Canva for Work: good-enough design 2.0 for graphic-design amateurs


reported on the Australian start-up, Canva, just over a year ago. On this platform registered users, who don’t require prior design knowledge, can either create their own designs from scratch or utilize editable templates. Using drag-and-drop they can create design layouts for free, although higher-quality elements have to be paid for. Canva has not completely forgotten about graphic designers and layout specialists. Like with Microstock picture services, they can publish design layouts on the platform and then earn royalties every time one of their designs is used.

Canva for Work: Wenn es schnell gehen muss, kommen auch Non-Designer zu akzeptablen Ergebnissen.
Canva for Work: if speed is of the essence, even non-designers can come up with acceptable results.

Since former Apple evangelist and social-media champion Guy Kawasaki got involved with Canva (as an investor and promoter), the Australian company has managed to sign up more than four million registered users, although a considerable percentage consists of professional users, who use this tool to create visuals for their fast-moving social-media channels and presentations quickly. The company has now expanded its business model and launched “Canva for Work”. The new subscription-only service is aimed at professional users and also facilitates team-working (“Team Stream”). Images and graphics can be organized and corporate logos can be managed in dedicated folders (“Brand Kits”). Color schemes can also be created and own designs (created in Canva) can be saved. The basic idea behind this DIY (design it yourself) tool seems to be to enable corporate customers to design all their visuals, the purposes of which would make it too expensive or too short-notice to commission a professional graphic designer, themselves.

The design process is surprisingly simple for non-designers; that is clearly one of the service’s strengths. And it often takes no time at all. That was quite OK for original web-design purposes (for instance blog or social-media graphics) and Canva-created graphics have been used a few times at beyond-print and its associated social-media channels. Canva is now venturing into premium service territory and is promising two more features in the near future: “Upload your own fonts” as well as “Transparent backgrounds”.


“Canva for Work is “good enough” for fast web design by non-professionals, but not for professional artwork.” – Bernd Zipper

However Canva seems to be walking into the RGB-CMYK trap. The users mentioned above are hardly likely to be aware of the difference between additive and subtractive color spaces – and as far as Canva’s concept is concerned, they do not need to learn this difference either. Yet professional usage involves major use of print products (business cards, brochures) and design elements, which, like logos, are often only available in a CMYK version. Canva was already able to produce print-output PDFs a year ago, even if this was more rough than ready. On the Canva for Work platform colors can only be defined in RGB-hexadecimal code terms and color management is of course not an option.  But that would be “too professional” for the target audience, and if any of those users was ever to send Canva for Work designs to an online print provider, they would regularly get worked up about color inconsistencies.

Canva for Work also provides its Magic Resize function for artwork formats like leaflets, menus or even posters.

Another pitfall is the feature, highlighted by Canva, of design scalability, which the company itself has christened “Magic Resize”. That functions well and can cope with width/height alignment changes. This enables graphics to be edited quickly for various social media channels or on-screen presentations, but then only within these constraints and ideally only for vector graphics and fonts. Anybody who wants to edit a web graphic for a print product is likely to be in for an unpleasant surprise no later than when they try to use designs with pixel images. But what the heck, to cover this base Canva provides, for example, its “Poster” design template – why don’t you try scaling a 600-pixel-wide graphic to poster size…

These efforts on the part of Canva to appeal to non-design professionals reminds me of the legendary “good enough” message that was preached in the USA particularly during the launch phase of DTP late in the last century. And Canva is not looking at including online print services, although that would make sense, especially if you are targeting professional users. Graphic designers/layout specialists, who are tempted to create design templates for their clients in Canva for Work, will (if they are reasonably smart) simply refuse to produce artwork. All the same Canva wants in future to keep on involving layout specialists and graphic designers in its platform and link them with potential clients in an “Experts” program.

To make sure I am not misunderstood – I definitely regard Canva’s approach of enabling amateurs to create their own designs for social-media reproduction or blog graphics as a good one. But the Aussie company should leave professional artwork well alone for the time being, even if it is intended for office printers. A focus on web design alone would be worthwhile, as demand for visual content is growing fast. Canva could easily leave the print-product-template-based business to others.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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