Canva is not a panacea for quality graphic design
I admit it. I use Canva. In fact, I use it quite frequently. But not in the way you might think.
In case you don’t know what Canva is, it’s a Web-based design application offering thousands of premade templates, graphics, and stock photos. Initially, it began life as an easy way to generate graphics for social media platforms. It has since evolved into a ubiquitous tool for creating everything from brochures and T-shirts to videos and websites.
I use it as a way to spur ideas and provide inspiration. It’s also great for finding royalty-free stock images. I rarely use any template without customizing it extensively.
Many companies use Canva for all of their design needs, eschewing professionals for this cheap and easy-to-use alternative. But here’s why that’s a bad idea.
Designed for the masses
The core purpose of Canva is that it doesn’t require any design sense to create something that is reasonably pleasant to view. While there are thousands of templates, most people select from the first dozen or so designs, edit the text, and share them on their social channels.
This is bad a few reasons. First, when selecting from only the first choices presented, you risk looking like everyone else who presumably chooses designs the same way. It’s difficult enough vying for online attention. Using the same layouts as others dilutes your brand and makes your message difficult to distinguish from others.
Second, not every design aligns with your brand. Using a cohesive brand identity, from style to color to font choices, helps to cement your brand into the minds of viewers and will make your content more easily recognizable.
Creating a cohesive brand identity involves more than placing your logo on a design. Canva does allow you to set up a “Brand Kit,” which includes not only different versions of your logo but also color and font choices. Everyone using Canva for their business should at least ensure they set up their Brand Kit, if nothing else.
Speaking of branding, creating your brand logo in Canva is a huge misstep. Admittedly there are some interesting logo options; however, every business everywhere has access to these same designs. Once again, you are diluting your brand by choosing a cookie-cutter design. You will also not be able to register or trademark your logo or any other elements you use from Canva per the platform’s Terms of Service. Not having Intellectual Property rights over your designs could result in some legal woes for your business down the road.
Many will find it difficult to discern good design layouts from bad ones. As Canva has grown, the design choices have gotten sloppy, in my opinion. Canva has been growing its Creator network, a way for designers to make some money when their templates are used. This expansion has led to many (mostly non-U.S.-based) entities submitting lower-quality work and cranking out hundreds of designs. While you may come across a gem or two, it’s now more challenging to find templates that are well designed. Here are a few things to watch out for.
Font size. Overwhelmingly, designs in Canva use font sizes that are too small even for use on social. I see many designs using 6 and 7pt type. Always check the font size and ensure it is set to at least 8pt.
Content length. Because templates are designed without a real-world project in mind, the amount of space provided for text content is often limited in favor of other design elements. Many real designs require a bit more textual content to communicate a message. Often the template will need to be adjusted in ways that throw off the balance and make the overall design less appealing.
Limited business types. As previously mentioned, templates are created without real-world projects in mind. And with that, they are also limited to common business types, such as real estate and technology. If your company is not in a common industry, it may be challenging to find appropriate templates that work for you.
International audience. You might not know this, but Canva is located in Australia. Much of its features, beta testing, and designs start in countries outside of the U.S. Sometimes, that translates well, sometimes not. While the app allows you to create any size design you want, some templates originally created with International standards don’t scale perfectly to U.S. ones.
Professional printing. Canva supports printing designs
directly to its integrated partners as well as outputting print-ready PDFs. This sounds great; however, I have discovered a few issues.
First, when designing for print, precise placement of elements and control of margins are critical. Canva provides a default .5” margin that cannot be adjusted. There is also no way to create columns or even position guidelines accurately. As a designer accustomed to professional tools, these limitations are unacceptable. A single-page flyer may be easy to manage, but longer documents are very challenging.
Second, the press-ready PDFs Canva outputs are unnecessarily large. I’ve recreated Canva designs with Adobe InDesign and output PDFs from both. The InDesign-generated PDFs are always about four times smaller.
It’s easy to bash Canva for all the ways it diminishes the value professional designers provide. However, there are several areas where the tool is very useful.
In my own workflow, I utilize Canva to create social posts, Facebook event headers, eblasts, and fliers. However, as I’ve mentioned, I seldom use templates without adjusting them to my client’s brand colors and fonts as well as customizing the template to the specific design purpose.
Another trick I use when I need a stock photo is to output the image from Canva as a print PDF and convert it to a JPEG using Photoshop. This process produces a higher quality
image than exporting as a JPEG directly from Canva.
I also use the SVG format for graphic elements. SVG is a vector format, like EPS. Vectors, unlike photos, can be scaled to any size without losing quality. I export graphics as SVG from Canva, then open and convert them to EPS with Adobe Illustrator. This may be more work than the average user is willing to do. Still, I prefer using professional applications when it comes to print design.
Canva offers many tools, including video editing, AI image generation, single-page website building, and much more. The platform keeps expanding and costs half as much as an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. I am curious to see how far the platform can be pushed and if it will become a true replacement for existing professional applications. Only time will tell.
About the Author
Jillian Harman is a seasoned marketing and graphic design professional who is also knowledgable in database design and automation. Her company, Hyperion Design & Publishing, helps businesses of all sizes with their marketing, communications, design, and technology needs. Hyperion also publishes The 330 Business Connector magazine. For more information, visit hyperiondp.com.