Design = creativity with strategy: an interview with Professor Alisa Zamir

What made you decide to work in annual reports? What jobs did you do before?

I started my career and continue to practice in creating corporate identities, branding, and packaging design for many well-known companies and institution in the USA and abroad. In addition, I continue to teach these subjects at the Graduate Communication and Packaging Design Department at Pratt Institute.

The first two decades of my career I never worked on an Annual Report (AR). In fact, my first encounter with the AR industry was when I first came to New York and worked at the Fujita Design firm, which designed Annual Reports for some of the big and prestigious companies the world over.

At the time, I thought they were boring and tedious, and that is precisely why it became a challenge for me to figure out what would make designing an annual report more exciting.

The challenge was to identify how the reader might better interact with the AR and how to create an impactful and memorable user experience. That brought me to develop the idea of story mapping, a process of creating a relevant and interesting creative theme. This is done by researching the topic and finding analogies which are interesting, engaging, and educational. In doing so, they help conceptualize the AR message and at the same time make it an exciting design challenge for me.

What sort of person do you think fits the world of annual reports design the best? How are they different from, say, advertising or marketing designers?

An annual report designer works in a team which includes marketing talent, copywriters and other talents. There are not too many differences I would point out. I would want people on the team that are:

  • well-read
  • well-traveled
  • have cultural interests
  • have diverse interests
  • can impart a clear message
  • fluent in visual language
  • process oriented
  • team player
  • cross disciplinary capabilities
  • respect people and are collaborative
  • have good presentation skills
  • have good time management skills

What do you think is the future of annual reports? What changes have you seen during your career?

Attention span is continuing to decline which calls for:

  • Imparting content in a concise, clear, and short way
  • Using easy-to-read type style
  • Making font sizes bigger
  • Using call outs to highlight the main message
  • Design solutions need to consider a harmonious user-centric experience on either or
    both printed and digital platforms

Tell us about your creative process – what are the major steps?
  • Research and learn all about the nature of the company, its mission, vision, and its audience
  • Be briefed by the person who signs the AR the CEO or President, and understand the message to be imparted
  • Make sure you understand all objectives and know to ask any open questions
  • Identify the message goal, a take away call for action
  • Research all analytics and available data on the company and its industry
  • Brainstorm – create a mind map, or create an expanded list of associated words and analogies
  • Collaborate with creative team and writer/s
  • Identify an enticing, appropriate, and exciting topic
  • Create a relevant, engaging, and educational theme that ties together the verbal and visual message
  • Research images to communicate and conceptualize the theme
  • Create a hierarchy so the skim reader gets the important message, and is lured to go back and discover the entire presentation to include all details and specific data
  • Develop a visual solution for the presentation of data that is clear and easy to comprehend
  • The data visualization should be unique and tie in with the theme of the AR
  • Consider harmonious visual design solutions on all platforms: print and digital
  • Always revisit your work to eliminate extraneous elements and check for consistency and detail

Do it once and do it right – communicating effectively

I believe in design solutions based on solid understanding of the company’s philosophy, corporate message, and business strategies. The AR needs to reflect the company’s unique story.

My favorite part in the design process:

Design = Creativity with strategy
Creativity = Ideas that have value

How do you measure the success of your work?

To me the most rewarding and exciting part of the design profession is the challenge of creating an appropriate theme, a concept that imparts a unique message in a unique way.

  • The client is pleased
  • The client is appreciative and calls with complimentary words
  • The client is respectful and comes back year after year
  • The client gets praise from their shareholders
  • AR was delivered on time and on budget
  • I am proud of the result and had fun during the process

How do you get unstuck creatively?

By following the design thinking process:

  • Empathize: understanding the needs of those you are designing for
  • Define: framing problems as opportunities for creative solutions
  • Ideate: generating a range of possible solutions
  • Prototype: communicating the core elements of solutions to others
  • Test: learning what works and doesn’t work to improve solutions

What questions do you ask before starting a project – what information is most important?

I call it the 5 W’s: Who, What, Where, Why When
Who is the client?
Who are the stakeholders?
Who is/are the decision maker/s?
Who are the people on the AR team? Is there a designated copy writer?

What are the mission and vision statement? Is there a branding system that needs to be followed?
What are the unique attributes that make the company stand out in their industry?
What is the unique issue of the year?
What are the messages that need to be communicated?
What are the year’s financial results?
What is the required quantity?

Where and on which platform/s will the audience encounter the AR? In print? Online?

Why is this year special? (Merger, Anniversary, new CEO, new products or services, acquisitions, new branches…)

When is delivery due date?
When does the company release their earnings?
When will financials be ready to be released?

Which client(s) would you most like to make an annual report for?

A client who is open to collaboration is at the heart of creative, strategic, and successful results. Not to mention an enjoyable long lasting relationship.
There is no greater pleasure than having a client who appreciates creative ideas that impart a message in a unique, meaningful, impactful, and memorable fashion.

What other forms of art do you enjoy? Does any of it impact your work?

A creative person needs to be in touch with culture, to be constantly stimulated by traveling, going to museums and lectures, theater, and opera, meeting people, enjoying nature, exchanging ideas, teaching and always continuing to learn.

What type of brief or project do you most enjoy working on and why?

A brief where the information to be communicated has been thoroughly addressed by the top executive/s that imparts a wholesome description of the intended message to be communicated.

Do you have a go-to typeface for the Accounts section – which has versatile, easy to read numerals?

A type face for the financial report needs to harmoniously compliment and tie in to the front of the AR’s personality.

While typeface and color are part of the unique individual solution of the entire AR, ease of readability is of utmost importance.

I tend to stick with classic typefaces. They continue to prove themselves as well-designed and readable. This includes Helvetica, Bodoni, Garamond, Universe, and Baskerville, and Caslon to name some of my most used ones.

While typeface and color are part of the unique individual solution of the entire AR, ease of readability is of utmost importance.


Images : Alisa Zamir
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