episode 80: Should You Use Canva for Your Presentations?

  • Canva is an online design tool that labels itself as “amazingly simple graphic design software.” It also has recently shifted from Social Media image creation (which it does very well) to taking on PowerPoint and Google slide, ” “The presentation software company…” (talking about Canva as the ‘presentation software company’). Troy, Nolan and Sandy each spent time building a presentation in Canva and share their design experience and results.

Who uses Canva, and for what?

    • Nolan: I signed up years ago, but have never used it for a client project. I turned my wife onto it, however, and she has been using it the past few months to create social media graphics and even a 4-page brochure for one of her marketing clients. She’s not a designer.
    • Sandy: I’ve used Canva on and off for the past couple of years for Social Media.
    • Troy: I have a Canva account, but only used it for more novelty projects and familiarity. Like Nolan, we have not used it yet for a client project.

In a recent article Canva was compared to PowerPoint and Google Slides and ready for enterprise presentation use…

  • Troy: I feel Canva is working hard to change what it is perceived as. Personally I have always had Canva in the category of Adobe Spark, a social media content creator. But reading the recent headlines about Canva, I am not seeing Social Media content as the focus: One recent article started with “The presentation software company…” talking about Canva as the ‘presentation software company’. Another article, although using the word “startup” for 7 year old company, read “Australian startup Canva just raised $70 million to take on Microsoft PowerPoint and Google’s G Suite…”

What was initial feelings of designing a presentation in Canva?

  •  NOTE: Troy, Nolan and Sandy all worked from the same 10 slide presentation outline to design their our own version of that presentation.
  • Troy: I struggled with being efficient with design time. Lots of fiddling with text, tables and other elements I have come to expect having more robust editing options (eg. in PowerPoint). It was easy to figure out interface, but I was frustrated in using.
  • Nolan: I had a lot of difficulty actually customizing content and designing slides in Canva. An observation is the new “PowerPoint killer” apps have a UI that aims to be simple and clever, which is a good thing, but they all ultimately end up being less effective when you need to start adding features.
  • Sandy: My first try, when I tried to customize everything from a blank slide ended up being fruitless. My second try was I was working 100% with a template. With recognizing Canva has starter files, not what I consider a true template, my presentation design was going well. I did get an error that my file hadn’t been saved in the last 60 seconds and that it was sending it to the Trash. Poof, it was gone.

 Canva is doing a lot of investment into their platform with recent acquisitions of Pexels and Pixabay, two large image sites. Is this an advantage?

      • Nolan: I think an advantage and shows the disadvantage PowerPoint is at in the realm of images. From within PowerPoint you can use 3rd party tools, confidently finding legal imagery to use from within PowerPoint is still a huge blind spot for Microsoft that they just haven’t paid attention.
      • Troy: I am a bit of the opposite. I really like the direction Microsoft is going with opening up access to external companies. No company is going to provide an internal resource that meets all users needs or keep from getting old/stale.

Did you add images using the Canva built-in image library or from external?

      • Nolan: I tried both, but I got very tired very quickly seeing premium images mixed in with free ones.
      • Sandy: I first tried looking for a map via the built in library, but it got very overwhelming. Then I tried to import a map as a vector without luck, but Canva does not support svg, so I settled for a .png.
      • Troy: We have the Canva Pro account, but I still used our Adobe Stock subscription for finding images that did not add to my budget, so for images I used almost all from external resources.

How was building charts and diagrams in Canva?

      • Troy: Painful.
      • Nolan: Frustrating. Canva only has 4 types of charts, and the options are minimal. Also, they call bar charts “row charts” and column charts “bar charts”

Let’s talk about tables and Canva…

      • Nolan: There are table options in Canva?
      • Sandy: I did not see tables in Canva…
      • Troy: I cannot believe there is no functional built in table option. The add a preset “grid” option is inserting an image of a preset table layout, which then needs manually added individual text boxes – a useless attempt at tables. One of the presentation designers in our studio did figure out that a PowerPoint table can be pasted into Canva. It becomes a static/non-editable table, but it does look nice and not add 10-20 minutes to manually create a table layout of text boxes and lines.

