Disclosure research has argued that visuals are increasingly used in annual reports as a way to increase readability of the annual report, but comparatively little is known about of diagrams compared to graphs and photographs. The purpose of this paper is to provide a historical account of visuals use in corporate disclosure, with an emphasis on diagrams, to show changes from the 1940s until present-day reporting.
Visual research methods were applied to analyze how diagrams, photographs and graphs were used in 69 annual reports of the Swedish telecom company Ericsson.
Photographs have been used with increasing frequency since the 1950s. Graph and diagram use has increased significantly since the 1990s while photograph use remained stable, suggesting that graphs and diagrams increasingly complement photographs for visually representing the organization in corporate disclosure. Factors explaining the case company’s development include both internal (performance, individual preferences, shifting from a manufacturing-based strategy to a service-based strategy) and external (legislation, transformation of the telecom industry).
Visual elements in annual reports are increasingly oriented toward immaterial representations of the organization’s standings and identity and diagrams are increasingly used and contribute to this. This finding motivates further research about diagram use in corporate communication, such as how different diagram types convey accounting messages, and whether diagrams serve as impression management devices. For regulators, it will be important to follow the emerging trend of diagram use, since it is becoming part of reporting practice.
This paper has benefited greatly from the input from three anonymous reviewers, for which the author is very grateful.
Havemo, E. (2018), "Visual trends in the annual report: the case of Ericsson 1947-2016", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 312-325. https://doi.org/10.1108/CCIJ-03-2017-0015
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