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Canva: the best thing to happen to non-graphic designers since ever

Canva is the newest design tool to hit the market, and looks to be any professionals’ leg up in the competitive market, as it can set anyone apart either via presentation or business card. Genius!

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Canva – design tool loaded with tons of pre-designed elements

Do you remember the first time you used PowerPoint and were amazed by all of the creative themes it came loaded with, or the colors, or layouts? Do you remember that invincible feeling that you could go into any situation armed with a sexy presentation and knock the socks off of anyone? Well maybe you weren’t as nerdy as I was in my childhood, but you get the point – once upon a time, PowerPoint was the most creative and powerful suite of tools around, but business professionals adopted it and pillaged the potential awesomeness and turned presentation time into an hour of animated clip art that makes you want to stab yourself in the eyeballs.

Enter Canva, the newest design tool that has given me the same butterflies in my stomach as PowerPoint did 20 years ago, and after reading this, you’ll rush over to Facebook and ask if anyone you know has an invite to share with you since it is currently invitation-only and each new user is given five invitations to share.

UPDATE: Canva has provided AGBeat readers with a VIP pass to Canva so you can jump the waiting list!

First, watch this quick video below, and then I’ll tell you why it doesn’t do the tool justice.

Why Canva is awesome and I love it

First, I should note that I don’t know anyone at Canva, and hadn’t heard about the tool until recently (and yes, I begged for an invitation just like you will).

When you get into Canva for the first time, you’ll be able to create any of the following:

  • Documents (A4)
  • Presentations
  • Blog graphics
  • Facebook cover photos
  • Social media graphics
  • Cards
  • Photo collages
  • Posters
  • Invitations
  • Business cards

Each of these types of creations comes with tons of free templates, and while I usually hate templates because they reek of 1993 PowerPoint presentations, these templates are extremely modern, beautiful, and clearly designed by actual designers.

Once you’ve chosen what you’re going to create, you can select a layout (template), add some text in the pre-designed spots or on your own, change the background, and even upload pictures or have it pull from your existing Facebook photos (hence the benefit of logging in your first time with Facebook). If you want people to collaborate with you, even that is an option!

It’s loaded with a bajillion high-quality photos and images – there are plenty of free elements, but if you want a giant lion or a paisley background, you might shell out a dollar, which we believe to be pretty dang inexpensive (although we’d prefer a “here, take my $9.99 per month and give it all to me for free” model). But hey, they’ve got to keep the lights on!

Then, when you’re done, you can download your new image or share it on social networks right from Canva. Genius! The video is beautiful, but nothing beats tinkering with Canva yourself. Nothing.

Real life example

So after I stopped drooling, I challenged myself to make a quick graphic for an event we host in Austin every month. In 60 seconds, no joke, 60 seconds, I created the following:

bashh

It basically did all of the work for me – I just typed in a couple of words, changed the background color, and added a ribbon and the URL. Easy as pie.

The designs are all gorgeous, so easy to use, and a must-have for any professional who is ever going to have to put together a presentation, graphic, or otherwise. Really, truly, this is the most exciting thing to happen to non-graphic designers, and actual designers can use the tool without throwing up!

Quick photo tour:

So right now, I’m going to challenge myself to make a gorgeous Facebook cover photo in under 60 seconds, let’s see if I can do it (click any image to enlarge and get inspired):

canva-step-1

canva-step-2

canva-step-3

canva-step-4

canva-step-5

canva-step-6

It worked! Although I changed my mind during the process, you can see that the design elements are all drag and drop, and it even helps you with guides to keep everything centered. And now, if I wanted to use Ron Burgundy as my Facebook cover photo, I can – it’s even customized with a stupid catch phrase.

So go check out Canva and show us in the comments what you have created!

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Don Reedy

    October 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Inviting. Pleasing it would be. 🙂

  2. Brady Pevehouse

    October 21, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    I requested my username, verified my email, and immediately got an invite directly from the website!

