Most designers, social media strategists, and bloggers will be aware of the freemium online design tool Canva; it’s a simple, online design tool with the aim of “democratising design” by giving anyone the tools to create professional designs in minutes.
But for a simple design tool, it can be quite a divisive topic. There are some designers and marketers who think it’s harmful to the industry and won’t use it on principle. However there are other professionals in all kinds of industries who rely on it almost totally for their design functions.
But in our opinion, the reality of the situation isn’t quite as black and white as Canva’s raving fans and sworn enemies would have you believe.
What is Canva?
Canva is a simplified design tool that is accessed through your web browser. Its intuitive drag and drop interface is incredibly easy to use, even for those who aren’t particularly tech savvy. Though it doesn’t provide users anywhere near as much freedom as tools like Adobe InDesign or Illustrator, it is full of useful, entry-level design features. Canva is a neat tool that’s perfect for creating quick social media graphics, YouTube thumbnails, and email marketing graphics. Canva is free to use, but does offer a feature-packed paid option too.
Canva Does Not Replace Graphic Designers and Agencies
Yet some designers dislike Canva (and similar tools on the market like Pablo) for a number of reasons. Some express concerns that it’s harming the graphic design industry. Some feel that the designs output by Canva are too homogenised and “samey”.
Our main concern is that Canva provides options to create highly visible, core brand collateral like logos, business cards, letterheads, proposals, and brochures – items that should really be created with the help of an experienced graphic designer. Though Canva does purport to let you design these crucial assets yourself, seriously, don’t do it.
Collateral like your logo your branding, and business cards are often the first thing that a prospect sees, and as the old saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Core brand assets like these need the input of a skilled designer. There’s a lot of nuanced non-verbal communication that goes into creating a brand that’s memorable for all the right reasons, so we encourage you to get a graphic designer on board as quickly as possible.
A similar argument can be made about highly visible assets that you intend to use long-term, like flyers, menus, and static website collateral. They need to be crafted with fundamental design knowledge in mind, not just a free Canva account and a “can do” attitude.
Graphic Designers and Canva Can (And Should) Coexist
However, the team at OLCO Design don’t really see these free tools as a threat. Quite the opposite in fact – we rather like them.
A business’s core graphical identity – logos, brand assets, colour schemes, and brand strategy – should always be overseen by a graphic designer. But once an expert has laid the groundwork, free design tools can help clients create their own, more short-term graphics in mere minutes.
When you look at it this way, free design programs present a win-win situation – the client can carry out their own small design jobs in 10 minutes or so, and we designers still have a job at the end of the day. In fact, many of our clients use Canva in conjunction with brand assets that we’ve created for them when they need a quick Twitter post image or a blog post header, for example.
Social media and content marketing can be incredibly fast-paced and, from time to time, graphics will be needed at the drop of a hat. In these situations, it may be quicker to simply create your own image in Canva rather than booking time with a designer to explain your needs to a designer and waiting for their input.
Do Graphic Designers Use Canva?
Well, it’s complicated. It’s highly unlikely that any worthwhile professional designer would ever use Canva to create business-critical assets like logos, business card designs, or brochures from scratch. If a designer does so without a really good reason, that’s a huge red flag. And let’s not forget that some designers won’t even touch Canva on principle.
However, here at OLCO Design, we do sometimes assemble Canva templates for our clients which contain graphical assets created in other, arguably more professional design packages. If a client foresees the need to frequently create templated assets in house (like email marketing banner, featured blog images, or social media graphics) we’re more than happy to provide editable Canva templates for the client to use as and when they need.
This enables the client to create totally on-brand, near-professional graphics themselves without diverting from their brand guidelines or having to learn the complexities of Illustrator or Photoshop.
Side note: This isn’t to say that designers can’t accommodate small, quick-turnaround jobs, of course – we regularly provide graphics like these at an enviable pace!
Free Design Tools Do Have Their Downsides
Though Canva and its cousins can be very useful, they aren’t without their downsides. Let’s take a few sticking points that we have with free online design tools.
