Covers: photos or images and decorative elements

Our third foray into report covers and their patterns of information, layout and design takes up the use of photos and decorative elements. We return to the eleven reports discussed earlier  as well as the second visit where we pored over eleven surveys by U.S. law firms in 2017. 1 Our methodology assigned photos and decorative elements on covers to a primary location on a nine-cell grid.

All but one of the reports sport a photo or image on the cover (Baker McKenzie being the sole exception). Five of the photos or images tie closely to the topic of the survey (Foley Lardner shows a car’s dashboard, Haynes Boone an oil field pumpjack, Ropes Gray a stylized map of the world, Seyfarth Shaw a cityscape, and White Case a striking shot of a giant mining truck). Four others selected something not evidently related to the survey’s topic: Carlton Fields’ skyscraper, KL Gates’ metallic bars, Littler Mendelson’s colorful swirls, and Proskauer Rose’s radiating blue star.

The snippet hereafter clipped part of Morrison Foerster’s cover. Is it an image or a decorative element or both?

In the reports of White Case, Littler Mendelson, and KL Gates, the entire background consists of a photo. The other reports filled various portions of the cover.

The next snippet gives an example of decorative elements from Baker McKenzie. Along with the bit of circuit board there are four colored rectangles. This decorative array appears in the top-middle of the cover and to the left of the title and date.

Other decorative elements from this set of covers include a row of six small rectangles over five small rectangles in Carlton Fields, a diagonal slash of color in Haynes Boone, and a heavy black line under the title in Ropes Gray. Finally, Littler Mendelson and Seyfarth Shaw partition their covers into two rectangles.


  1. The reports are Baker McKenzie Cloud 2017, Carlton Fields CA 2017, Foley Lardner Cars 2017, Haynes Boone Borrowing 2017, KL Gates GCDisruption 2017, Morrison Foerster GCsup 2017, Littler Mendelson Employer 2017, Proskauer Rose Empl 2017, Ropes Gray Risk 2017, Seyfarth Shaw RE 2017, and White Case Mining 2017.

Decorative elements in survey reports

Four law-firm research surveys include examples of what what might be called “decorative elements.” Such elements gussy up the pages of the report, add to attraction for readers, contribute visual appeal. A graphical minimalist such as Prof. Edward Tufte might disparage decorative elements as eye-candy without informational nutrition, but others are more aesthetically minded and sensitive to the importance of reader engagement (dare we say, entertainment value of survey reports?).

Law firms want to leave a good impression: good looks and visual creativity lingers pleasingly in the mind. Besides, the designers who lay out the report don’t measure themselves simply by the ratio of ink to information. Artistic sensibilities and design values contribute to a report. Lawyers don’t think in terms of what catches the eye, but desktop publishers do.

Norton Rose Lit 2016 [pg. 4-5 ] nestled a grey piece of a jigsaw puzzle behind its text. The image is hard to spot, but look carefully to the right of the words “litigation trends” in the fourth line of text: a white space and a grey swatch mark part of the slightly-tilted image. Like a musical joke tucked in by a composer, a decorative element can amuse and entice a reader who appreciates it.

Later, in the same report, the firm flew a plane across the lower part of a page [pg. 23]. That visual tidbit may add no informational value, but it draws the eye and tickles the fancy.

Morrison Foerster Privacy 2017 headed each page with a complex visual. Critics might take the firm to task on the grounds that the header distracts; it’s blatant and complex. Others may admire the combination of evocative pictorial elements and a bit of lightness amid a cerebral presentation.

Berwin Leighton Arbvenue 2014 [pg. 10] added a cartoon to one plot. Whether or not you connect the small figure and the data being reported, let alone whether the cartoon makes a point any clearer, at least you notice it. If you notice it, you might also pay attention to the data to its left.

Morrison Foerster Compliance 2015 [pg. 12] bordered its pages with a wash of blue. As with all the decorative elements shown here, you could do away with the blue shading on either side and lose nothing — except a soupcon of color that pleases the eye. To rephrase an old saying, “All metrics and no magic makes survey a dull report.”