Often, these disruptors light a fire under the lumbering incumbent, sometimes cannibalising old markets altogether. New technology can even spring up from within an industry to empower both the market and consumers, and this is a beautiful thing. Few success stories make tech enthusiasts cheer more boisterously than that of Canva, the Australian online design platform with more than 10 million users.
Canva.com is an online application that aims to empower its users with simple drag-and-drop functionality, allowing them to design quickly and effectively for both print and digital projects. The app boasts an extensive library of images, graphics, and fonts, which users can repurpose as they wish. Most of this library is free; however, a selection of specialist graphics come in at just $1 a pop. What’s more, users can easily optimise their work for Facebook banners, Instagram posts, blog headers, or presentations at the click of a button, generating perfectly compressed imagery at upload-ready dimensions.
Canva is the brainchild of 28-year-old CEO Melanie Perkins, who co-founded the company in 2012 after struggling to teach design students how to use existing industry software. Together with fellow co-founders Cliff Obrecht and Cameron Adams, Perkins has brought a credible team of experts to the software, including Chief Evangelist Guy Kawaski, formerly of Apple.
Canva for iOS
More than just a mobilised version of the site, Canva’s iOS App brings to the platform the brand’s signature feature: simplicity. While it’s remarkable that the app allows users to create and export professional-quality designs from their iPhone, one of the unique features of Canva for iOS is its context-determined functionality in camera mode. Camera mode transforms what might have been a simple editing task on a desktop platform into a live mobile experience that incorporates real-time photographic or video content into the background of its users’ personalised designs.
“This took a lot of tricky engineering,” says Cameron Adams, Chief Product Officer to Red Wire. “But now, as you’re editing a design, you can take a photo while seeing it as the background of your design. This makes it much easier to line up your photo with your text.”
Another key differentiator for Canva’s app is multi-page designs, which, according to Adams, “no other graphic design app does.” The functionality to create and edit multiple pages in one design, which has proven particularly useful for creating presentations, elevates the app from a simple design tool into a serious design application.
“We wanted people to be amazed at their ability to spend 5 minutes creating an entire presentation while out on the road, then throwing that straight up on screen.”
Adams explains that being “in people’s pockets” rather than bound at their desk also opens up an entirely new form of content creation for Canva users — one that’s “immediate, contextual, and extremely social.” Perhaps more than ever before, Canva’s mobile platform with new Augmented Reality capabilities lets users create content that’s not just of the moment, but in the moment, too.
I gave the road-testing honours to Brandon Chang, Vodafone’s Youth Segment Marketing Specialist and resident design-savvy Gen Z. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brandon emailed me his glowing review within minutes of my request that he test out the app.
‘This design took me less than 30 seconds,’ he wrote. ‘It’s easily the most intuitive interface I’ve seen, combining vectors and text overlays with a gorgeous library of imagery. I could definitely see myself using this for Instagram shots, blog shots, inspiration artwork, or wallpapers. I’d give this app a 10/10.’
What does it mean for designers?
In an age in which administrators seem relentless in their quest for discovering innovative workplace efficiencies, it’s reasonable to pose a sceptical question: Could this be putting designers out of work?
“We’re big supporters of Canva,” says Simon Pemberton, Head of School at Tractor Design School. Speaking to Red Wire by email, Pemberton extolled the app’s virtues: “Any tool that makes design more accessible and user-friendly is fantastic. Canva was started by a designer, and designers are behind every template on the platform, so enabling more people to use the designs, understand basic design principles, and make them their own is a very positive thing.”
As demand has grown for user-friendly design tools, the role of the designer has shifted. No longer simply the creators of visual or sensory languages, designers are increasingly tasked with solving complex business problems in creative ways. It’s a trend that’s evident in the increasingly mainstream application of ‘Design Thinking’ principles as a framework for invention and innovation. As Pemberton explains,
Back in the day, every website was once hard-coded. Then templates hit the market, and then platforms like WordPress, Shopify, and Squarespace came along. And pretty soon, AI platforms like The Grid will launch. However, the demand for web developers has never been higher. I think we’ll see the same with design. As design tools change and evolve, so too will the role of designers, but in a very positive way.”
It’s not just software-light tools like Canva that are shaping the way designers work. In an increasingly mobile office, communicating and collaborating efficiently has become all the more crucial. “Tools like InVision and Sketch have become invaluable to a lot of designers, not just within in-house teams, but across agencies and in conversations with clients during product development,” observes Pemberton. “At Tractor, we encourage students to use Slack and Trello to communicate and manage projects to reflect the tools that are being used in the industry.”
For aspiring designers looking to develop a future-focused (if not future-proofed) skillset, Pemberton has this advice:
Like any technology, design software and the tools designers use every day will continuously evolve, so if you only focus on software skills, you’re already behind. Designers are increasingly being seen as problem solvers and creative technologists who are able to look at larger business problems and distil them into simplified solutions. It’s this critical thinking and this ability to simplify the complex that all design students should be aiming to develop. That, and the ability to sell your ideas.”
Canva for iOS is available from the App Store.
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