UX design: The challenges of designing reports.

Diverse user groups search for different kinds of information – how to make reports easy to use and intuitive for everyone?

We are consuming more information than ever before. A study affirms that nowadays we create in two days as much information as we did from the dawn of man through 2003. Think about this for a moment: in two days.

This is shocking, and a quick search on “information overload” will present other similar studies. In the previous post we said: “technology evolves quickly, but the human brain capacity doesn’t change much from one year to the next.” This means that our brain is not so different from our great-grandparents’, but we need to deal daily with way more information than they did.

Now let’s take a breath …

… and discuss how to improve the design of reports.
Our motto: Don’t overwhelm users that are already overloaded.

Improving the experience

A few years ago we have done some calculations: a printed report of a company among the DAX 30 listings is composed of an average of 300 pages. This is more than many novels. However, unlike in literature, we don’t read each page of a report. This is true for both print and online reports.

As users we open a report looking for something specific. Different stakeholders search for different topics, so there is a lot of relevant information that must be found quickly and easily – which makes everything quite complicated for a designer. As designers our job is to enable our users to find what they want with minimal effort. We have to make our reports so intuitive that finding something is almost an automatic process.

So how can we achieve that?

  1. Through user testing, statistics analysis and other methods we study our reports extensively to find the most important needs of different stakeholders;
  2. Once those needs are identified, we enhance the design to support them.

In other words, by improving the design we can save our users time. Here are some examples of how we improved the user experience in our reports.

Smart filters

In Bayer’s Annual Report 2017 we implemented a new feature: the “Quick Finder”. This tool provides an ultra-personalized search, so users can sort the entire report’s content to find the most relevant information to them. All-in-all the “Quick Finder” improves access to the report because the user can search and arrange the content for individual relevance and preference. Advantages in comparison to the conventional search tool:

  • Possibility to save and switch between different search results;
  • Most frequently visited pages are prominently presented;
  • Important key figures have their own teasers that lead to the corresponding page;
  • Content is presented in an interactive way with images and icons.

Connected content

In the Solvay Annual Integrated Report 2017 there are quite a few examples of saving our users some steps towards the information they are looking for.

  • GRI back-linking: With one click users can access all relevant information concerning a specific GRI. They also have an immediate overview of which GRI topics will be discussed on the page.
  • Materiality tags: At a glance, users can discover how relevant this topic is for the company. We also used tags to define their priorities in the materiality analysis.
  • SDGs: A clear way of showing at the top of the page which Sustainable Development Goals will be discussed in the content.

Simplifying tables

In Schaeffler’s Sustainability Report 2017 we broke down a complex table with a filter system. Users are able to filter multiple parameters, making it easy to find relevant information.

Quick access

In BASF’s Reports, the most requested downloads are made very evident with image teasers right at the top of the download page. This way users can find immediately what they are looking for.

Search & find

We optimised the search page for METRO’s Reporting Suite 2016/17 following the idea of “less is more”. Removing unnecessary information allows users to be presented with a clearer overview of the search results. Focus lies on the searched terms which are clearly highlighted.

This post is part of our research series “UX on Online Reports”:
Part 1: UX design: 101.
Part 2: UX design: The challenges of designing reports.
Part 3: UX design: User testing