I suppose I've read several hundred annual reports throughout my investing career. Normally one is looking to understand the financial facts and commentary. But sometimes you unexpectedly find something else: art. Corporate annual reports have long been known for slick covers and nice graphic design. But do some even rise to the level of art?
It sure seems that occasionally there are such reports, and they tend to be clustered around a few companies. Given that most annual reports are now digitized in pdf form, I can point you to these gems. (Although frankly, a lot of the photos look better in the original glossy hardcopy form.) Below are corporate jump pages that have several years of annual reports for their respective companies.
Different years generally have an artistic theme. In my opinion, the best years are 2005 (maps), 2007 (aerial photos), 2008 (oil paintings), and 2011 (landscape photography).
Good reports include 2000 (photography), 2001 (black & white photos), and perhaps the best, 2005 (line drawings).
California Water Service Group
Most years have a creatively themed presentation of the charts and graphs, but the photos are less compelling. 2006 and 2008 look like the best of the crop to me.
Most of these annual reports have a creative presentation of the charts and graphs. I also like the 2008 and 2009 covers. The 2007 report is probably the best overall effort from the company.
Years 2005 and 2006 get an honorable mention for some good photos. Other years are reasonably slick, but don't really feel like art to me.
The IBM reports are only average, but occasionally the covers can be spectacular. Be sure to check out the 2011 cover.