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 easy to use 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 Illustrator or Photoshop, 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
However 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, and letterheads – items that should really be brought to life with the help of an experienced graphic designer.
No company should ever source all of their graphics through free design tools. Though Canva does purport to let you design these crucial assets yourself, seriously, don’t do it.
Collateral like your logo 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 if you can afford to get a graphic designer on board, then we encourage you to do so.
The same can be said about larger, highly visible assets that you intend to use long-term, like flyers, menus, and website collateral. They need to be crafted with fundamental design knowledge in mind, not just a Canva log in 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.
Free design programs present a win-win situation – the client gets their small design jobs done 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 image or an email newsletter header graphic.
As a promotional method, content marketing is absolutely huge. It can also be incredibly fast-paced and from time to time, graphics will be needed at the drop of a hat. In these situations, it may make more sense to simply create your own image in Canva rather than explain to your designer what you need.
That’s not to say that designers can’t accommodate smaller graphics where a quick turnaround is needed of course – we regularly turn graphics like these around 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.
Formulaic, Homogenised Design
Canva is arguably the most popular online design tool around, and often 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 rely on Canva could be setting themselves up for a fall.
For example, using an incorrectly optimised graphic on your website can slow down that page. 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 with correctly navigating 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 in the industry, 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 their finished products.
There are some creatives out there who worry that tools like Canva are destroying the industry, but we don’t feel that’s strictly the case. Free design tools simply give the ability to create professional looking designs in minutes.
Graphic design professionals and free design tools can thrive together. We encourage you to engage with a skilled brand designer to lay the groundwork – creating an actionable brand strategy, crafting a logo, formulating a complementing colour scheme, and designing your most visible long-term collateral. Then, with this in hand, you’ll be able to handle some of the more short-term graphics through the likes of Canva.
And if you’re not sure whether you should engage a designer/agency in a certain 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. Give us a call today on 0330 223 1193 or drop us a line!