Updated design for JA Canada Annual Report delivers better value for key stakeholders

Case Study by Laurissa Barnes-Roberts RGD, Barnes Roberts Creative


JA Canada is the Canadian national office of the global NGO JA Worldwide—a youth business education organization. Youth are at the heart of the organization, which focuses on programming, initiatives and events for young people made possible through collaboration with a dedicated network of volunteers and supporters.  



When working with a non-profit client, it is important to maximize the value of collateral. This project was no exception. It involved creating an important marketing and fundraising tool for the organization: JA's annual report. The report is shared with a number of stakeholders including existing and potential corporate donors, board members, volunteers, other foundations and the general public. It showcases and measures JA Canada’s performance and impact across the country from year-to-year.



As the sole in-house designer at JA Canada, I developed the report from concept through to print and digital execution. Tasks included gathering content, supporting copywriting and overseeing the French translation. We had a limited budget that needed to allow for a small print run and complete French translation of the report.



Having worked on past annual reports for JA Canada prior to this project, I drew on past experience to propose changes to the 2013/2014 design that would help increase the value of the report. I started with a complete review of the existing content, structure and design and put forward three key objectives for the redesign:

  1. Improve the profile of the organization's students by including more student stories and photos
  2. Provide a snapshot of the organization's progress by highlighting measurable data and key milestones
  3. Modernize the design to align with new brand guidelines from JA Worldwide


After presenting these objectives I was given the go-ahead to move forward with the re-design. I did additional research to determine what information should be highlighted and what information was actually available. I reviewed a number of annual reports including past reports from JA and from other non-profits. I also researched annual report best practices and liaised with JA Canada and Charter staff. From this research, I put together an outline of information to be included in the report.

The outline included new events and programs undergoing refreshes that we wanted to promote but which had no space in the previous report designs. In the redesign, I created distinct sections to categorize key areas of focus such as students, volunteers, supporters, programs, etc., making it easy to incorporate this new content and better grouping existing content.


With accessibility in mind, I was mindful of font sizes and colour contrast, particularly with text, was strong enough, to ensure good legibility knowing that our audience skewed older.


Throughout the process I had regular check-ins with my supervisor. Other stakeholders and staff were engaged at the beginning for initial approval of the project, and to submit copy. When the first draft was ready and the copy and design was complete, they were reengaged and given the opportunity to review the entire report and provide feedback.



Through this process the big challenge for this project was that not all of the information initially outlined was available for that year. Thankfully, this discovery occurred during the research phase so did not impact the design or timeline. Some ideas such as a "In the Next Year" section —which would have outlined the organizations plans for the coming year—were left out for this year as the information wasn't available in time for the report. I made notes to revisit shelved ideas the following year, and worked with what was available for this report. I  also set up a framework to track information that wasn’t already being tracked so that it would be available for the next report.


Once I had gathered the information that was available, I worked with the new brand standards, which included a new, expanded colour palette, as well as new font and photo guidelines, to develop the design. I reviewed the guidelines and made sure my design complied with what was laid out in the document and created a bright, modern design that used a variety of pull-out stats and quotes to highlight impact points. I also incorporated more photos of Canadian JA students in action throughout the report to put faces to our mission.


The final report also included stories from Charters across Canada in the new “Local Impact” section, and also included names and profiles for all of the student award winners, short stories and acknowledgements for student and business volunteers. The new “A Year in Review” spread highlighted organizational milestones and figures from the fiscal year.



The redesigned annual report was well received and earned positive feedback from a number of internal stakeholders including the President & CEO and the VP of Integrated Brand Marketing. It also served as a strong foundation for the following year’s report, which built on research and work done for this report.


Designer Takeaways

  1. Understand the project objective and audience. Updating a project year over year without understanding its purpose means you’re missing a valuable opportunity to improve the impact of the project. Make sure you understand the organization’s objectives and how the project fits in so that you can maximize its value.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the available information in the early stages of a project. If stats, quotes, images, etc. are being sourced through external sources, make sure you communicate deadlines and formats so all parties are clear on what is needed when.
  3. Plan and design for accessibility— it should be incorporated in all projects; accessible designs are better for everyone.

Client Takeaways

  1. Be thorough in content edits. Make sure all the necessary parties review and provide feedback on content before submission. What seems like a simple text change has the potential to substantially impact the design.
  2. Plan ahead. For recurring projects like annual reports, make sure there is a system in place to track important information so that it is readily available when the time comes to build the project.
  3. Consider the medium. Is print a necessary format, or would digital work just as well?