The chic Executive Summary design trend

2015 has been such an interesting and diverse year in terms of work we’ve had commissioned. But we can’t mistake it: despite a surge in web-based work and the unexpected return of the corporate identity, we still have a consistent flow of work to provide long-form print reports. We’re very familiar with this sort of project, so welcome a new angle, and it’s been a pleasant surprise to find they have a recent twist. This twist is that increasingly we are working on beginning these documents with a stand-out, elegant, modern Executive Summary design.

So much so that we’ve also been working on documents that pull out the core of the report, the Cliff Notes, the distillation of what has been researched. This important initial section of a report can then become the primary piece of documentation presented to the public, decision-makers, parliamentarians and the press: an Executive Summary design with chic flair.


The Executive Summary design of ‘Restarting Britain’ by the Design Commission


The Executive Summary design of ‘Still in Tune?’ by the Skills Commission 



For us, this trend really started with the series of reports and inquiries we work on for Policy Connect. We’ve often talked about the ‘whump!-factor’ of a printed report – its physical weight adds gravitas to the content. When we prepare these documents, it’s the first few pages which attract particular attention because these top line, attention-grabbing points are what makes the news.

So we particularly focus on their layout so the Executive Summary design stands out, and can be used elsewhere, even pulled out and displayed on social media.

Print is such a very final medium: once the ink is on paper that is that. By contrast, the web can be so easily tweaked and changed at any point. But the layout of these key recommendations or questions of a report can make the document feel very immediate, exciting even. They suddenly have impetus and with that feel relevant and important. These considered views are then appearing on the desks of important people and making an impact.


The Executive Summary design of ‘Design For Good – 90 Years of The RSA Student Design Awards’, a special review by the RSA


The Executive Summary design of ‘Waste to Wealth’ by the Living Earth Foundation



A logical progression from making the first few pages of a report stand out is to cleave it into a stand-alone piece. A recent request from clients has been to prepare and particularly considered layout of the final presentation summary for a significant bid. More often than not, vast swathes of legal information are required to be provided, mostly related to technology or demonstrating competence and an ability to follow legal regulation: those tend to follow a formula.

But these long-form Executive Summary design documents need to have sex appeal. It needs to feel on-brand, high quality… it needs to be considered. What’s key here is the personal touch. A letter from the Chief Executive, for instance; pull-out testimonial quotes from current or past clients; an introduction to the team with their backgrounds and professional expertise. These, together with addressing the key competencies of the organisation, provide a more holistic view of the organisation and its bid. One that is more likely to make an impression.

How to consider such a document? Start small, perhaps. We’d recommend a twelve-page document which pulls together the key points of your report into a single document along with bold graphics, stand-out


The Executive Summary design of ‘Too Good To Fail’ by the Higher Education Commission


The Executive Summary design of ‘Triple Win’ a joint report by the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group and the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group


More on this topic

Some further information on this topic can be found here:

A background to our approach to Business and Political Report Design


Our work: quick links to key projects

Key long-form report projects with a bold Executive Summary design we’ve worked on:

Policy Connect

Royal Society of Arts

Rail Delivery Group

MS Society