No Internet Access, No Design Program
The first issue that springs to mind will be familiar to anyone who regularly uses cloud or SaaS applications. Because these free tools are all online-only, you can’t use them without internet access – or indeed if their servers are down. Contrast this with the tools that designers commonly use – locally installed software like Adobe’s (confusingly named) Creative Cloud which can be used offline.
Homogenised Design By Numbers
Canva is arguably the most popular online design tool around, and it encourages users to rely on its pre-designed templates and asset libraries. This can result in very formulaic designs that are markedly similar to other brands who use Canva. This may not be much of a problem for smaller impact, fast-paced graphics like social media posts, but if you need a design with a bit more staying power, you’ll probably fare much better by commissioning an experienced graphic designer.
Though he takes a less rosy view of Canva than we do, Social Media Strategist Jon-Stephen Stansel makes a very astute point:
“Canva makes you a graphic designer the same way a microwave makes you a chef. Sure you can make a decent meal in minutes, but like a TV Dinner, it’s flavorless and bland. It homogenizes design. Everything designed on Canva looks like it was designed on Canva. […] The content is merely passable and mediocre at best. It’s hotel art, meant to look nice in the room and not offend anyone’s sensibilities… but not really stand out either.”
In a similar vein, Clientish equates favouring Canva over Photoshop in a competitive, high stakes environment to “bringing a knife to a gunfight”.
File Format Fumbles
Canva does provide tools for exporting artwork in various formats, but graphic designers are trained in how best to prepare a piece of design work for print or digital uses. Without this knowledge, those who completely rely on Canva for their graphical needs could be setting themselves up for a fall.
For example, using an incorrectly optimised graphic on your website can slow down that page and harm your SEO. Having a flyer printed without properly adjusting the file for CMYK printing can produce unexpected colour results. Incorrectly configuring the margins on an image destined for print may cause issues with sizing, stretching, and may even chop off areas of graphics or text. It’s situations like these where an experienced graphic designer’s input is absolutely vital.
Good Designers Source Responsibly
Though graphic designers don’t purport to be intellectual property specialists (OLCO Design included), we do have experience in dealing with image royalties and licencing. Reputable designers will be able to source high quality images that are either properly licenced or royalty free, minimising potential legal headaches further down the line.
If you’re not a designer (or a lawyer), then navigating the nuances of image rights and royalties can be tough. But to share a quick tip – never use images you’ve sourced from random websites or through Google Image Search – you don’t know who might own them. There are plenty of royalty-free image resources out there like Pixabay, Free Range Stock, and Skitterphoto, so head there first.
Additionally, when you work with a professional graphic designer, it’s unlikely that you’ll be relying on homogenised, pre-made templates whose intellectual property may belong to someone else. Good designers create totally tailored assets from scratch, and should provide clear guidance over who owns the IP over any finished deliverables.
So, Is Canva Good for Graphic Design?
In conclusion, there are some creatives out there who worry that tools like Canva are destroying the industry; pitting the two options against each other in a “Canva vs. graphic design” debate. However, we don’t think that’s strictly the case.
Free design tools simply give anyone the ability to create presentable professional looking graphics designs in minutes. These tools can be used in conjunction with professionally designed graphical assets, keeping costs low and brand recognisability high. So Canva doesn’t completely replace the work of a designer, in fact the two can absolutely thrive together.
Our rule of thumb is as follows: if you need help creating something that is crucial and central to your brand, like a logo, a colour palette, packaging, signage, or something that is going to represent you for years to come, then get a designer on board.
However, if you need something smaller and more incidental like a gif for social media, a blog graphic, or a simple diagram, then a graphic designer can absolutely help, but we at OLCO Design won’t hold it against you for using Canva. If you’re a client of ours then ask us nicely and we can even set up a template for you!
If you’re not sure whether you should engage a designer/agency in any situation, simply speak to one!
The friendly team at OLCO Design would be more than happy to have a chat. We are an award-winning full-service design agency who provide a totally personalised service – you’re never just an account number with OLCO. Book your free discovery call with us today!