We were responsible for the digital projection system manufacturer In Focus Systems’ annual report for six years, beginning with their first year as a public company. Four of those books are shown here. While each addressed different strategic and shareholder concerns, together they offer an interesting picture of their development of the company, from its earliest days: technology-driven, newly-weaned from venture capital – to its growth into a marketing-oriented corporation with annual revenues pushing past $200 million.
Dominant among several disparate but important stories in 1992 was R&D – two of In Focus’ engineers had developed a full-color liquid-crystal display that could be manufactured inexpensively (at a time when manufacturing yields on color LCDs were low). Eschewing a traditional narrative, we told them all, in order, spread out on a gatefolding illustrated timeline, with the narrative rendered as extended captions. We set apart the technology areas using an illustration of concentric ripples, referring to the liquid nature of the new technology, and the splash the company hoped to make with it.
This book was the last produced under the tenure of Joe Martin, who was In Focus' first CFO. Joe was one of the few executive types I've met who regarded the production of the annual to be one of the high points of his year: he got into it. I remember when we pitched layouts this year, he said: "I like this. And I'd rather we produce it and have to beg forgiveness than to ask permission."
You're looking at the last gasp of 1980s annual report design. The late eighties and early nineties were the salad days of Jim Berte, who had worked with Robert Miles Runyon before starting an office with Emmett Morava and Doug Oliver to produce some of the most distinctive annuals of the period, characterized by gallery-quality photography, deftly-handled white space and Venetian oldstyle typefaces. Man, I couldn't get enough of the stuff.
The complete narrative took eight panels (this gatefold, its reverse, and two pages on either side). Michael Jones did all the photography on this and all of the other books shown on this page.
In 1993, In Focus kept its head down and made money. No significant technological advances occurred this year (as they had in 1992), and revenue and income growth were respectable, although not earth-shattering. This book concerned itself largely with evangelizing digital presentation systems in general by showing interesting case studies, with interwoven operations content, explaining the company’s development therein.
You may notice how much longer the letter to shareholders is here than in the previous year. That trend continued throughout our association with the company, and with others: as a company's management matures, its prose style tends to get more qualified and long-winded.
The operations section alternated between pale-colored, copy-heavy spreads like this one and application stories like that following. Color saturation was a differentiator in the company's products, and they liked to have a fair amount of high-chroma color in their publications.
Four applicaiton studies centered the narrative: here, a story of a grade-school basketball coach who used an In Focus projector to teach plays during practice. The projector is shown center-left on the spread. Handsome, isn't it? It also weighed about thirty pounds. This was 1993, remember. The company didn't hire consultant industrial design for another two years.
1994 was a big year for In Focus. Only in its fifth year as a public company, its stock price was strong, its earnings had doubled for the second consecutive year, and for the first time it had broken the $100 million annual revenue goal set in its 1992 annual meeting. The revenue numbers, die-cut into the cover, lift to reveal the story behind that milestone, told more or less from its employees’ point of view, many of whom are shown in fine documentary-style photographs by Michael Jones.
The narrative was broken up by department, and supposedly told from the perspective of each department leader. The company was maturing, however, and senior management was becoming more concerned with controlling message in a way that was not necessarily proactive: the candor and enthusiasm of earlier books had been replaced by a sincere desire not to screw up.
We did manage to get almost every employee into the book, though. Michael Jones lived out at the client for two weeks and shot everything and everyone.
Product- and category-evangelizing annuals are common among young companies, and In Focus had done its share – notably in 1992 and 1993 – but this one contrasts sharply with those earlier stories. In 1995, the company invested heavily in redesigning its products and manufacturing processes around existing technologies, beginning (or ending) a conversion from an R&D- to marketing-focused company. Note how copy seems to be running even longer than in subsequent books. The next year's book (our last) would be a 10-k wrap.
The issue this year was to make a case for the company's viability based upon the strength of the emerging presentation market. Paul Mort turned in a nice set of illustrations explaining that market's various facets: here, broken down by user group; and, below, connecting specific products with specific markets. The pages at right discuss the evolution of the company's technology and the three types of display platforms currently in use.
Gatefold pages concerning the application of the company's current product line (top); and describing efficiencies achieved by adopting a common manufacturing platform (bottom). The dark blue and burgundy colorbreaks are drawn from the colors of the company's products, which had been redesigned that year by Ziba.