-screen-width picture best illustrated in Graphic two above. The pictures are automatically cropped for the 3 platforms. Sliding through this large picture is a layer with a numeric report using white letters on a black background in nine of the ten categories. The exception is “About Us”. In this category, titled “Our People in Action” the inserted sliding layer is a white box with black lettering. Irrespective of colour the user has to stop each slide in order to fully read the text. That can be tricky. More troublesome, however, especially in the “Partners” section was the decision to randomly change the location of the inserts. One 15 item sequence went L-R- L-L-L-R-R-R-R-R-C-R-R-L-L. (Left, Centre, Right) Do it too quickly and your eyes are bouncing from left to right. This was most intense on the desktop where the Laptop is attached to a large monitor. It was hardly even noticed on the smartphone.
The “Causes” section addresses each of the six areas of focus in a common pattern as illustrated in Graphic Four. Each sequence begins with a title and slogan followed by the full-width picture of high quality and high engagement. This is followed by one or two short “success stories”. Each closes with a picture of a donor and a quote about why they support that cause.
Without a doubt, the most difficult area to navigate is the map of the world in the “About Us” portion. It is the third layer underneath the picture layer and the white insert layer. On top of that, the map functions like a Google map where you can zoom in or out. (the symbol is in the bottom right corner) First, however, you had to use the browser’s scrollbar to position it on your screen for maximum visibility.
The map has a blue dot for the Top 50 countries by membership. Clicking on the blue dot as in the sample above for Brazil shows reveal its membership data. Unfortunately, many of the dots are too small as it takes a lot of practice to position your cursor so as to activate them. Enlarging the scale does not help as the dots do not increase in size with the map. Also if the white insert covers a dot you cannot activate it.
To be fair to all Rotarians, I think all countries should be represented on a map like this.
As a Rotarian with an undergraduate degree in Geography, I am thrilled the ESRI map is included. Such maps have the potential to help us learn Rotary’s divisional boundaries starting with the “Where We Are Divisions”. Of course Zones and Districts could follow. I will look forward to such maps being in future Annual Reports.
Before closing, I want to share a couple questionable choices made by the designers. I can’t understand why the This Close video opens the report on the desktop version when the picture used on the smartphone/iPad title page worked just fine and took way less of the readers time. Secondly, the decision to place the RI and TRF “Statement of Activities” side by side rendered them unreadable on the smartphone.
In conclusion, Rotary has made great strides in creating a modern interactive readable Annual Report. It can’t be easy and probably took a team of staff and lots of debate to execute. The integration of text, pictures, video and an interactive map must have been quite the daunting challenge when the team began.
When I started writing this review I scored “Execution” at a C-; by the time I write this conclusion I have learned to manipulate the report more accurately; after-all, I have been at this for nearly 10 hours. No one will take that much time inside this report. But I did up my final Execution evaluation to a C.
Now it is your turn – have fun enjoy the read here is the report.