Guide Dogs Annual Reports
How Guide Dogs turned its annual report from a tribulation to a triumph.
Building a replicable process to transform efficiency, accessibility, and impact.
For Australian not-for-profits, a public annual report is a legal requirement. And, let’s be honest: producing them can be a drag.
Traditionally, behind every report is a large, messy process of data coordination and collation, delicate yet complex content production, intensive design, and vigilant stakeholder management, followed by expensive printing and distribution.
And after all that work, there's another problem: determining what readers think of the finished product...or if the finished product is being read at all.
But Guide Dogs, Australia’s leading provider of vision services, has proved that an annual report doesn't need to be a costly sore point. By building a replicable and efficient way to publish their reports online—redeveloping their product as well as their processes—they’ve turned production from an unavoidable drain on resources into a triumph of design, development, and stakeholder engagement.
Creating an annual report is a big job that diverts an organisation's internal resources away from vital work. A hard copy report is costly and offers low levels of accessibility. Production of a printed version can take hundreds of hours—and at the end, you still have no idea whether anyone even reads it. So why worry about an annual report at all? Well, for all not-for-profits and charities in Australia, a publicly available summary of the year is mandatory.
Guide Dogs totally transformed their annual reports: the documents themselves, but also the process behind them. They wanted a comprehensive change in approach— a shift from analogue to digital, as well as a rethink of the process behind the production. They aimed to reshape the reports from a demanding obligation into a point of pride. And to produce documents that expressed Guide Dogs' yearly achievements in a way that members, supporters, and the general public would love to discover and explore.
Over the past few years, Guide Dogs has developed the expertise, infrastructure and processes to produce accessible, visually delightful, and technically watertight digital celebrations of the year just passed. The method is now so well-developed and efficient that it’s used throughout the Guide Dogs federation. And it's been designed to get better every year: less formidable, less resource-intensive, and less expensive.
Overcoming analogue obstacles
A hard copy report is exactly that — hard.
There’s really no way around it: producing an annual report is a hefty job for any organisation, and especially for a not-for-profit marketing team. If you want to do it well, and create something substantial, you have to pull team members away from other important work—fundraising as a prime example.
A hard-copy annual report is costly to print, almost impossible to track or measure, and forces marketing teams to produce a final version that must be right… one stray zero can be cause for an entire reprint.
And that’s all before we get to accessibility.
In all sorts of ways, a printed document is less accessible than a digital alternative. For any organisation that values the patronage and support of people with a disability that affects reading, that’s a challenge. For an organisation like Guide Dogs, it’s an existential problem. The solution? Build a digital version.
Not all digital transformations are equal
Creating a report for everyone.
An annual report is a public document, available to anyone who wants to read it. But all annual reports have a key audience. Most are written with a specific group of stakeholders in mind. For Guide Dogs, that group is its members. And lots of them support the cause because they themselves have low vision or blindness.
That’s a pretty compelling reason for change. But there was another huge driver. Research tells us that the vast majority of people who read annual reports read them online.
Pouring resources into a hard copy version is questionable from an accessibility and sustainability perspective as well as leading to a document that may never be read.
The question for Guide Dogs wasn’t if they transformed the report into a digital-first record, but how. Many organisations, for example, publish their annual report as a PDF, a format inherently more accessible than a hard copy booklet. And while it's true that a PDF is useful in all sorts of situations, it has its limitations. It's not very well suited to the very highest accessibility standards, for instance. And it can be tricky to read on mobile devices. Maybe even more importantly, a PDF also takes more effort to optimise when compared with web content.
The Guide Dogs marketing team understood that accessible development has a variety of advantages for a document like an annual report. As just one example, a web-based report lets an organisation build once and and then benefit repeatedly. After establishing the right functionality and high-quality content management system (CMS) training, deep and intensive development work is no longer required.
Guide Dogs didn't just create a new way to read an annual report; they created a whole new content management process and a template that will be sustainable for years into the future.
An annual report in the form of a webpage is different from a PDF when it comes to accessibility. Take semantic structures as one of many examples.