  3. JoeLoomer

    October 22, 2013 at 7:42 am

    Holy Crap! Check out their pintrest page too – requested my user name, but didn’t get what Brady got – hopefully I will soon!

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  4. Brady Pevehouse

    October 22, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Darn “Chief”, when I get lucky I hope it is for winning the lotto…
    instead I simply get the Canva invite..
    I just sent one at you.. It is interesting and worth some looking at and trying out, the thing the article doesn’t tell you is, …. you do still need some creativity. The right tools only get you so far and while this has quite a few, it doesn’t come with a personal designer who can snap 3 times and it’s done.

  5. Lani Rosales

    October 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Hey friends, if you check out the update in the story, there’s a VIP link you can share with friends so they can bypass the waiting line!

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Business Marketing

The science behind using pictures of people in marketing to convert more leads

(MARKETING) People fear using their picture in social networking profiles, but we make the case not only for using pictures of yourself, but of scrapping stock graphics for photos of people that studies show improve conversion rates in marketing.

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To avatar or not to avatar?

After all of these years of people using the web, the debate continues about whether or not people should use their headshots as their profile pictures and avatars on their blogs and their social networks. Many people are uncomfortable with the way they look in photos, and some are never satisfied with their picture, so they settle for their company logo, a cartoon image, or a random photo to share something about who they are. While some believe the argument is subjective, we would argue otherwise.

It is advisable to use a photo of yourself as your profile picture wherever you go, no matter how unsatisfied you are and how uncomfortable. There are many reasons from making it easier to connect with people offline after talking online, to giving people a better way to connect with you, but a personal side has become expected on social networks and blogs, making a profile picture culturally mandatory.

Throw culture out of the window

So let’s say you’re still uncomfortable advertising your face. I personally hate every picture of me taken since I was 11 and had a bad perm, I get it. Profile pictures can send some people into full fledged panic, and at that point, who cares if web culture dictates a photo?

You should, and here’s why… science.

Science? Yep. Any parent knows intuitively, and scientists have studied for years that babies love pictures of other babies, and part of socializing a child is giving them books with pictures of other babies to connect with, learn from, and see other ethnicities. Babies love looking at other babies, it helps them connect and learn, and believe it or not, many studies show that we don’t evolve past that point in our lives, so, adults love looking at other adults.

More science

If that isn’t enough to convince you to use a profile picture, a recent study shows that a website’s conversion rate can be skyrocketed by using human faces. According to KISSmetrics.com, using human faces “get your prospects to focus more and this causes them to draw towards a common point of interest. It doesn’t get more real than that.”

The company cites an A/B test on Medalia.net, an online art shop, which presented paintings from artists on their homepage, and during testing, they swapped out the photos of the paintings with photos of the artists hoping to increase user engagement. KISSmetrics said, “Making this small but relevant change sent their conversion rate through the roof – something they didn’t expect. Their site experienced a whopping 95% increase in conversions!.”

Reading between the lines

Using a photo in your profile pictures is important, it allows people to connect with you, just like babies connect with other babies through photos, and website viewers are converted by human photos. But, read between the lines here – using photos of people in marketing is a concept as old as the idea of marketing, and your using people in your blog photos and marketing can improve your conversion over outdated stock graphics. There are legal ways to obtain photos of people (through creative commons), and using photos of your own can have the most meaningful impact.

Whether you’re nervous to share your face with the world or not, web culture dictates that you should and studies show that a percentage of people distrust social networkers without a face shot. Independent of all of that, conversion rates improve when people see other people, as it is easier to connect with over stock graphics or abstract images, so take a leap of faith and put your picture out there, and while you’re at it, try to find ways of using photos of humans in your marketing and blogs.

Just remember – babies love looking at pictures of babies, and we’re all just babies when you boil it down.

This story originally ran here on March 6, 2012.

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Business Marketing

4 ways to rise above the noise and get your message heard

(MARKETING) Getting your message heard in this noisy world isn’t impossible, it just takes some purposeful habits on your part.

