Public companies create a huge amount of content every year that is intended for their investors. This includes press releases, conference decks, and a range of multimedia assets. There is a critical focus placed on the accuracy of every word used in these materials. But sadly, the same attention is not paid to the visual design. Save for the Annual Report format, investor-focused design has lagged far behind where it should be. Here are 9 ways your company can break that mold.
1 | COLOR
Obviously you can’t be as creative with your color palette as you might like to be. But less is often more when it comes to design decisions. Color should be used sparingly to highlight critical information or data points. Avoid using multiple colors on fonts, and never ever highlight using a different color; that’s what bold and italic font variations are used for.
On any given slide, try to keep the number of visible colors under 5. If you go over this upper limit, the copy begins to look comical and it’s hard for investors to focus on what’s most important. When highlighting a key fact, do this in a ‘pull-quote’ or ‘pull-point’ fashion, whereby the data fits neatly in a corner surrounded by its own space on the remaining two sides.
2 | TYPOGRAPHY
Choosing appropriate fonts for different mediums isn’t something that all corporate style guides allow for. But if yours does, consider where the content will be consumed before making typography decisions. For example, in conference presentation decks, avoid serif fonts in your body copy. This might be ok for your annual report but it doesn’t provide the best reading experience when projected onto a screen.
Similarly, if you’re creating printed investor materials, serif fonts are likely the best choice for body copy. These are much easier to read when you’re actually holding a piece of paper. Though a lot of our communication with investors is going digital, plenty of printed materials are still being provided at roadshows and the like. It’s perfectly ok to have different versions of the same presentation. In fact, its likely preferable to keep one type set for print and another for web or digital.
3 | LAYOUT
Layouts are particularly important in powerpoints. Whenever you see a single slide crammed with copy, you can assume the graphic design team hasn’t had much of a say. Remember to consider the medium – if your CEO is speaking to the deck, the audience can get their information from him/her, and you don’t need it all on the slides. In fact, overdoing the written copy makes it difficult for the investor audience to follow the presenter’s narrative.
When creating corporate presentations, the rule of thumb is that you want more slides in preference to more content per slide. This can sometimes be difficult to accomplish though, if you’ve been given a ‘maximum number of slides’ limit. Instead, its better to think in terms of a maximum number of words per slide. 33 is the accepted standard, but we recommend trying to cut this down to 25 if possible. Layout should also be a consideration for you in your website design if you’re looking to keep to press release SEO best practices.
4 | HIERARCHY
Visual hierarchies are used to draw attention to specific parts of a data set, or in our case, specific ideas on a page. This can be achieved with a range of techniques including the use of color, contrast, texture, shape, position, orientation, and size. Hierarchy is most obvious with something like a quarterly earnings infographic. In earnings infographics, the hierarchy is the order of the data (sections) down the page.
5 | SPACE
Space is heavily undervalued in investor-focused design. The majority of IROs understand that using the right words is critical. But its not always obvious that the same respect and attention is given to the space around the words. If, while creating a presentation, you catch yourself thinking ‘but what goes here…” try putting nothing there.
Space is useful for recalling facts, too. If you’re presenting important data points, you can make these stand out by leaving room around them on the page. Leaving one key idea on each slide surrounded by space will give readers more time to read and re-read before they flip. This process increases the chance that they will commit the idea to memory.
6 | ICONOGRAPHY
Investors attach meaning to different icons and symbols within your materials. Icons provide designers a way to quickly group ideas together and assign meaning without words. Within the financial industry, you’ll find hundreds of examples of iconography that has evolved over time. Think of the bull and bear for example. These icons that are quickly understood and suggest far more than they really show.
Using icons in your digital investor relations materials allows you to minimize the number of words on the page and demonstrate meaning without the need for specific explanation. Many ideas can be represented with icons, including; growth, loss, maximum, minimum, pessimism, positivity, temperature and sentiment.
7 | DATA
The data that your company has on itself is a critical part of investor communication. Data is communicated to investors through phone calls, interviews, roadshows, and of course, earnings releases. There’s significant science to support the idea that graphic design can be used to promote the memory of earnings data and that by creating data visualizations, you can reduce the cognitive load on analysts covering your company.
Designing with data means using the right kinds of graphs when presenting information and following design best-practices for all chart types. More on this another time, but simply put, you want the data to be illustrative, not distracting.
8 | PROPORTION
This is a key component of maintaining accuracy in your graphic design – and it applies to anything from cartoons to bar graphs. Proportion is critical to allow the reader to create accurate comparisons quickly. Similarly, a lack of proportion can often be perceived as skewing data. It only takes one proportion error to completely erode investor trust.
The simplest illustration here is that you should always start the Y Axis of a bar graph at zero. It’s tempting to want to show change as dramatic, but it’s more important to represent your data accurately. Maintaining porportion will help you do this.
9 | SIMPLICITY
This should be the easiest concept to describe, shouldn’t it? The biggest error we see in investor-focused design is when an IR team tries to provide too much information too quickly. This can be throwing paragraphs on a powerpoint slide rather than dot points or maybe not using iconography where appropriate. Remember, we’re trying to use graphic design to make life easier for analysts and investors. So don’t cram facts and figures down their throats. Try to separate key data points and only every illustrate one or two on a single slide. If you’re going to Tweet slides as part of your inbound IR campaign, avoid merging multiple slides wherever possible.
For more ways to communicate visually with investors, check out our latest E-Book below and start creating beautiful investor-focused design materials.