Canva: The poster child of DIY graphic design

With 10 million users and counting, Australian startup Canva aims to make graphic design easy through a simple and free DIY design template service.

Seamus Byrne Editor, Australia & Asia
Seamus Byrne is CNET's Editor for Australia and Asia. At other times he'll be found messing with apps, watching TV, building LEGO, and rolling dice. Preferably all at the same time.
Seamus Byrne
4 min read

Good design is hard. But more and more we all have to do it. Whether it's a nice Facebook banner, a clever profile pic, an eye-catching Instagram post or some well polished ideas for a work presentation, we all want something more than the terrible basic options offered up by Powerpoint.

Enter Canva. The 5-year-old Australian startup is all about offering slick templates through a free service that is exceptionally simple to use. Whether through its website or the apps for iPhone and iPad , it takes just a few seconds to work out how to get started and make something that looks great.

This all sounds like an ad -- simple DIY design sounds too good to be true -- but a quick taste test proves how true the pitch is. And after a slow boil for its first few years, a rapid climb to over 10 million users across 179 countries (Canva says it just passed five designs per second) suggest this is something that is starting to resonate.

Melanie Perkins Canva

Co-founder Melanie Perkins wants to give everyone the tools to make good everyday designs with minimal fuss.


"Having great quality ingredients for people to work with has been a driving premise behind Canva," says Melanie Perkins, co-founder of Canva. "Before Canva, you'd have to be a professional designer to easily access beautiful stock photography and illustrations. There are template libraries out there, but again, they're only for designers who use professional design software."

While the service is free, Canva makes money through the sale of stock images as well as a "Canva for Work" premium offering that lets a company set brand guidelines and templates to make it easier for people all around a company stick to core design principles without always needing designers to create every document, every presentation or whatever else may be required.

"Social media posts, pitch decks, proposals, marketing materials. Designers are getting spread really thin throughout organisations," says Perkins. "They often have to neglect sales, for example, who often just string their own terribly off brand things together. This really helps to bring brand identity together. Colours, fonts, logos so everybody is on the right track."

Democratising design

Exploring the Canva website, beyond the design tools the company also offers anyone who wants it a crash course in good design. There's a design school blog, design tutorials and a design stream where you can see what other people have been designing and offer likes and comments. Perkins suggests people have been conditioned to think they're just not creative, so they're often afraid to play around.

Canva monthly designs chart
Enlarge Image
Canva monthly designs chart

Canva's usage has been on a rapid rise, now surpassing five designs per second across its web and app platforms.


When Canva first launched, the company's user research found people were inherently afraid to click things in case they messed something up.

"People were really conscious about not clicking too much and not playing around. But this is meant to be the exact opposite," says Perkins. "So we introduced starter challenges -- put a hat on a monkey, change the colour of a circle, add a background to a page, really basic things. But each step builds confidence."

Offering templates that don't get too repetitive is a big challenge, but Canva has tried to solve for this concern by inviting professional designers to share templates publicly and receive royalties whenever their templates are used by others.

For Perkins, it's the success stories of those who have been using Canva that make her feel like they're achieving their mission. From the story of a small US sheriff's office using Canva to create wanted posters, to the story of a woman who created an image to help track down her birth mother that worked after going viral on Facebook.

Australia's coolest tech company

Canva is fast becoming the proverbial and literal poster child of the Australia startup scene. From humble origins in Perkins' mother's living room and "incubating" in San Francisco food courts, the company is now growing rapidly with a team of over 120 across 3 countries and a latest funding round of AU$19.8M at a valuation of AU$462M.

Canva web iPhone iPad

Canva across the web, iPhone and iPad. "Other platforms" (read Android) are planned for the future.


The company also provides classic Silicon Valley perks, with an in-house chef, free gym and yoga classes, flexible working conditions and more. It was all enough to land Canva the title of Australia's Coolest Tech Company two years running from job listings website Job Advisor.

"We're in the ridiculously fortunate position that before we took on this latest funding we hadn't spent a dollar from the previous round," says Perkins. "We got the revenues to grow rapidly and everything sort of naturally moving in the right direction."

There's still a lot more to do. Getting apps on Android is an obvious one, but Perkins suggests the company is only scratching the surface of its larger, and far loftier, long term plans.

"If we can become the productivity tool, the productivity platform for the next generation, with all the crazy needs everyone has for visual content they need to create, that would be pretty cool."