Serious. Sleek. High-end. These are the first impressions of the award-winning 2016 Audi Annual report. Audi have recognised that besides being a financial booklet, the annual report is an important marketing tool. The introduction doesn’t simply address shareholders; it reaches out to the general reader. In the past, annual reports mainly focused on communicating with shareholders. Today, a savvy business understands the rewards a well-designed annual report can reap.

The 2016 Audi annual report is available in several online parts; interactive, magazine, financial as well as a printed document. The pdf is the magazine and financial part combined. The interactive version is the magazine part split into the different sections, each accessible by a click. Given that the report is split into pdf and interactive versions one might expect more motion in the interactive version than there is currently. There are the usual clicks to travel to pages of interest. The blinking arrows indicate a possible route but this can occasionally leave you going around in circles. On the homepage, motion is incorporated as the cursor travels across the various content boxes. Images enlarge slightly as the cursor enters the space and then reduce to their original size as the cursor exits. Facebook and Twitter links are located at the end of the page, to allow easy sharing. There are a number of videos on the content pages, each with the usual options of play, pause, share and enlarge. The videos are subtitled due to the German dialogue.

The use of German in the report is understandable given that Audi is a German company. The German word ‘vorsprung’ (which translates as ‘advancement’) opens the chairman’s letter. It’s no wonder the report begins in this way. ‘Vorsprung’ is part of the company’s successful narrative and brand.

The report further reflects Audi’s narrative and brand in its clean, simple design.

The clean, simple design is further enhanced by its typography. The sans serif typeface enables easy reading of the text, even when 8pt is displayed on a computer screen. Some typefaces, particularly those with serifs – the slight projection finishing off a stroke of a letter – visually breakdown as they become smaller on screen reducing readability. The good use of typography in this report helps to keep the reader’s attention. In terms of the report’s environmental footprint, its paper is sourced responsibly and meets the Forest Stewardship Council’s criteria. Its print production is carbon neutral.

Colour is another tool that helps to keep reader attention.

There is a beautiful quality to the report through the use of colour in the photographs. The high contrast photography typically exhibits strong, bold colours and textures. The images appear modern because they are clear and crisp and cool. Some of the eye-catching photos tie in with the company’s key message – we are visionary, we are curious, we are dynamic, we are courageous. But, paradoxically, the employee photos are traditional. Senior management typical of a European, male-dominated corporate culture smile out from the pages in their crisp blue suits. In this respect, the report doesn’t take any risks. It’s steady. It’s cautious. This isn’t necessary a bad thing as it also ties in with the brand message.

An unusual section of the report deals with artificial intelligence (AI). A whole section is set in the future to discuss AI. The conversation is cleverly turned around to incorporate how AI will influence car design. Also, a nod to diversity is included when the future of gender diversity at board level is fleetingly mentioned in a somewhat humorous sentence acknowledging the lack of women on the board of management.

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