Anything to say about font management, typesetting?

      • Troy: Overall, the font options, selecting fonts and using fonts are really good. But the limitation of only 1 font size per text box is a limitation.
      • Sandy: I thought it was pretty nice. I liked how the text pasted from Arial in PowerPoint to Roboto in Canva without additional formatting.

Did you try to change templates?

      • Nolan: Yes, and Canva wins the prize this year for the most obvious UI behavior not working at all like one would expect…
      • Troy: I fell into the same trap – definitely tested the undo feature!
      • Sandy: Changing a template layout is easy, but it deletes your previous content!

What do we feel about the presenting mode and options?

        • Troy: I am still trying to figure out the animation thing… Being a web-based app with a presenter view option is really amazing coding.
        • Sandy: I used the Fade transition, which is the same animation – called an animation, across all slides. But I found the playback to be stuttery.

Any comments on the file type and export options?

      • Sandy: Download options are PDF, PNG, JPG and MP4. The MP4 output can be changed to GIF and that is pretty nice.
      • Troy: The fact that you can export to PowerPoint shows Canva knows what it needs to be able to do to work in the real world.
      • Nolan: The convert to PowerPoint is far from perfect. It tries to create master layouts, but a lot of the transparency goes away. Fonts available in Canva are not there in PowerPoint, so lots of text wrapping issues. Overall, this conversation process needs work.

Being a web-based app, what browser did you work in? Any issues with the browser, bandwidth or OS?

      • Nolan: I worked in safari and don’t think I had any issues.
      • Troy: I did successfully work in Microsoft Edge with no issues.
      • Sandy: I worked in Chrome. The only issues I had were with the stuttering transition.

 Open discussion on presentation design in Canva:

      • Troy: Google and PowerPoint are making huge investments in collaboration. I did a minor test of the ability to share a presentation for others to help edit and it was very simple and effective, but not a collaborative experience like Microsoft and Google have where you can see the edits of others in real-time.
      • Nolan: I really like the concept of Canva, but Presentation still feels like a small module for what should be major software
        Sandy: Usually in PowerPoint, if I crash, I can recover at least some of my presentation. I completely lost my Canva file. Hopefully just a new user error and not a common issue.

Being judgmental; is Canva a PowerPoint alternative for the corporate presentation?

      • Nolan: No. The real problem for me with all the PowerPoint replacement apps is when you need to work outside their preset layout, is that they generally try to make creating the initial slide including design, very fast and easy. And Canva does that. The breakdown comes in when you want to customize your content and change your layout to accommodate not 3 but four items or not one but two images or a gradient background and not a flat background or a table or a scatter plot or a video starting at the 10 second mark or having a logo in the same place on every slide, and on and on. You very quickly realize that for all it’s faults, PowerPoint has over the years learned what people need when creating presentations and even the most simplest of presentations eventually is going to need more features and customization than is convenient for these programs to provide. I also think it’s worth noting that while yes, it may be much, much faster to get your initial template and cool title slide created in Canva, you may end up spending literally hours trying to create a table or bring in your column/line combo chart that shows your quarterly sales and which you have to go back to Excel and PPT anyway to create and edit.
      • Troy: The templates are visually very nice with lots of well designed preset layouts. But they are only fast to use if you can fit your content and message into that preset layout. I am not at this point seeing it match the power of PowerPoint or Google Slides.
      • Sandy: This is for college kids and high schoolers and maybe anyone for whom branding is not critical. Canva is not ready for creating an easy to use presentations for company-wide use.

Wrap up:

  • Canva is a robust set of online design tools that include social media images, print files and presentation slides. While we see the possibilities, we all agree Canva’s presentation tool is not as robust as PowerPoint’s feature rich offering and is not at this time a replacement for PowerPoint. But Canva does offer some great resources for images, easy-to-use tools and with a little formatting effort, can be used produce a professional presentation – especially if it is focused on big visuals, stylized text callouts and minimal data and text.


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