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When you sit down at your computer or pull your phone out of your pocket, you’re essentially going into battle – a battle for your focus and attention. Will you be able to complete the task you set out to accomplish, or will you get sidetracked by one of dozens of distractions?

Here’s the truth: Your customers aren’t all that different than you. They’re exposed to the same internet noise and onslaught of distractions that you are. If you want your marketing messages to be heard, you must rise above the noise and engage your audience in a clear manner that’s worthy of their focus and attention.

Here are four tips for rising above the noise:

It doesn’t take a lot of foresight or experience to know that the internet is a noisy place. Every single second, 8,015 tweets are sent out, 842 Instagram photos are uploaded, 1,369 Tumblr posts are published, 66,615 Google searches are initiated, 73,580 YouTube videos are viewed, and 2.69 million emails are sent.

There are currently more than 3.8 billion internet users – a 42 percent increase in the last three years – and these figures are ballooning even more. Your customers live in a loud, chaotic internet world where everyone and everything is vying for their attention.

“Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, Twitter, sports, news, and the list goes on and on,” says Alex Kahan, President of Nomad Communications. “Notifications and alerts bombard us by the second. So what’s a marketer to do? How do brands stay relevant in the face of this digital onslaught?”

The solution isn’t to publish more content or create more noise. This will only make you blend in. If you want to thrive, you must rise above. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Go where people are paying attention

The first step is to go where people are paying attention. People are busy and they don’t have time to visit dozens of different outlets to consume content every day. They’d much rather congregate at a village square where they can get everything in one place.

“In digital terms, that village square is social media,” marketer Justin Gray writes. “That’s why most brands aggregate their content on Facebook and other platforms these days: People turn there for business news because their friends, colleagues, and favorite leaders are there in one place. If you think you’re site is where your buyers eyes are, you’re mistaken.”

2. Get to know your audience.

Do you know your audience, or are you too busy focusing on your own needs and goals to notice what they want, need, and feel?

Before you can ever expect your audience to engage you, you must engage them. Work on getting to know your audience and focus on building a tribe. Eventually, the hope is that this tribe will become your customer base.

3. Be authentic

“Trust is the top factor when it comes to getting heard,” Gray believes. “If your mind is only on revenue, stop—that’s 25 steps down the road. Your first priority should be making sure your content persuades buyers to view you in a different light than every other business on the web.”

How do you breed trust? Through authenticity and transparency, of course. With all the promotional marketing and bogus advertising going around the internet, a brand that’s authentic and genuine will stand out. It takes more work, but it’s worth it in the end.

4. Develop visual content

In an internet landscape where millions of words are published on an hourly basis, you need visual content to stand a chance of rising above the noise. Even then, you aren’t guaranteed any visibility and exposure. Your visual content must be compelling.

Compelling visual content is unique, vibrant, eye-popping, and digestible. You only have a few seconds to make an impact, so you need to get straight to the point. This means prioritizing uniqueness, yet being consistent to what your brand stands for. Over time, your audience should be able to identify a style as being associated with your brand without seeing a logo.

It’s not easy to stand out in a noisy marketplace.

Even brands like Amazon, Apple, Coca-Cola, Disney, and McDonald’s face stiff challenges in this area. In order to be successful, you don’t have to reach the masses. You do, however, have to reach your audience and convince them that your messaging is more valuable, relevant, and worthwhile than everything else that’s competing for their finite attention. It sounds simple, but nothing could be more difficult.

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Business Marketing

Modern best practices for your online design portfolio

(BUSINESS) Do you have an online design portfolio? Does it hold up to modern standards or is it stuck in 1997?

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Whether you’re looking for your next gig or full time opportunity, your online portfolio is your showcase, your chance to shine. But so frequently, we see creatives that either don’t have an online portfolio, or an awful (or incomplete) portfolio. It’s a challenge, because you often sign NDAs and are not at liberty to share all of your work, it’s a challenge.

Let’s talk about the modern best practices for your online portfolio.

First, before you even open a browser tab, put pen to paper and commit to your goals and consider what you are looking to express. Look around at what others are doing so you know what to compete with. Are you just going to slap up some pics of your work, or are you going to tell the story about the process and why you made certain choices? The language you use will differ if you’re looking for a job or for a client.

Second, where are you pointing people to? If you have some thumbnails on your Geocities site from 1997, you’ve already lost. Owning your own site is the best method, and the most common option used in the industry is WordPress (here are 50 themes to consider), and ideally you own the URL for your name that points to any site hosting your portfolio.

If WordPress feels too advanced for you, Squarespace is the most popular drag and drop option in the industry, and some even use Wix (which was recently improved). Or, you could consider a design portfolio platform like Big Black Bag or Behance.

Next, consider what you’ll display. You’re in a real catch-22, because you want to express experience, diversity, and quality, but if some of your work doesn’t apply to what you want to be hired for, it could actually work against you. Think of this as an art show at a museum – they would never show every piece of your work, rather they would curate specific pieces to tell a story.

And if your portfolio is light on applicable work, create your own concepts and redesigns (so long as you label it as such). Hate Google’s logo redesign or maybe the search interface? Mock up your own, show a before and after, then disclose it as a concept piece you’ve imagined. You could even have a section for concepts that is separated from client work.

Your display should match your work – if you design mobile websites but your portfolio isn’t responsive, you’ve screwed yourself. If you’re an animator, your portfolio shouldn’t be a bunch of websites you redesigned. If you’re a graphic designer, your portfolio shouldn’t showcase a bunch of emailers you created copy for. People are judging you within the first three seconds, so your offering better match the story you’re trying to tell about yourself. If you’re not a deconstructionist designer, your website design better not be deconstructionist. Get it?

Always be updating your portfolio, even if you’re not looking for clients or employment. It’s harder to go back in time to recreate a portfolio than updating as you go. But remember – you can’t just slap up 800 images of a project, again, you’re curating. Select only the best images and add them as you go to save endless time. Try doing this at least monthly (plus, it’s a great way to tell search engines that your site is fresh, thereby improving your ranking).

If much of your work is physical or print, take the time to take high quality photos of these works, potentially even mocking them up on physical products (you can use a site like Smart Mockups as a shortcut).

Next, you want to make sure that your online portfolio serves client or employers’ needs. Is your About page sparse, or does it talk about how you connect with your profession? Does your site tell people who you are, where you are, who you’ve worked for, what kind of work you’re looking for, how you charge, and how they can contact you? If you can’t answer each question in under three seconds, you’re losing opportunities. Design your portfolio for them, not for you. Do you have a logo and tagline? Testimonials? Can they find you elsewhere online (do you have social media buttons in the header or footer)? Everything we’ve mentioned in this paragraph is the equivalent of dozens of “Hire Me” buttons, so don’t take this part lightly.

Make sure that your portfolio is error free. Test every single page to make sure it works, then before going live to the world and sharing the URL, have at least three people (ideally that are writers or editors) review all of the copy for accuracy. You’re not a professional writer, so trust their input if they suggest the copy is off.

If you have the time and capacity, blogging is the cherry on top. Not only does it help your search engine rankings (don’t stress too much about SEO, though), it creates new opportunities for your thoughts to be shared, expanding your reach. You’re smart, you know not to blog about conspiracy theories or politics, blog about your work – why did you choose this profession, what enriches you, why do you make certain design choices, what do you think of large brand designs, etc.

Get the word out. Be sure to add the URL to your design portfolio on all of your social media profiles, even LinkedIn. Audit your online profiles annually to make sure they point to the place that will generate business opportunities for you.

TL;DR – get a WordPress site, curate your best work, make it easy to contact you.

And if your brain needs some samples of modern design, start clicking:

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