Canva: Revolutionising graphic design from novice to pro

Melanie Perkins Source: Canva

Melanie Perkins Source: Canva

Published Jun 4, 2024


By Andile Masuku

While the jury is out on whether the hip hop musical show-stopper at Canva’s recent global showcase was cringeworthy, it certainly got a bunch of industry attention in ways reminiscent of Steve Jobs’s now-legendary unveiling of the first iPhone.

Graphic democratisation

Accessible online and through mobile apps, Canva has been hailed for headlining the democratisation of graphic design by offering a versatile platform, catering to free and premium subscribers. Users can craft various visual content, spanning presentations, social media posts, posters, videos, logos, website materials and more.

Loved (and despised) for its relatively user-friendly drag-and-drop interface, Canva has bridged the gap between novices and professionals. It’s a journey initiated by a Filipina University of Western Australian student, Melanie Perkins, and her co-founder and partner, Cliff Obrecht, back in 2007.

Initially met with understandable scepticism from design pros, the platform has evolved to meet the needs of a broad user base, overcoming the complexities of design software like InDesign and Photoshop.

Expert evolution

In a talk I give, titled, “Flex: The rise of the hybrid professional,” I unpack the adage, “The future doesn’t care how you become an expert”, recounting how my early adoption of Canva and other turnkey software and hardware platforms and tools between 2008 and 2015 transformed my career trajectory in ways that are all too easy to gloss over in hindsight.

For several years back then, I ran a small boutique creative agency that spent thousands of rand every month paying graphic designers to create professional-looking PowerPoint and PDF decks for a host of client pitches and delivery presentations. Canva streamlined our workflow, helped us make better margins on agency work we did for blue-chip clients, like Standard Chartered Bank Africa and the University of Johannesburg, and inspired me to “flex”— explore commercial possibilities – outside my entrepreneurial weight-class.

I recall the initially tenuous learning curve of navigating Canva’s early iterations, far from the polished platform we see today. It was a process that, ultimately, led to the default acquisition of critical graphic design and communication logic-adjacent skills and competencies that have helped shape the entrepreneurial media maker, strategist and community-building specialist I’ve morphed into.

Enterprise play

At this year’s Canva Create event, the first held in person, the company unveiled new features and tools aimed at energising its global user base, through presentations and demonstrations clearly designed to inspire gushy social media shares. With 185 million monthly active users, including many free-tier enthusiasts, Canva seeks to convert them into premium subscribers, mirroring my own user journey years ago.

However, it’s the company’s updates, aimed at attracting professional teams and workspaces, that I found most interesting. Its latest platform redesign enhances the accessibility of editing tools which leverage some pretty impressive AI-augmentation, while the introduction of a new enterprise tier provides larger organisations with increased control over collaboration, brand management and security.

In a press release, Canva’s Perkins has emphasised the company’s commitment to building on its first decade of democratising design by ushering in a new era of “unifying the fragmented ecosystems of design, AI and workflow tools” for organisations of all sizes.

While the prospect of an imminent public listing remains speculative, my first-hand experience with Canva’s latest updates leaves me suitably impressed and eager for the company’s potential public debut so I can cop a small share of the business.

Andile Masuku is co-founder and executive producer at African Tech Roundup. Connect. Engage with Andile on X (@MasukuAndile) and via LinkedIn.