Design date: How a frustrated writer met his ideal design app at a bar

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When my Story Craft students ask me if you can write a short story without a protagonist, I usually ask them if you can have a car without an engine.

The answers is: Yes, you can. Just don’t expect it to go anywhere.

Translating that into web content writing, we could ask ourselves: Can I publish a website page or a blog or social media post without visuals?

You can. But have you ever traveled through Mississippi? Then you've probably seen plenty of old cars in sideyards "up on blocks", as we say in the US. They're there occupying space, sure, there in theory, but they ain't going nowhere.

Then why do we run into so many websites and blogs that don't pay attention to visual language?

Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous.
— Ralph Caplan

I can’t really explain that phenomenon, even if it's been proven by at least one study that original written content is still more important for hooking visitors than visual style.

The other possibility is that you're a writer like me with no design background. Which means that when you moved from the "pasting any old image into my text" school to the "let me see if I can design something better myself" school, you ended up on Photoshop.

Let’s Get To It | YouTube Tutorial

Let’s Get To It | YouTube Tutorial

Photoshop: the love affair that never was

Here's a little backstory.

Even though I'm a writer, I can't even draw convincingly on a whiteboard. (Just ask the other half of Storyline Creatives, the lovely and brilliant Lara Bastajian, and she'll verify that.) My patience for extracting elements pixel by pixel from images to add to collages is lousy too, and I've never been any good at manipulating exposure and contrast curves.

As polite bosses and publishers would say: Photoshop and I were never a good fit.

I was miserable for a while. 

Then I met Canva at a bar.



Why I love Canva

This is easy. I love Canva because it's not Photoshop.


When I first discovered Canva about a year ago, I’d been designing all my visuals for my fledging business Storyline Creatives with Adobe, which as an untrained designer was like driving a plastic tricycle through the desert in a locust storm. It was taking me forever to do what I ended up doing in minutes using Canva. What I was doing wasn't much.

If you don't run across design apps at bars like I do, Canva is a user-friendly online drag-and-drop application that strips the design process to its basic elements and allows you to create quality web visuals in minutes, rather than days. And it's free.

I'll always remember you fondly, Photoshop

Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of really cool stuff you can do with Photoshop—if you're Nate Treme. (I think I have a man crush on this guy's art. Can you see why?) And you're losing plenty of creative reach by working on Canva.

Most important, Canva is almost exclusively a tool for the web. So if you’re using it to create visuals for your blog, social platforms or website, you'll be ok. Anything beyond that, it would be better to talk to a professional designer first.

If you need a few quick tutorials on design—anything from combining colors to font pairings—check out Canva's Design School.

Otherwise, I'll see you at the bar. I'll be the one in the expensive-looking suit I made myself hoping no one will notice. 


I don't work for Canva and wasn't paid to write any part of this article. (But would gladly do so for enough dough, or even just a little. Canva? Hello, Canva?)

Max's writing has appeared in a number of online and print publications in the US, UK and elsewhere. He's worked as a teacher, journalist, editor and copywriter. He's the founder and director of Write CY, a Nicosia-based creative space dedicated to creative writing and community storytelling. Talk to him at: