Canva & Design: The Mountain and the Molehill

Canva is an amazing graphic design tool that transformed the Adobe Mountain into a mole hill. Many Canva users don’t understand design concepts like hierarchy and balance which has led to a lot of mediocre design, false confidence, and low social media engagement. The good news is that you can gain the trust of potential customers by climbing the second mountain.

20 years ago, I climbed 2 mountains in parallel

When I started designing 20 years ago, I had two mountains to climb. The first was the Adobe Mountain: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Premiere were all tools that I needed to know in great detail to bring my visions to life. The other Mountain was the less tangible but equally important Design Mountain. I needed to learn concepts like readability, hierarchy, brand consistency, balance, space, and symmetry. Neither one of these mountains could be climbed in isolation, you could learn what every single button in Photoshop did and place elements on the screen but if you didn’t understand the rules of how those elements come together, your design would fall flat or look bad. On the other side, you could have a massive art education and understand very subtle nuances of balance and space and color but if you didn’t have the technical skill to bring your vision to life, you couldn’t get off the ground.

Canva has changed the design landscape

Over the last 10 years since it’s founding in 2013 Canva (now a 40 billion dollar company with 100 million users worldwide) has changed the Adobe Mountain into a molehill. No longer did you need 100 hours of training to start to put things on the screen. Today, if you load Canva in your web browser, you can publish a complete design in minutes. I admit I was reluctant at first and it wasn’t really until about 4 years ago that I started using Canva regularly myself. Part of my reluctance was that I considered myself a capital D ‘Designer’, who was Adobe loyal, design educated, and who had a skepticism that anyone without similar training could not produce good design. After using the program for a while, I came to the conclusion that they didn’t have to. There are thousands of templates available that have been designed by professional designers that take into consideration things like hierarchy, balance, and space and if someone simply inputs their own text and photos into the spaces provided they’ve got a decent design.

Design concepts transform the mediocre to the majestic

Luckily, while designing the consequences of not knowing professional concepts are nowhere near as bad as real mountain climbing. If you publish a design from Canva without understanding a concept like text hierarchy, the worst case is that your design does not get the attention you would hoped versus a real mountain where a minor slip can cause physical injuries.

One of the most common errors I see in designs on social media is a lack of text hierarchy. Text hierarchy is the concept of organizing your text from most to least important and making the most important words the biggest, boldest, brightest. It takes work to pre-identify what your most important words are and then to format them properly. If someone could see your image for 1.2 seconds as they scroll by, what would you want them to pick up? In the example below, if I was scrolling by quickly, I would pick up ‘Fruit Sale’ and if that interested me, I would stop and read more. If I wasn’t interested, I would keep scrolling, no harm. If I was scrolling and saw the image below on the left, my brain would really stumble trying to figure out what the author was trying to get across.

Climb the second mountain, gain trust with your customers

You may be pouring through your social media stats trying to figure out if you are posting at the right time of day, on the right platform or if the algorithm is just plain ignoring you. You may not realize that you aren’t getting engagement because your designs are mediocre or even bad. Potential customers are scrolling by because they can’t understand what your trying to say or are overwhelmed by the amount of text you are trying to squeeze into an Instagram square. They may even lose trust that you are a quality business if your designs look unprofessional.

Even though the Design Mountain is a longer, harder climb- it’s worth it. And the good news is that concepts like hierarchy and balance don’t just apply to social media, they apply to anything that’s designed like posters, emails, business cards, brochures, and product labels. And now, since the technical skill of design has the lowest learning curve ever in Canva, you can learn and apply graphic design concepts easily and grow your business.