AMONG the extracts of judges' comments about winning reports are phrases which include ''excellent all round presentation'', ''creative use of graphics'', ''excellent use of graphics'', and ''skilful use of graphs and diagrams''. Yet it is surprising to find that, although presentation has an influence on judges, and is one of the nine criteria for marking, many reports entered into the competition are not produced by graphic designers. The design and layout of an annual report cannot be left to amateurs if the best results are to be achieved. There are rules with design, just as the Stock Exchange lays down rules, and design is measurable in terms of the perception it creates. The prime reason for producing an annual report is to create positive investor relations, and the first goal is to uphold the image of the company, or possibly to use the report to produce a new image. ''Three-dimensional graphs are popular to present financial data, but if the graphs do not make the information clearer, or do not project the corporate image, they are wrong in this situation,'' said David Kincheloe, general manager of Cato Design, an international firm which has designed many company reports. The writing should be affected by the style of the company. Many companies use pale blue, yet this colour is known to reduce comprehension of the text and is less easier to remember. Other common weaknesses include typescript over a busy background, the constant use of italics, and small print. ''We may speak in different ways to different audiences, but the message must be the same,'' said Mr Kincheloe. ''If the style of a report affects the message, then it is the style that must be changed, not the message.'' He said too many managers had a budget for design, but did not know what they wanted to say. Mr Kincheloe said the correct sequence should be, 'Here is what we want to be seen as, here is who we want to talk to, here is what we want to say', and only then should the budget be allocated. ''The aims of the report should be to meet guidelines set down by the Stock Exchange, and then everything else should be about who we are and who we want to be,'' said Mr Kincheloe. ''Most firms have something special to say to their stockholders and major groups of investors, yet that is where so many companies fall down,'' he said. ''If they say they are committed to Hong Kong, but you do not see it in the design of their report, they are not communicating properly.''