When you want to make a quick flyer to advertise your yard sale or pull together a quick birthday card for your Mom, what app do you open first? Odds are, Word or PowerPoint. The former’s ubiquitous for page layout designs, even though its not really meant for it, and the latter was the app I used to reach for simply because it’s easy to use for basic graphics-heavy layouts. Either way, you could always get something basic whipped up in 5 minutes, flat, and it’d look ok.
Don’t settle for ok anymore, and don’t worry about needing more than 5 minutes. Canva, a brand-new online design tool, makes quick graphics design simpler than ever — and its results actually look great.
Settling for the Best
Simple design tools usually produce rather cheesy designs, and web apps are slower and have less features than desktop apps. Both are rather common knowledge, and both are entirely incorrect with Canva.
Canva’s one of the first simple design apps I’ve seen that actually makes it simple to produce nice results, and it’s a web app that is fast and simple to use. Instead of a toolbar of tools at the top of the app, Canva’s built around a sidebar of elements you can drag into your designs combined with popover tools on your elements when you select them. You’ll find pre-made designs, layouts, text boxes, and backgrounds in the sidebar, or can search for exactly what you want from over a million stock photos and design elements in Canva’s database. Find what you want, then just drag it into your design.
Customizing from there is simple. You can drag in photos to fill in placeholders on pre-made designs, using Canva’s stock elements or your own photos, and can select any element to quickly change its layer level or base color (and, yes, most of the graphics and backgrounds are customizable). Text boxes are equally customizable, with most of the fonts in Google Fonts ready for use in Canva. The only thing missing is text wrap options, so you’ll have to work your graphics around your text.
It’s a simple, design-first interface that actually works better than I expected at first. It’s so template-based that I almost assumed it’d be more like the old greeting card design apps, when in reality it’s a fairly simple way to make your own relatively unique designs. It also presents an interesting business model, since many of the graphics in Canva are actually watermarked by default and for sale in the app for $1 if you choose to export them in their original, unwatermarked quality. Not very pricey as far as stock images go, but I’d never advise using traditional stock photos — especially, of all things, stock photos of people — in professional designs. But, there’s hope that Canva will at least get people away from using Office’s stock graphics, and with their designer program, I’d expect to see even nicer designs and stock graphics for sale in-app going forward. And, hey: you can always use the base designs and tweak them with your own images.
But that’s an insanely tiny thing to detract from the app itself, especially with its innovative search tool that makes adding designs to your layout insanely simple. It even exports nicely — you can share your designs online, or export them as a high quality image or a PDF with selectable/editable text and graphics. That latter point makes it easily better than Lucidpress, albeit without the former’s more advanced controls. But it makes up for that in simplicity, and that’s what it’s designed for: the quick design work that never should have been Word’s domain in the first place.
Office: Look Out.
I remarked recently that word processors are the “Next Big Thing” on the web this year, with the likes of Draft, Quip, and Editorially changing the way we write and collaborate with others on documents. But it’s equally the year of online page layout apps, something that’s never before come to the web, with first Apple bringing Pages — the most design/layout-focused word processor to the web with all of its rich formatting features including image wrap and more that other online word processors never had. And then, Lucidpress and now Canva are reinventing publishing and design tools for the web, with rich layout tools that rival the quality of, say, Microsoft Publisher while being far easier to use.
I found Canva’s monetization strategy with built-in stock photos and design elements annoying at first, but it’s actually not such a crazy idea. In fact, I’m not even sure what bugged me other than seeing a $ symbol while working, leaving the idea of in-app payments hanging over my head. But if it’s a way to make the app profitable — and potentially speed things up for people who need the graphics — it’s not a bad choice. It’ll be interesting to see how that strategy progresses for their team.
Canva is an incredibly nice design tool for making quick graphics and documents, one you should try out as soon as you have a chance.
And if you really want a chance, leave a comment below and tell me why. We’ve got 3 invites to giveaway to random replies below. Update: Now, you do have a chance: we’ve got an early access code for our readers! Just go to bit.ly/15B8hOD and you can signup for a new Canva account today and try it out for yourself. Enjoy!