These are the elements, or tags, within a digital product that can help someone using assistive technology (such as a screen reader) to quickly find exactly what they’re looking for.
A PDF will usually have some limited structures such as headings and a table of contents. The Guide Dogs’ annual report, by contrast, has 290 labels, all designed specifically to inform a screen reader.
It’s chalk and cheese. Yes, you can increase the accessibility of a PDF, but not to anywhere near the extent of web-based information.
— Timocles Copland, Front-End Developer
Much more than an interactive annual report
Making content collation so much easier.
In the past, the creation of Guide Dogs’ annual report had been a diffuse and decentralised project of information gathering, collation, review, and approval. The new Guide Dogs approach revolves around a single, easy-to-access content hub.
This central repository is accessible to all critical stakeholders. And it’s had a pretty radical effect on the efficiency of the project. It’s significantly reduced the amount of time involved in collecting data, stories, and results. And it makes a huge difference as Guide Dogs turn this information into a cohesive whole.
There’s another big benefit, as well. The new publishing infrastructure gives executives and board members oversight over exactly what information is being published and how it’s being conveyed. There’s always sensitive content in an annual report, and the redesigned CMS offers reassurance and confidence to the people ultimately responsible for that information.
The new process doesn’t just enhance what’s come before; it’s also repeatable, scalable, and constantly improvable.
Showing the brand in all its glory
A dynamic design... in more ways than one.
The switch to a digital annual report provides the Guide Dogs marketing team with opportunities to improve the look and feel of the report while radically upgrading its accessibility level and downgrading its cost. And a big part of that refined aesthetic is the introduction of dynamic and interactive elements.
The new reports display subtle animations that support readers as they transition between sections. But they’re also dynamic in a broader sense…
Integral to the new production process is the creation of a fresh annual design theme: journeys in 2019; a swirling ribbon of connection in 2020; beautiful geometric simplicity in 2021. The digital reports stay true to Guide Dogs’ elegant master design system, but introduce tactful shifts every year. For an engaged audience there’s never a sense of having seen this “all before”.
Why is delightful design so important?
For a start, it encapsulates the energy, passion and enthusiasm of Guide Dogs as an organisation. It reflects the organisation's standing in the community and the way they make people feel.
Design also serves an even more practical purpose. The animation within the annual reports encourages people to keep scrolling and reading the content. There's a sense of enjoyable momentum in the design.
And because the code behind that design is created by highly accomplished developers, the reports have exceptional longevity. These are robust web artefacts in an age where rapid digital obsolescence is considered par for the course.
The switch to a digital annual report provides Guide Dogs’ marketing team the opportunity to improve the look and feel of the report while radically upgrading its accessibility level and downgrading its cost.
Guide Dogs optimise the performance of their annual report in different ways. Their use of Alpine.js is one of the best examples. It allows the marketing team to easily add interactivity to the report while retaining reliable, accessible, and flexible modules to generate the report pages.
Alpine’s lightweight nature and the flexibility that comes with it, makes sure that development is sped up and everything is accessible and performance-friendly. Those attributes make the framework the perfect choice for a project of this size and type, and contribute to an over-arching template that is incredibly easy to adapt.
—Nina Wan, Front-End Developer
From pain point to point of pride
Removing barriers and celebrating success.
For Guide Dogs, like so many not-for-profit organisations, the compilation and production of their annual report was once an undesirable, inescapable, and ever-returning mountain on the marketing team’s horizon. Today, the report still requires effort, but it’s been transformed to such an extent that it’s now a yearly milestone to celebrate more than an obstacle to overcome.
Since the change, the reports have become a point of pride, an online exhibition of Guide Dogs’ values and the good they create in society, accessible to more people than ever before.
SEE THE REPORTS FOR YOURSELF
From sound strategy into beautiful online documents.
Got you thinking?
More accessible. More dynamic. Readable on different devices...
A transformed annual report has so many potential benefits. If Guide Dogs’ example has piqued your interest, get in touch.